Disability and Carer Benefits Expert Advisory Group minutes: November 2020

Minutes from the meeting of the Disabilities and Carers Benefits Expert Advisory Group on 10 November 2020.

Attendees and apologies


  • Jim McCormick (Chair)
  • Tressa Burke (Deputy Chair)
  • Fiona Collie
  • Frank Reilly
  • Ed Pybus
  • Jo McLaughlin
  • Lucy Mulvagh
  • Lucinda Godfrey
  • Carolyn Lochhead
  • Bill Scott
  • Etienne d'Aboville


  • Angela O'Hagan
  • Ewan MacDonald
  • Simon Hodge
  • Jatin Haria
  • Sarah Hammond
  • Shaben Begum
  • Alan McDevitt
  • Carol Tannahill

In attendance

  • Shirley-Anne Somerville (Cabinet Secretary of Social Security and Older People)
  • Ellen Searle (Scottish Government)
  • David George (Scottish Government)
  • Kellie Dingwall (Scottish Government)
  • Niall Wilson (Scottish Government)


  • David Hilber
  • Kirsty Milligan

Items and actions

Reflection on the work of DACBEAG

Jim mentioned that David will be leaving his role as the secretary of the group to join the Scottish Government (SG) to work on Case Transfer. Jim noted that there will be time at the end of the meeting to discuss this further.

Jim then talked the group through a review of the last year. He reflected on when the group travelled around the country and spoke to around 50 people on their experience of legacy benefits, especially Personal Independence Payment (PIP). This helped build the group’s advice on many of the aspects of Adult Disability Payment (ADP). In March a working group was put together to consider PIP caselaw and how these principles should be integrated into Scottish regulations for ADP. In the summer, the group developed some proactive advice surrounding the COVID-19 emergency.

Jim explained the group produced 85 recommendations in the past year. 53 have been responded to and 32 still awaiting a response. The vast majority of the advice the group has given has been accepted.

Jim then discussed what the group have coming up. The advice note on Independent Advocacy is nearly complete and ready to send to the cabinet secretary. The Carers Assistance advice note has had a lot of responses so there is still some work to be done before that can be sent. Today’s meeting is to begin work on the Pension Age Disability Payment (PADP) advice and next spring the group will work on the Employment Injury Assistance. By the end of March the group would like to have a note sent to officials and the Cabinet Secretary on what lies beyond safe and secure transfer.

Jim finished this section by giving thanks to David and Kirsty and noted that the group wouldn’t have achieved all they have without their hard work and diplomacy. He also thanked the group members and their employers. Finally, Jim thanked the Cabinet Secretary. He mentioned that the group always know where they stand with her and he is grateful for the working relationship they have.

Conversation with the group

Jim then welcomed the Cabinet Secretary of Social Security and Older People, Shirley-Anne Somerville, to the meeting. She began by thanking everyone in the group for the work they have done in the last year and noted that it was incredible seeing it all together. The Cabinet Secretary acknowledged the good relationship between the Group and the SG. She mentioned that the advice the Group sends is extremely important and she can see the thought and consideration the group puts in all their advice. The Cabinet Secretary noted that although this is a difficult time, mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she’s grateful to still be able to come and speak to the group.

The Cabinet Secretary then gave a short speech on the state of social security in Scotland. She highlighted that despite the challenges brought by COVID-19 significant progress has been made. She gave a brief overview of the many things Government have accomplished in the past year and explained more details regarding the re-planning for delivering planned benefits will be announced soon. Finally, she noted that extending the group was a straightforward decision to make as the advice and guidance the group has given to the SG is invaluable.

Jim thanked the Cabinet Secretary, noting how helpful it is to have a sense of where the benefits are. He then asked the group for comments and questions. The group and the Cabinet Secretary then discussed the following:


  • the suspension and reinstatement of overpayments. The brilliant working relationship between the Group and officials, particularly over the last year
  • the importance of equality impact assessments (EQIA), and the Fairer Scotland Duty assessments including their drafting process and the involvement of those with lived experience that will be affected by the policy. The additional payment of Carer’s Allowance Supplement was extremely welcomed
  • the use of the Scottish Welfare Fund at a local level including how data is collected on who it is reaching to identify equality in delivery. Some rights workers and lawyers in Northern Ireland have expressed envy at how the experience panels in Scotland help shape the Social Security system
  • there is great leadership being shown from a policy level, down through the agency and the directorate
  • the additional assistance provided to local authorities for winter hardship is welcome and monitoring of how the local authorities use this
  • there were one to one conversations held with Dundee Fighting for Fairness about what change disabled people want to see and what their hopes are. Some of the points that came from those conversations are were;
  • they feel left behind because they haven’t seen the uplift of Universal Credit. Legacy benefits are not being uprated
  • unless circumstances change benefits should be left in place, for example the Warm Homes discount. Can Government lean on the energy companies to sort out payments for this?
  • on paper people might think they know what they are entitled to as a result of a PIP award, but it is often that information is out of date. We need to make sure we understand how the systems are landing locally
  • need to ensure we aren’t building a really impressive Social Security when other parts of the system, such as healthcare aren’t following in respect to human rights

The Cabinet Secretary shared her views on these matters with the group and reflected on the feedback received. She highlighted that the Scottish Government is always striving to determine where changes can be made to create the best social security system for Scotland.

The Cabinet Secretary again thanked the group and left them to develop their advice on PADP.

Discussion re: Pension Age Disability Payment advice request

Officials discussed the policy paper that had been distributed to the group regarding PADP. This included questions that would be useful for the group to discuss and help form their advice.

The group and officials discussed the following:

  • considerations around a mobility component for Pension Age Disability Payment including EQIA and Fairer Scotland assessment.. The transfer of case law and eligibility criteria from Attendance Allowance (AA) and the implications of this. Safeguards in the new system to notify Social Security Scotland when people enter and leave hospital
  • experience panels
  • the connections between Attendance Allowance, Pension Age Disability Payment and Carer’s Allowance. The ‘28 day rule’ and variations of this with the different disability payments
  • considerations around late discharge, for example in instances where older people may remain in hospital because other parts of the system are stopping their ability to return home
  • considerations towards recognising the care that an individual is receiving rather than the physical place they are in
  • people in legal detention due to their mental health are patients rather than prisoners
  • the process around notifying Social Security Scotland when an individual is in hospital with consideration given to those on a compulsion order
  • the qualifying period of six months
  • pension Age Disability Payment EQIA and the gender difference of those currently in receipt of Attendance Allowance – twice as many women are in receipt of AA

The officials thanked everyone for their input and questions. It was agreed that a further meeting about Motability would be useful.

Action one: Set up a follow up meeting to discuss Motability

Action for: Secretariat

Action by: end of 2020

Breakout groups: advice production

The group then broke into two smaller groups to discuss the specific questions the officials requested advice on.

What are the views of the group regarding the eligibility criteria for PADP?

The group raised the following points:

  • there are two reasons why they would want to keep the same criteria:
  • during transfer there won’t be any discrepancies
  • the other reason is the passporting issue
  • there are so many things we are not able to change at the moment because of safe and secure transition
  • there was always a fear that the timeline would be delayed which is what has happened with COVID
  • what should be getting spoken about is people’s real life needs
  • older people have mobility needs which is not being properly reflected
  • the point about the qualifying period is interesting because it is important in terms not being a benefit for people with short term difficulties
  • it would be better if the payment was backdated for that six months
  • how are people coping in that six months?
  • it is the transfer stage that is currently being looked at rather than future development
  • it is felt that the group will be looking at giving similar advice as was previously given on disability assistance

Do the group have any views on how to make the application process easier for older people?

The group discussed the following:

  • the range of methods to apply is a significant positive
  • both the take up and the application process could be influenced by who is doing the application
  • if it is a carer and not the person themselves making the application, is it known if that’s because there is a barrier?
  • there will be cases where AA and Carer’s Allowance happen co-dependently, for example in couples
  • there is no data to know the split of who is applying themselves and who is relying on their carer
  • it would be good to have really clear referral processes from other services
  • currently the agency rely on people contacting them. There could be a way that services get in touch with the agency with an individual’s details and the agency could contact them to begin the process
  • throughout COVID, organisations have contacted individuals and it was noted that the help the individuals have accepted haven’t been what they have asked for
  • considering how arduous the criteria is, it can be off-putting
  • there is a COVID-specific thing we would add to anything which is about people not easily having access to advice
  • has there been analysis of why the PIP applications had fallen?
  • people don’t often think about filling out an application during crisis, even though it would lead to them receiving the benefit
  • the system needs to be flexible around an individual not being able to meet all the deadlines, especially during extreme circumstances, for example COVID. This will help ensure individuals don’t lose out on money

Do the group have any views on how award duration should be set for PADP?

The group discussed the following:

  • someone who is on the lower rate might miss out if they are not reviewed more often as their conditions could worsen
  • someone on the higher rate would be suitable for a longer review period
  • need to balance the psychological impacts. With a short period there is constant uncertainty about if the award will continue. But a longer period means individuals might miss out on an upgrade
  • there needs to be more detail about light-touch. It is a phrase that is said a lot but has not been seen in practice
  • there would be a presumption that someone on a low award would want shorter review periods but can something be put in place if they are happy to stay on the lower award without review?

Regarding the rules on alternative accommodation; have we struck the right balance with the rules given the age and likely range of outcomes for older people?

This raised questions and comments from the group such as:

  • there is a question on whether people’s needs are met when they are in alternative accommodation
  • often families will go in and provide care to individuals in hospital
  • the rules are the same whether you have been sentenced to prison as a result of legal proceedings or whether you have been taken into custody
  • you would expect that level of care in a prison but can it be guaranteed in custody?
  • rather than being about the level of care the individual is receiving, it seems to be whether they are incurring the same cost
  • there are concerns around this as it would affect Carer’s Allowance also
  • 28 days is too short. Three months would maybe be a fairer timeframe
  • being in hospital can be stressful enough, adding the stress of knowing your award could run out due to delays should be avoided
  • if you are able to be discharged but there are other delays then there should be an extension on the 28 days
  • if you employ people as part of your package of support, they can’t be let go because you are in hospital just to employ them again when you are discharged

Group discussion

The group then met in private to reflect on the meeting and discuss group matters.

David gave a run through of next steps. He confirmed that a draft of the advice will be sent to the group in the coming weeks and they will have an opportunity to comment and feedback on it. The finalised advice note will be sent out before Christmas.

Action two: Send first draft of advice to the Group

Action for: Secretariat

Action by: mid December 2020

David then reflected on his change of role and assured the group that until a replacement Secretary is in place he will still be available to support the group with its core work. However, he explained that if there is any proactive work the group wants to undertake, group members will need to take the lead. He noted that officials are very welcoming to the idea of a seconded member of staff as they cannot guarantee someone with knowledge of Social Security if the job is advertised internally in the SG.

Jim then asked the group for reflections on the meeting. The group raised the following points:

  • a lot of the advice that can be given on this benefit has possibly already been given in previous advice notes
  • there is specific COVID context now but in terms of eligibility criteria it is still the same issues that the group are not happy with
  • there is a frustration that the transitions won’t be happening when it was thought they would. When are we going to be able to improve disability assistance?
  • very glad that the Group will be doing work on beyond safe and secure transition as that is something that is greatly needed
  • what is being done now is a lift and lay approach. Will there be an opportunity to make changes at a later date or will changes only be made in response to legal action
  • there have been policy changes made on terminal illness and on 16 and 17 year olds. Were these changes made based on doing EQIA or were they a result of political pressure?
  • there needs to be an explanation why changes (e.g. adding a mobility component) cannot be made on PADP
  • if we change the descriptors then that would mean reassessing everyone but changes can be made to the six month rule etc. because the people currently entitled would not be affected by that
  • we can make recommendations on these kind of issues that will make things fairer
  • concerns that officials don’t have a clear understanding of what the current system looks like
  • surprised that officials hadn’t had access to previous advice on other projects such as the prisoner healthcare transfer
  • it would save a lot of rehashing some discussions. There is also lessons learned within them

David clarified that part of the reason for the extension of the group was so they can go back and revisit benefits to see what further changes need to be made.

Thanks and close

Action log

  • Action one: set up meeting on Motability. Action for: Secretariat. Action by: end of 2020
  • Action two: send first draft of the advice to the group. Action for: Secretariat. Action by: mid December 2020
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