The Scottish Government is becoming responsible for some of the benefits currently delivered by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). As part of the work to prepare for this change, the Scottish Government set up the Social Security Experience Panels. Experience Panels are made up of over 2,400 people who have recent experience of at least one of the benefits that will be devolved to Scotland. The Scottish Government is working with Experience Panel members to design a new social security system that works for the people of Scotland.
Panel members were invited to take part in a series of surveys and focus groups to help inform the Scottish Government's approach to setting up the new social security agency, Social Security Scotland. This report covers the analysis of two of these surveys, on challenging a decision about an application, and on providing feedback or making a complaint, which were carried out in July and August 2018. It also includes analysis of seven focus groups which took place in August 2018.
Participants were asked to consider their experiences of the current system's approach to feedback, complaints and the process for challenging a decision. They were also asked a number of questions to help design what the new system for Social Security Scotland should be like. In the current system, challenging a decision consists of a two stage process – a mandatory reconsideration and then appeal to a tribunal.
The mandatory reconsideration is an internal process during which the decision making process about a benefit application is reviewed by another member of staff, who can also take into consideration any new information supplied by the applicant as part of their request. If the applicant is still unhappy with the decision, they can subsequenty decide to appeal the decision to a tribunal. This second stage is independent of the DWP.
The process for challenging decsions in the Scottish social security system is fundamentaly different. If an individual disagrees with the determination of Social Security Scotland, they will be able to request a re-determination. In this process, the original decision will be set aside, and the application, alongside any additional evidence provided, is looked at afresh by a new member of staff. The re-determination has to be completed within the timescales that are set out in the benefit regulation that is subject to a challenge. If the applicant is unhappy with this new decision, or if it has not been completed in the allowed timescales, the individual will have a right to take their case to the tribunal. At the end of the re-determination process Social Security Scotland will provide the individual with a form which they must complete and return to Social Security Scotland within 31 days if they wish to appeal. Furthermore Social Security Scotland will have a duty to do all it can to help individuals with making an appeal to the tribunal service. Upon receipt of the completed form, Social Security Scotland will pass the appeal form and the documentations used in making the decsion to the tribunal within 7 days and will inform the individual. The tribunal service will then get in touch with the individual and keep them informed of their progress of their appeal.
Within the surveys, the term "challenging a decision" was used to describe how benefit decisions are challenged. As part of the focus groups, these processes were discussed with participants in more detail to ensure a shared understanding of the terminology being used throughout the wider discussion. It is worth noting, that when considering questions relating to how Social Security Scotland's re-determinations process should work, many participants referred to their experience of the DWP's mandatory reconsideration process. This should therefore be borne in mind when reading the findings below.
Email: Catherine Henry