Part 3: Operational Policy
About this Part of the Consultation
Part 3 of the consultation explored views around:
- Advice, representation and advocacy;
- Complaints, reviews and appeals;
- Residency and cross-border issues;
- Managing overpayments and debt;
- Protecting your information; and
Here we provide an overview of the main themes emerging from the consultation responses, for Part 3 of the consultation.
Advice and advocacy
Respondents were clear that both advice and advocacy should be an important part of the new social security system. Many felt that demand for advice and advocacy would increase in the short to medium term in the transition to the new system. Respondents felt that this would involve:
- close working with advice and advocacy organisations in developing the new system;
- research and evidence gathering to understand current and future demand;
- promotion of joint working across sectors; resourcing of advice and advocacy services and on-going work to drive quality and standards within the sector.
Many also highlighted the importance of specialist advice for people with particular needs, and equality of access to advice. Some felt that a right to advocacy should be set out in legislation, to ensure that additional support was available and that people were empowered.
Complaints, reviews and appeals
Respondents broadly supported the use of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman's 'Statement of Complaints Handling Principles', believing these to be fair, simple and good practice. There was a clear desire to introduce a different review process from that used by DWP, with many particularly requesting that mandatory reconsideration should not be used and that clear timescales are set for reviews.
There was support for a tribunal system for dispute resolution, with respondents believing it to be proportionate and independent. Respondents emphasised the importance of embedding the principles and values of the new system throughout the complaint, review and appeals process, with a strong focus on a person-centred approach based on rights, equality and fairness. Clear and accessible communication was seen as a key part of this approach, as well as staff training to ensure consistency.
Residency and cross-border issues
Most respondents felt that Scottish benefits should only be payable to individuals resident in Scotland, but some felt that there needed to be flexibility - particularly for EU residents who are currently receiving DLA, PIP and Attendance Allowance. Some highlighted cross-border issues such as someone living in Scotland and caring for someone in England (or vice versa). While some respondents felt that the 'habitual residence' test used by DWP was fine, others had significant concerns that it was restrictive, complex and unfair, and hard to reconcile with the principles of the new social security system.
Respondents felt that there was a need to have clear links with the UK Government, and to share data to ensure that people don't double claim or fall through the gaps. However, respondents were also keen to see a different system in Scotland, with different values at its core - including a presumption of honesty and trust. Respondents also felt that it was important that any disputes over residency didn't result in disadvantage for individuals, and that payments continued on an interim basis.
Most respondents felt that the current system for recovering overpayments could be improved by:
- considering the impact on individuals and families of the level of benefit deductions to recover overpayments;
- requiring all appeals processes to be exhausted before any repayment was required;
- considering whether some types of repayment should not be recovered; and
- offering financial advice.
Most respondents were content with the approach to fraud, supporting the distinction between errors and fraud. Some wanted to see the existing 'zero tolerance' approach softened, feeling it was unduly harsh and needed to be based on an understanding of how a range of equality issues affected fraud. Respondents thought that, while neither fraud nor errors could be completely designed out, these could be reduced through more verification of identity and circumstance and cross checking data - and by having a simpler system.
While most felt that the DWPs existing code of practice for investigators should be adopted, many did not - believing there should be a Scottish specific code focused on trust, dignity and respect. Some felt that the existing powers for investigators were too great, others felt that they required further development. While most respondents were content with retaining the current list of offences and penalties, many were not. There was some concern about the use of 'administrative penalties'.
Most respondents agreed with the Scottish Government's Identity Management and Privacy Principles, but a range of detailed suggestions were made to enhance these. Most supported strictly controlled sharing of information between public sector bodies, where legislation allowed, to make the process easier for claimants. Organisations were more supportive of this than individuals.
While there was clear agreement that devolved benefits needed to keep pace with the cost of living, there were varied views on how this should happen.
Email: Trish Brady-Campbell