- 13 May 2019
Dorothy Ogle welcomed attendees and asked for introductions.
The Minutes from meeting held on 18 July 2018 were agreed as an accurate record.
Item 1: Legislation Update
SG gave an update on Legislation, noting that regulations had been laid in the Scottish Parliament in September and agreed in late October. A lot of work had gone in to working with the DWP to agree a Section 102 Order to turn off the current Sure Start Maternity Grant (SSMG) and agree the residence provisions that will be applied by DWP, ensuring that these don’t leave any gaps with Scottish provisions. This Order will also establish disregards of BSG payments for UK benefit calculations. The Section 104 Order had been laid the day before the meeting (5 November) in the UK Parliament. The next step would be to lay commencement regulations to bring the relevant section of the Social Security Scotland Act into force, turning on Scottish powers to pay the BSG.
SG noted that they were now working on amending regulations for the BSG Regs that establish the Pregnancy and Baby Payment. These would provide for payments of the Early Years and School Age Payments. The amending regulations would also provide for an opportunity to pick up anything needing to be changed or corrected. Some options for amendments were discussed. These regulations were due to be laid after Christmas 2018.
SG flagged up one area to the group regarding dependents which had come in to focus as a result of work with the Best Start Foods Team, seeking to align eligibility critieria. The issue related to 18/19 year olds in full time education or training. These individuals do not need to be on a qualifying benefit (QB) for BSG. The regulations also allow for a parent or carer to apply, the parent or carer does need to be on a QB. The SG had been considering an amendment to this. Due to Best Start Foods (BSF) using an income threshold for eligibility, BSF cannot duplicate the rule of a parent or carer not requiring a QB, as it could bring in higher earners. SG asked members for their view on this issue and whether the priority should be to smooth the customer journey for the majority, improving take up or to maximise the number of possible people eligible.
The group noted that maximising eligibility is important but that it may be a very small number of grandparents that apply, especially since it is likely that a young parent will be better off making their own benefit claim. This makes it difficult to make a judgement in this case.
SG confirmed that the launch date for the Pregnancy and Baby Payment would be before Christmas, and that once the date was announced there would be a large amount of communications work carried out to promote the benefit.
Item 2: Implementation update
The Service Design Product Owner gave an update on the implementation and service design of BSG, with a focus on what the system process would look like for the client and how this had been developed over time. It was noted that the programme was currently in period of IT health checks, to ensure no data breeches.
One member asked a question on translating applications.
Action: Elizabeth Sloan to check what the translating process would look like and get back to CPAG.
It was noted that the client leaflet would be available on demand in six languages.
One member asked a question around what would happen if someone applied in England. SG responded that all valid applications would receive a decision with re-determination rights. If applicants are resident in England they will not qualify.
Item 3: Re-determinations and appeals
SG gave an update on Re-determinations and Appeals. The process was described to the group and detailed below:
A client can ask the agency to look at the decision again if they think the decision is wrong. In their decision letter, a form for a redetermination will be included, along with a pre-paid envelope, or the client can phone and request one over the phone. SG confirmed that this would not be a review of the decision, instead it is a complete fresh look at the application and the evidence provided, including any new evidence.
There is a 31 day time period to complete the form and send back. Clients also have up to a year to send in late request but would need to have a valid reason for this. The agency will always acknowledge receipt of a redetermination form and has 16 days to process all re-determinations and appeals. It was noted that timescales may change for waive two benefits e.g. Personal Independence Payment may require longer for the agency to make a redetermination.
If the client is still unhappy with the redetermination decision then they can appeal to the First Tier Tribunal (FTT). The redetermination letter will include a form for appeal and a pre-paid envelope. This form will ask the question on what type of hearing they would prefer, e.g. in person or over paper. The form then comes back to the Agency and allocated to a member of staff. This Agency worker will gather all evidence collected on the client, along with the appeals form and send all of this information to the FTT. It is from this point that everything is handed over to the FTT to deal with and the Agency becomes a party to the appeal.
If there is a change of circumstances after the application date, then the Agency would contact the client informing them it is not a redetermination, instead a new application should be made. This will go back to operations to make a first determination, this stops the client losing the right to a redetermination.
SG confirmed that the Agency would contact the client in first instance and check with them if they want their advisor kept updated.
CPAG asked a question around Universal Credit (UC) claims and if the redetermination process would fix the case where people are waiting to be awarded UC. SG responded noting that these cases should be caught where a decision maker can see that a UC claim has been made but no decision has been made. These cases will be held until the end of the UC period for a decision.
There was a question about plans for advocacy as set out in the Social Security Scotland Act to be introduced for BSG applicants.
Action: Dorothy to check and update on the process of advocacy.
The group discussed the scenario where the client is waiting on a QB and takes their BSG case to appeal, but is then awarded the QB and how the Agency would correct this.
Action: SG to consider the needs of applicants where there is a delayed decision to award a qualifying benefit on appeal.
The group fed back on the redetermination form. It was agreed that the form was not final and would go through several new versions before it would be ready to issue.
Item 4: Guidance
SG handed out an example of a deny letter and an application form, noting that the Agency phone number was included three times, the language included in the letters had been softened and the reading age was set at eight years old. SG confirmed that the letter and form had been tested multiple times and would continue to be tested and updated.
The next stage would focus on what can be done for third sector / local authority partners. SG asked the group what information would be helpful and what guidance could be provided to help these groups assist clients. Work was ongoing to provide this guidance.
SG asked the group what they were expecting to see in terms of guidance for the first waive benefits, members confirmed they would find it useful if information on these benefits were included in CPAG handbooks, as this is what advisors typically use. It was noted that designated phone numbers are also useful. Members agreed they would prefer to have access to Decision Makers Guidance or a separate information tool for advisors to access more technical advice / guidance.
SG discussed the use of the Social Security corporate website for publishing things such as technical guidance.
Action: SG to review CPAG handbook for SSMG and ensure information is available for an equivalent BSG section.
Item 5: BSG Communications and promotion
SG gave an update and overview on the communications team and their ongoing work. A client leaflet and stakeholder leaflet was distributed to the group. For clients, the focus was entirely on promoting uptake of the Pregnancy and Baby Payment due to tight timescales.
Action: Reference group members to feedback on leaflet following discussion at the meeting, by COP that week.
Members fed back that the stakeholder leaflet should focus on how the stakeholder can help the client to apply and that clarity is needed around who the leaflet is aimed at as it was noted that they could potentially both be seen as client leaflets. Frontline services won’t be able to distinguish.
One member noted that the leaflet seemed very word heavy and lacked in pictures. SG responded to this by noting that focus groups had fed back stating they were looking to read information to understand the benefit. The member noted an easy read version should be considered.
One member noted that SG / Social Security Scotland should look to have as few leaflets as possible for stakeholders, as these are likely to get mixed up and end up in the wrong place. Information should stay as streamlined and simple as possible for stakeholders to access and use.
The group were asked to support the launch of the BSG by identifying applicants who would definitely be eligible to make early applications, allowing for these to be used in promotional materials.
Action: South Lanarkshire and One Parent Families Scotland to engage with SG around identifying some of their contacts who are either pregnant or are kinship carers, and will qualify for a Pregnancy and Baby Payment before Christmas 2018.
Social Security Scotland would like to film short interviews clips with families talking about how they will use the payment. These will be used on social media to raise awareness of Best Start Grant now and over the next few months.
Attendees and apologies
- Audrey Anderson – Early Years Scotland
- Anne Baldock – One Parent Families Scotland
- Louise Hill – Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland (CELCIS)
- Lorna Kettles – Scottish Women’s Convention
- Kay McIntosh – South Lanarkshire
- Kerry McKenzie – NHS Scotland
- Francesca de Munnich – Save the Children
- Mark Willis – Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)
- Amy Atkins – Scottish Government (SG)
- Mairi Cowan – SG
- Christine Gilmore - SG
- Neil Guy – SG
- Sara James – SG
- Andrew McIntyre – SG
- Alison Melville – SG
- Dorothy Ogle – SG
- Curtis Pridding – SG
- Elizabeth Sloan – SG
- Ben Sutcliffe – SG