Adult Disability Payment is a new Scottish benefit which will replace the existing Personal Independence Payment for people from the age of 16 living with a disability in Scotland. It will be delivered by Social Security Scotland and the first payments are due to be made in summer 2022.
Adult Disability Payment is intended to be person-centred, taking into account the specific needs of each applicant. While the eligibility rules for Adult Disability Payment will remain largely the same as under Personal Independence Payment, the Scottish Government will make changes to both policy and administrative aspects of the delivery of Adult Disability Payment in order to provide disabled people in Scotland with a fundamentally different experience of accessing the social security system.
Following an earlier consultation on Disability Assistance in Scotland in 2019, draft regulations were prepared to support the new Adult Disability Payment and the Scottish Government ran an online public consultation to gather feedback prior to finalising the regulations. The consultation ran for 12 weeks, between 21 December 2020 and 15 March 2021, and attracted a strong response from a broad range of contributors.
A total of 127 consultation responses were received overall - 78 from individuals and 49 from organisations (including Disabled People's Organisations, Deaf People's Organisations, local authorities, third sector charities/groups and others). To support the online consultation, the Scottish Government also ran a series of stakeholder engagement events attended by a broad range of organisations and individuals with lived experience of disability. Feedback from these events was summarised by the Scottish Government for consideration alongside the main consultation data.
An independent analysis of findings from the consultation and engagement events was commissioned, and this report presents the main findings to emerge.
Main Findings in Support of the Draft Regulations
Overall, the proposed Adult Disability Payment was seen as a significant improvement on the existing Personal Independence Payment process, content and approach. The new payment was seen as being more accessible and to be designed in a way that would potentially reduce burdens, stress and anxiety on the most vulnerable disabled people, especially in relation to the process of application.
Aspects of the draft regulations that respondents particularly welcomed included that eligibility decisions would be informed by supporting information from professionals known to the applicant, and from friends and family. This was seen as particularly important for those with mental health disabilities and learning disabilities. The strengthening of rules around skills, experience and training of those involved in eligibility decision making was also welcomed, as well as the fact that existing data and information would be used to inform eligibility decisions. Respondents welcomed the idea of consultations forming part of the application process and the fact that these would be undertaken in a range of accessible formats with the voices of informal carers being heard. It was suggested that the regulations could, however, more clearly set out potential for including third sector organisations and people with lived experience directly in consultations.
Respondents welcomed that all awards would be made on a rolling basis, with no set date for an award ending. Indefinite awards were welcomed as potentially providing stability and financial certainty for applicants with degenerative conditions, or who have conditions that will not improve. It was felt that regulations linked to terminal illness would remove uncertainty in relation to eligibility and provide greater dignity for applicants.
The Motability scheme was considered by several organisations and individuals as a vital form of support for disabled people to allow them to enjoy independence. It was felt that continuity with existing provision was important, and respondents were reassured that no one should lose such provision as a result of the move from the Department for Work and Pensions to Social Security Scotland (although more detail on how this would work in practice may be welcomed).
While a few were happy to see the provision for the payment to be made to a welfare/financial guardian and direct to service providers in the case of Motability leases, others were concerned about the possibility for applicants to suffer financial abuse. It was considered important to have independent advocates and specialist advisors available throughout the application process to mitigate this risk.
The proposed introduction of 'Short-Term Assistance' was welcomed, to ensure individuals continue to receive their previous payment amount until the outcome of a re-determination or appeal has concluded. This was applauded as it removed the penalising effect of requesting their application be considered again when an individual believes their award to be inappropriate.
Most respondents welcomed the 42 calendar day time limit for clients to request a re-determination, and the 56 calendar day time frame for re-determinations to be carried out by Social Security Scotland. This, however, was one area where disagreement was noted in the consultation with some arguing that the time periods should be shortened and others arguing that they should be longer. All agreed, however, that there was a need to provide transparent timeframes for the period of re-determination requests, and to communicate this information in an accessible and inclusive way.
Main Concerns and Suggested Areas for Improvement
Despite largely positive feedback, a number of changes and improvements to the draft regulations were suggested ahead of roll out. The main frustrations expressed were linked to what respondents perceived to be insufficient change to the activities, descriptors and supporting eligibility criteria contained in the regulations, compared to existing Personal Independence Payment rules. Respondents expressed views that it was wrong to retain a reliance on the 20 metre rule (relating to the distance in metres an individual can walk to determine eligibility for the mobility component of Personal Independence Payment) and the 50% rule (relating to the proportion of time during which an individual satisfies a descriptor needing to amount to 50% of the days in a month). There was a strong desire for reverting to the 50 metre rule to make the system fairer/more realistic. Many individuals and organisations felt that these regulations should be amended from the outset of Adult Disability Payment. It was expressed that more nuanced measures of mobility and daily living indicators should be applied to better take account of a fuller range of conditions. Organisations, in particular, suggested that a system based on functional consideration of disability would be limited in its effectiveness, and felt that a rights based approach which was developed around the social model of disability would be preferable.
More general comments included that 'changing' or 'variable' conditions had not been given sufficient attention or thought within the regulations overall. Similarly, mental health conditions had been overlooked to a large degree, it was felt, with some of the complexities around capturing the impact mental health conditions have on daily life not being sufficiently well recognised or addressed.
Several respondents felt that there should be no 13 week qualifying period for the payment. Some also felt that 13 weeks was too long for applicants to be made to wait in general. This was especially true for those with severe and permanent disabilities/conditions, those that may incur significant costs over this time period as a result of their condition, and for conditions that can appear suddenly. It was argued that the 13 week qualifying criteria should be removed, with applicants instead being eligible as soon as they become disabled.
Another specific concern to emerge was that the 'past presence test', relating to the residency criteria, had been retained and was too rigid. Disappointment was expressed that the Scottish Government had not taken the opportunity to relax the past presence test or create further exceptions to it during drafting of the regulations.
Liability for overpayment made in error had also not been sufficiently well addressed, it was perceived, and more clarity was required in the regulations in this regard. Several respondents sought reassurances that individuals would be given sufficient notice and time to question the circumstances of any overpayment and that appropriate measures would be in place to ensure that no individual was financially disadvantaged through the recovery of overpayments.
A final recurring theme was that the new benefit may be too similar (especially around eligibility and determination) to the existing Personal Independence Payment, and there were concerns that opportunities had been missed to improve the system even further (and to move away from a points-based system). This included views that the proposed review of Adult Disability Payment may be too late and many suggested that the review be brought forward or that changes be made before implementation. In particular, reassurance was sought that no one would suffer a loss of eligibility as a result of transferring from benefits provided by the Department for Work and Pensions to Scottish Disability Assistance.
Feedback on the Consultation
While valuable feedback was gathered from the consultation which will be used to inform the redrafting and finalisation of the regulations, several organisations and individuals indicated that they had found the consultation to be inaccessible. Comments were made that the regulations were difficult to understand and contained too much jargon and that the consultation document was too complex and lengthy. This may have impacted on the quality and quantity of data generated, and this should be considered when interpreting the findings from the analysis.
While most respondents welcomed the majority of the proposed changes, there was some scepticism that sufficient change had been built into the regulations to accommodate a full range of disabilities and individuals' unique needs. There was, many felt, potential to design an even more nuanced approach which would reflect the social model of disability and be based on human rights principles. It was urged that this should happen, ideally before roll out of Adult Disability Payment, rather than during any review. Despite this, several respondents commended the Scottish Government on the level of consultation already undertaken and the inclusive manner in which the draft policy and regulations had been designed. There were calls for the Scottish Government to continue consultations with disabled people and relevant organisations throughout the planning, staff training and implementation of Adult Disability Payment, with several organisations offering support in this respect, to ensure that it runs smoothly.