Disability and Carer Benefits Expert Advisory Group - Adult Disability Payment decision report: response from ministers

Letter from Ben Macpherson, Minister for Social Security and Local Government, to Jim McCormick, Chair of the Disability and Carers Benefits Expert Advisory Group, on 28 February 2023.

Thank you for your letter dated 13 January 2022 regarding the Adult Disability Payment Decision Report. I understand that you discussed this with officials during your quarterly meeting on 10 November 2021.

I have considered your recommendations and responded to each of these below in turn.

Recommendation 1: Language and phrasing used within the decision report should move away from a deficits based medical model to reflect a human rights based approach.

I accept this recommendation in principle.

User research is required to understand how a change in language and phrasing with the decision reports would impact a client’s understanding of information contained within the report and in relation to the Regulations. There is a risk that if language departs too far from the regulations it could be difficult for clients, tribunals and representatives to understand what test has been applied. This could result in an increase in requests for re-determinations. We recognise that Personal Independence Payment and Adult Disability Payment descriptors are not consistent with the social model of disability but unless and until those change, they remain the relevant legal test to be applied.

Recommendation 2: The decision report design should be user tested with seldom-heard groups covering all protected characteristics in sufficient numbers as well as organisations supporting these groups. It should also cover all possible accessibility needs, consistent with the Six Principles of Inclusive Communication with individuals able to request this at the very beginning of the user testing journey.

I accept this recommendation.

In recruiting participants for testing and research we always aim for representation from seldom- heard groups – either from disabled people, their carers or advocates from organisations supporting both groups.

We believe we are successful in obtaining good representation across many of the protected characteristics. We recognise that there is under-representation from some groups and will work on strategies to address those shortfalls.

Our research activities also follow the Principles of Inclusive Communication as detailed below. We pro-actively identify ahead of research where participants may have preferences or additional needs. During the course of research sessions, we ensure that participants are aware of their rights e.g. to take breaks, leave or decline to discuss particular topics. Researchers will also respond to participants’ preferences and communication styles - whether stated explicitly or recognised implicitly.

The Six Principles of Inclusive Communication have been refined and reduced to four which are:

1.    Recognise all communities and groups include people who communicate in different ways.

2.    Find out how people prefer to communicate.

3.    Take action:
a)    Adapt the physical environment
b)    Match the way you communicate to the way people understand
c)    Respond positively to the different ways people express themselves.

4.    Evaluate and change.

I understand you had also asked for further details of the other stakeholder groups that were consulted on the content of the decision report. Officials shared drafts of this with the Ill Health and Disability Benefits Stakeholder Reference Group during April 2021 and July 2022. Content related to Child Disability Payment and Adult Disability Payment, respectively. The views of the Inclusive Communications Group were also sought during July 2022.

Recommendation 3: Social Security Scotland should be appropriately resourced to ensure decision reports and Easy Read versions can be compiled in a timely manner so as not to delay benefit decision letters and negatively impact clients.

I accept this recommendation.

Once a decision has been recorded on the system the decision report is created automatically following a quality assurance step taking place. The time to complete this activity is included in our resource modelling and continuous improvement is underway to assess and iteratively implement any opportunities identified for efficiencies in this area. With regards to Easy Read versions, these are created by our supplier Global Connects, and any resource requirements are included in the contract.

Recommendation 4: Easy Read decision reports should be designed in collaboration with both users and relevant supporting organisations to ensure sufficient detail is balanced with a document length that will be accessible.

I accept this recommendation.

Easy Read guidelines have been produced in conjunction with users and have been shared with our supplier Global Connects. In addition, inclusive communications guidelines apply to all documents including Easy Read. We will continue to assess and refine our standards through continuous improvement.

Recommendation 5: Decision reports and their accessible format versions should be continually refined after launch with continued input from users with experience of the system. This should include removing any detail that is deemed unnecessary to reduce the overall length of decision documents.

I accept this recommendation.

Through ongoing continuous improvement activity, we continue to user test and refine the decision reports in relation to both their effectiveness as a client communication and with regards to the process required to create them.

I understand the Group asked for details of the available accessible formats, and when in the process clients can indicate their requirements for them. Under the Interpreting, Translation and Transcription Services contract, Global Connects (the Supplier) offer translations into any of a very large number of foreign languages, as well as Easy Read, Large Print, Braille and Audio (e.g.

In Part 1 of the application, the client is asked if they wish notifications to be sent in any one of the stated formats and, on the next page, if they have a preference for a language. This is captured in the case management system.

Recommendation 6: If a client requests a re-determination, all supporting information used to make the first decision should be sent to the client, otherwise this could present a barrier to justice and an unnecessary hurdle for clients. Alternatively, if a client requests to see all of the supporting information used to make their benefit decision, the timescales for requesting a re-determination should start from the date that the evidence was sent to the client or the time taken to provide the evidence should count as good cause for any late application for a re-determination.

I partially accept this recommendation.

Supporting information used to make a first determination is not sent to the client together with the notice of determination. Under section 40(1)(b) of the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018, the notice of determination should provide clear reasons for that determination. The Act also states that timescales for requesting a re-determination are specified in benefit specific regulations. We can accept late applications for re-determination for good cause. Should a client request a copy of their supporting information and states the additional time taken to receive this as a reason for a late re-determination request, we will consider adding this to guidance as an example of a good cause for a late request.

Recommendation 7: The DWP pilot service supporting clients through the benefit application process and signposting applicants to other benefits and relevant support within their geographic area should be replicated in Scotland.
Recommendation 8: The decision report should contribute to a larger ‘holistic assessment’ and signpost or refer clients to other agencies and services that are most relevant to them.

I accept these recommendations in principle and note some existing activities which contribute to achieving these below.

We are committed to providing clients the best support possible, throughout their application journey with us. Via the Local Delivery Service, Social Security Scotland offers additional support to clients completing applications. Local Delivery teams work throughout Scotland in co-located spaces, situated locally in places our clients already go, in each of the thirty-two local authority areas. Client Support Advisers answer any queries about Social Security Scotland benefits, help to complete paper or online application forms and offer other support, such as identity and document verification and help with submitting change of circumstances information. Additionally, Client Support Advisors can signpost clients to local services in their area for further support.
Furthermore, the Social Security Independent Advocacy Service was successfully launched in January 2022. The service is free and supports disabled people across the country to apply for and access Social Security Scotland assistance. Advocacy is available throughout the whole of the process for seeking support; from the point of application, through to any request for redetermination and appeals.

Under the Charter, Social Security Scotland is committed to providing clients with referrals to independent advice providers and other organisations, where their assistance will improve clients’ wellbeing or financial circumstances. As such, we have established a multi-disciplinary project team to explore options to develop signposting and referral arrangements with a range of organisations across Scotland. By expanding signposting options and referrals pathways we will ensure clients are aware of the support available, assisting and empowering them in their journey to getting help, taking up benefits and maximising their income and wellbeing. This project will involve engagement with a wide range of subject matter experts across Social Security Directorate and Social Security Scotland, bringing together rich sources of evidence and expertise to ensure user needs are met. The initial focus of the project team will be to develop social security policy and solutions design which target income maximisation and benefit take-up, ensuring clients get the maximum support and benefits they are entitled to. Any lessons learnt as part of this work can then be applied to referrals more broadly, such as those which improve clients’ wellbeing.


I trust you find these responses helpful. My officials would be happy to further engage with the Group on any of the issues discussed. Once again, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for this contribution as we work to further developing a social security system that delivers with dignity, fairness and respect.

Best regards,
Ben Macpherson

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