Devolution of benefits: ministerial statement

Statement from Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People Shirley-Anne Somerville.

Introduction: achievements in 2018-2019

Last year was a momentous one for Scottish social security. We started to build a new public service for Scotland.

The Social Security (Scotland) Act passed into law last June. Three months later, our country’s new agency, Social Security Scotland, opened its doors. Since then we’ve put over £35 million of additional funding into the pockets of people in Scotland – delivering the first two payments of the Carer’s Allowance Supplement, and the Best Start Grant Pregnancy and Baby Payment.

This year we’ll introduce four new benefits, to help young carers and low income families. We’re also consulting on our new Job Grant for young people moving into employment.

We’ve made a strong start. Today I will set out our plans beyond 2019.

Challenges of taking on the remaining devolved benefits

We’ve already taken responsibility for carer benefits: our Carer’s Allowance and Carer’s Allowance Supplement together are an investment of £320 million in 2019/20 alone.

On 1 April next year, we will take full responsibility for the remaining devolved benefits which means benefits will start to be fully funded by the Scottish Government. From that point Social Security Scotland will progressively take over administering these benefits from the Department for Work and Pensions.

For the first time, the Scottish Government will make regular social security payments, week-in, week-out, direct to people’s bank accounts – payments that Scottish families will budget into their weekly shop or monthly heating bill.

The complicated nature and interdependencies of both social security, and of devolution, means this is no mean feat. Two governments - two agencies – will share clients. The payments people get from DWP and Social Security Scotland will affect, and in some cases need to interact, with one another.

This is not a lift and shift approach where we take over the whole of social security and start changes from the inside out. Whilst that would have of course been my preference, it would arguably have been a simpler process. We are starting from scratch, effectively needing to untie one set of benefits from a labyrinthine DWP system, build our own system to allow for the transfer, and then make sure the systems work together seamlessly. It is imperative we get this right so people not only get the right money at the right time, but are still eligible for other assistance they can be passported to.

This is a formidable responsibility which I do not underestimate. And it is a great opportunity to forge a social security system infused with dignity, fairness and respect.

Need and user demand for a safe transition, in contrast with DWP’s record

What is clear to me – what we’ve heard repeatedly from people with direct personal experience of the current system – is that we must ensure that people entitled to these benefits are protected during this transition.

Yes, protected from aspects of the current DWP regime. But protected, too, from the errors that inevitably follow when politicians rush through big changes in social security. We do not have to look far:

  • the debacle of DWP’s migration of people from Incapacity Benefit to Employment and Support Allowance
  • the DLA to PIP migration, due to finish in 2015 – then 2019 – now delayed till 2021
  • and above all, the Universal Credit programme. Due for completion by 2017 now it’s 2023. Six years later than planned, and yet still fundamentally flawed

Presiding Officer, we all need to learn the lessons of these failures. It’s clear to me that changes to social security need to be implemented with painstaking care – always at pace, but never rushed so that we run the risk that people fall through the gaps.

'Take the time to get this right' is the message I’m hearing. Last month we conducted an Experience Panel survey about people’s priorities as our agency takes over cases from DWP. Of over 400 respondents, 57% said they wanted the Scottish Government to strike a balance between transferring cases quickly, and making sure there are no mistakes. A further 29% would rather we took still more time to avoid errors.

Presiding Officer, since my appointment I’ve been listening. I’m well aware how high the stakes are. And I will not take risks that endanger people’s payments. We have seen that it is those who rely on payments the most who then pay the price.

Delivery plans for this parliamentary term: disability benefits, increased payments for carers of more than one disabled child

Over the past eight months, I’ve been talking to people with lived experience and challenged my officials on what can be achieved, balancing pace and risk, with clear principles in mind:

  • protecting people and their entitlements
  • acting quickly to reform aspects of the current system which cause most stress
  • and ensuring that we put in place a dignified, respectful system that works for Scotland

After careful consideration, I’ve determined on a timetable for taking over the remaining benefits which, based on current plans, I believe whilst challenging, is realistic.

Presiding Officer, as I said, from April 2020 we will become responsible for the remaining devolved benefits and I am delighted to say starting next summer,  the first disability benefit to open to new claims will be Disability Assistance for Children and Young People.

We will also deliver on our manifesto commitment to extend eligibility for this benefit from age 16 to age 18. This will allow continuity for families during those crucial transition years when a child becomes an adult.

Also from next year, children who receive the highest care component of Disability Assistance will be entitled to Winter Heating Assistance too – meaning 16,000 children and their families will get a £200 lump sum to help towards their heating costs.

Keeping up the pace, in early 2021, I’m pleased to say that we’ll introduce an additional payment for the estimated 1800 Scottish carers who look after more than one disabled child, recognising the higher costs they face.

By the end of 2021 we’ll also start paying Winter Heating Assistance – in its current form, – to eligible older people in Scotland who receive another type of payment from our agency. We’ll also make the first Cold Spell Heating Assistance payments. 

Turning to new claims for Disability Assistance for Older People, those over state pension age who need someone to help look after them because of a disability, I can announce that this will be introduced by the end of next year.

And building on this progress, in early 2021 we’ll introduce the largest, most complex form of Disability Assistance: the new claims service for Working Age People, replacing DWP’s PIP.

I remain  committed to co-designing these benefits with the people of Scotland. A person-centred approach will be at the heart of Scotland’s three forms of Disability Assistance. Through major reform of the assessment process we’ll significantly reduce face-to-face assessments.

Where assessments are needed, we’ll deliver them through our own agency, not through the private sector. And people will be invited to attend assessments at a time and place that suits them – with the assessor coming to them if required.

Delivery plans for next parliamentary term: Carer’s Assistance

By the end of 2021 we’ll also deliver new claims for Scottish Carer’s Allowance, folding together that benefit, Carer’s Allowance Supplement and additional money for carers of more than one disabled child in a way that meets carers’ needs.

Presiding Officer, I’ve carefully considered whether Scottish Carer’s Allowance could be delivered more quickly. I know carers are rightly keen for us to take it over as soon as possible.

I have concluded that Carer’s Allowance, above all, is a benefit which we have to take the time to get right. It interacts in a particularly intricate way with functions that remain reserved – it affects income tax, for example, meaning that we will need new data sharing arrangements with HMRC to administer it effectively.

It’s also a gateway to other benefits which are in the gift of the UK Government, such as the 'carer premium', worth around £36 a week on top of someone’s means-tested benefit.

The last thing I want to do is jeopardise these additional payments by rushing delivery of Carer’s Allowance before the necessary agreements with the UK Government are in place. Nor do I want to encourage the growth of a two-tier system between new and existing claims. By introducing new claims in 2021 we can ensure we protect payments for carers who rely on them.

It will also allow us to focus on getting all three forms of Disability Assistance right to support the people cared for by our carers. This is particularly important given the scale of change we are proposing to the application process, desk-based decision making and face-to-face assessments.

Plans for transferring people’s existing claims, DWP DLA-PIP migration delay

I am therefore pleased to say that by the end of 2021 we’ll be delivering new claims for all Disability and Carer’s Assistance, and supporting families with their winter fuel bills. I turn now to the task of moving people’s existing claims from DWP to Social Security Scotland.

I mentioned before the importance of ensuring we protect people’s benefits as they transfer.

This is as true for existing claims as for new claims. We must move people to our agency in a way that causes them minimal anxiety, whilst safeguarding the payments they’re currently getting.

Feedback from our Experience Panels shows how we can achieve both.

I mentioned earlier a survey we conducted last month with people experienced in the current system, to ask what’s most important to them as we take on their cases. Their top two priorities were that people should continue to receive the correct payments at the correct time; and that no one should be subject to a DWP face-to-face reassessment for disability benefits.

We’ll use this research as the basis for a set of client centred transfer principles, agreed with user and stakeholder input.

So let me be clear today - we will protect people’s payments during the transfer.

From early 2021 when we launch new claims for our PIP replacement, I guarantee that no one in Scotland will undergo a DWP face-to-face reassessment for disability benefits. Before someone reaches the end of their DWP award period, we will take over their case so this cannot happen.

I can also guarantee that – unlike for Universal Credit – we will not require people to make a new claim to move onto the Scottish benefits. Instead, we’ll work with DWP to arrange for the transfer to happen automatically, and we’ll keep people informed of what will happen and when – before and during the process.

Presiding Officer, we will start the work of transferring people from DWP to our agency next year. This involves moving more than half a million cases  – 10% of people in Scotland.

Such transfers have in the past caused huge problems when DWP has migrated people within its own benefits systems. What hasn’t been done before is transferring people from one Government’s agency to another’s, and we must do this effectively and securely and in conjunction with the DWP. With their cooperation I expect the majority of people to be transferred by 2023, with all cases fully transferred by 2024.

What I hadn’t anticipated during this work was the further delay to DWP’s DLA to PIP migration, which means that people of working age will still be on two benefits at the point when we’d expect to transfer them to a single form of Scottish assistance.

My officials are in close contact with DWP officials on this matter and I’ve also requested a meeting with DWP ministers to discuss the implications. I will of course report back to Parliament once discussions are more advanced.

Agency agreements and what they will mean for people with existing claims

Going forward, we’ll work with DWP to develop agency agreements to partially administer the devolving benefits until Social Security Scotland is delivering them in full.

These will ensure people receive the regular payments they’ve already been awarded, with minimal disruption and distress.

This is an administrative function only. It doesn’t affect when we commence powers or start funding benefits. As I have said, from April 2020 benefits will be fully funded by the Scottish Government.

Risks to the timetable, next steps, forward look to achievements in 2019 and by the end of the parliamentary term

Presiding Officer, delivering the devolved benefits is very much a joint enterprise with DWP, and we rely on them to match our ambition and pace. The timescales I’ve set out remain very challenging and there are many unknowns, both within our work on social security devolution and beyond. We will therefore keep our plans under careful review, and I will keep Parliament updated on our progress.

Presiding Officer, we shouldn’t forget that we are the first government to begin the partial separation of a highly integrated welfare system between two countries. This cannot be done without taking difficult decisions on timing. But every day as we break new ground we gain more experience of how to accomplish the most complicated feat of devolution attempted since this Parliament was reconvened.

A great deal of activity is already well underway to make our current plans a reality. Today I will publish eleven policy papers, setting out the extensive work that’s gone into designing how these benefits will operate. Next week I’ll also publish a consultation on Disability Assistance, to seek the views of the public on our proposed reforms, including:

  • introducing rolling awards, with up to ten years between reviews for people whose condition is unlikely to change, and
  • how we will ensure that the people who undertake our assessments for Disability Assistance are suitably qualified

In parallel we’ll pursue our ambitious timetable for 2019. By the end of this year – just 18 months from Scotland’s Social Security Act – we will have delivered 3 of the 11 devolved benefits and four brand new payments.

And two years hence:

  • Social Security Scotland will have made over £210 million in benefit payments
  • Agency staff will have supported an estimated 200,000 people
  • and we will have brought a new culture of dignity, fairness and respect to Scottish social security

Certainly we have our work cut out as we deliver devolved benefits to the people of Scotland; but the prize is great.

Social security policy pages


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