Disability and Carer Benefits Expert Advisory Group – Scottish Disability Living Allowance: response from ministers

Letter from Ben Macpherson, Minister for Social Security and Local Government, to Dr Jim McCormick, Chair of the Disability and Carer Benefits Expert Advisory Group, on 22 March 2023.

Thank you for your letter dated 9 December 2022 regarding several aspects of proposed policy on case transfer. I know that you have also had constructive discussions with officials, and we welcome your feedback.  

I have considered your recommendations and am pleased to confirm that I am broadly supportive of most of them. Please see my responses to each of them below, in turn. 


Recommendation 1: The evaluation of the delivery of devolved disability benefits should review the different experiences that different groups have of the case transfer process and explore why this is the case. Particularly those with protected characteristics. 

I accept this recommendation. 

As part of our evaluation of the case transfer process, we have externally commissioned qualitative research. The primary focus of this research is to obtain an insight into a variety of experiences, including the experiences of those who have transferred from different DWP benefits, for example, Personal Independence Payment and Disability Living Allowance for Adults. This is important because experiences of the case transfer process are likely to be different. Specifically, those whose awards have transferred from Disability Living Allowance for Adults will initially receive an Adult Disability Payment award on a like-for-like basis but will as soon as reasonably practicable have their award reviewed in line with the usual Adult Disability Payment eligibility rules. They are therefore more likely to receive a different level of award as a result of the transfer process. 

We will explore and report where appropriate, any differences in experiences of people transferring to Adult Disability Payment. As part of our commitment to looking at different groups of people (including those with protected characteristics) in our evaluation, we will also design our recruitment methodology to maximise the diversity of experiences captured through the qualitative research. This will include targeted recruitment strategies alongside addressing barriers to participation that certain groups may experience to ensure equality of opportunity to take part. The evaluation will include interviews with individuals who have had their cases transferred as well as Social Security Scotland staff and third sector organisations. We aim to give insight into the depth and diversity of experiences across different groups, whilst recognising that qualitative research cannot reveal the prevalence of a particular viewpoint.  

We will also be examining data from the Client Survey and the wider management information system to gain a quantitative insight into peoples’ experiences of the case transfer process. Where possible, relevant insights will be broken down by different groups of people, including those who have protected characteristics. 

Recommendation 2: Barriers to participation in the evaluation of the delivery of devolved disability benefits should be identified and addressed to ensure findings gathered are representative of Scotland’s diverse population.  

I partially accept this recommendation because whilst our research will address barriers to participation to ensure it captures as much diversity of experience as possible, there are methodological reasons why we cannot claim these experiences to be representative of the broader population. 

We are committed to maximising the full participation of people in research conducted for the evaluation of the delivery of disability benefits. For our externally commissioned qualitative work that comprises a large part of our evaluations, we have as a prerequisite that contractors ask participants about any barriers to participating that they may have. This allows individual barriers to be identified, and contractors are required to have a flexible and adaptable approach to maximise participation from people with a range of different needs. This involves, for example, the flexibility to use different means of participation as well as people being able to have support present during participation, where necessary. 

We ensure that informed consent is explicitly sought more than once. Firstly, people are able to opt into the research by contacting the contractor themselves. Secondly, people must agree verbally to take part and agree that they have understood what their participation will involve. 

We have also consulted with colleagues in the Experience Panels team who have advised on ensuring that our research materials are as accessible as possible, for example, including large font, simple and short sentences, with the option to discuss any questions or queries with the research team before, during, and after participation. 

Another step we take to enable participation involves recruiting third sector organisation staff as participants in our qualitative research. These staff can often provide unique insights from people who tend not to take part in research and can therefore ensure that their voices have the opportunity to be included. 

The purpose of qualitative research is not to achieve a sample that is statistically representative of the wider population. As noted above, we will seek to maximise the diversity of experiences included within the research and, through addressing barriers to participation, seek to give insight into how experiences may differ across groups. 

Recommendation 3: The equalities data collected as part of the evaluation of the delivery of devolved disability benefits should be as detailed as possible, notwithstanding the need for trust and cooperation to gain these insights. For example, including details of specific impairments.  

I accept this recommendation. 

Across our thematic approach to the evaluation of disability benefits, we will draw on data from a variety of sources to help build a detailed understanding of how disability benefits are being delivered and experienced. The case transfer evaluation also involves consideration of evidence from management information, Social Security Scotland research activity, and commissioned bespoke research. Data collected as part of the Social Security Scotland Client Survey involves asking those who have applied for disability benefits (or transferred onto Scottish disability benefits) questions that translate to equalities data. 

These involve asking how one’s condition or illness affects them, for example, whether it affects their vision, hearing, mental health, or affects them socially or behaviourally. Questions are also included on gender, age, ethnicity, and household income. When presenting relevant insights from the Client Survey in our evaluations, we will ensure that equalities breakdowns are presented where needed. Similarly, where possible and appropriate, we will consider analysis of management information across equality groups. 

For our externally commissioned qualitative research, we endeavour to show how experiences differ by characteristics, this will include whether participants are from an ethnic minority background as well as whether their disabilities are mental, physical, learning, cognitive, or multiple/complex. 

Carer’s Allowance to Carer Support Payment 


Recommendation 4: Carers should not be contacted to supply existing evidence of their earnings following transfer. Instead, carers should be reminded to report any changes in their circumstances to Social Security Scotland after transfer, including an increase or decrease in their earnings. 

I do not accept this recommendation because checks of people’s earnings after case transfer will be balanced and proportionate.  

Our priority is a safe and secure transfer of cases from Carer’s Allowance to Carer Support Payment, and these awards will transfer on the assumption that people’s earnings are under the earnings threshold.  

Information from a National Audit Office report from 2019 suggests that a significant majority of Carer’s Allowance overpayments are associated with recipients breaching the earnings threshold. DWP will not be able to provide the Scottish Government any information on individual earnings at the point of transfer and given the issues highlighted in the National Audit Office report, there is a risk that people’s awards will transfer to the Scottish Government where they have exceeded the earnings threshold. We are seeking to balance this risk with a process that is as light-touch as possible for individuals. HMRC data, as well as forms and evidence supplied by DWP during case transfer, will be used in the first instance to establish earnings, while people will only be contacted for further information as a last resort. 

As noted above, case transfer will complete safely and securely before there is any request to people for further information on their earnings, therefore asking for earnings information does not contradict the policy that individuals should not have to reapply for their benefit. 

Carer Support Payment, as is the case for Carer’s Allowance, will require some earners to periodically report their latest earnings information, for example where they are selfemployed or have fluctuating earnings. It is also important to note that DWP data will not identify what kind of earner an individual is. Therefore, without the process outlined to check earnings, it will not be possible to identify what type of earner an individual is and manage their award in line with Carer Support Payment policy. This would be a different approach from that taken for new Carer Support Payment claims. 

I recognise that DACBEAG members have raised concerns around any overpayments that could occur from checking the earnings of clients after transfer. It is important to highlight that where it is identified that someone’s earnings exceed the threshold, this will not be due to the transfer process. Rather, this will be because an individual has not maintained their responsibilities to report when their earnings have exceeded the earnings threshold to DWP, and the case will have transferred in error to Social Security Scotland. Both the notice of intention to transfer and the determination notice people will receive will clearly set out their duty to report relevant changes in circumstances, including if their earnings exceed the earnings threshold. We are continuing to look at whether we would seek to recover any overpayment that occurred in this situation and will take DACBEAG’s advice into account when determining the approach taken. 

Recommendation 5: There should be choice or flexibility in the assessment period used for earnings calculations. 

I accept this recommendation.  

We recognise that carers have a variety of different working patterns and that their earnings can often fluctuate above and below the earnings threshold for the benefit. We are currently working through a range of options to ensure we can be as flexible as possible in how fluctuating earnings are assessed in order to: 

  • ensure stable support for carers as much as possible
  • avoid continually or repeatedly setting a Carer Support Payment award to nil if their overall earnings would be below the threshold
  • avoid the risk of overpayments where a person’s average earnings would be below the earnings threshold       

SCA payment cycles 

Recommendation 6: The Scottish Government should further explore an option to move to a 4 weekly in advance payment cycle, with clients able to opt-out and choose an alternative payment cycle if needed.  

I do not accept this recommendation. 

I note that DACBEAG agree that both the use of an overlapping week of entitlement and providing transferring individuals with a choice of payment cycle would be reasonable approaches for people transferring on a 3+1 payment cycle. I also note the importance highlighted by DACBEAG regarding the impact decisions on payment cycles can have on reserved benefits. We continue to explore the options outlined to DACBEAG internally within the Scottish Government and through engagement with DWP regarding any impact decisions will have on reserved benefits. 

A four weekly in advance payment cycle is not a payment cycle that Social Security Scotland’s systems can support. However, based on discussions on this issue at the quarterly meeting, I understand that DACBEAG’s recommendation may be to overlap entitlement to Carer’s Allowance and Carer Support payment for one week, and move clients to a four weekly in arrears payment cycle. Clients would then be able to opt-out of this if their reserved income-related benefits would be negatively impacted. Such an approach has also been considered, however, we are of the view that this involves too much risk to people’s reserved benefits which cannot be adequately mitigated through communications. By requiring people to opt-out of this approach, there is the risk they may not when it would be beneficial for them to do so, either because they did not fully understand the options available to them, or because they did not act in time. The options currently in consideration can be delivered while maintaining clear communications, explaining when someone’s first payment falls and the period this payment will be for, while carrying no risk of reducing an individual’s DWP benefits.  

Disability Living Allowance to Scottish Disability Living Allowance 

Recommendation 7:  

  • cohort A should remain on SDLA for as long as they are eligible to receive it
  • cohort B should remain on SDLA for as long as they are eligible, with the option to voluntarily apply for ADP
  • cohort C should be treated the same as Cohort B, remaining on SDLA for as long as they are eligible, with the option to voluntarily apply for ADP 

Recommendation 8: There should be no natural migration of anyone from SDLA to ADP – migration should always be through an informed choice.  

I am grateful to DACBEAG members for the above recommendations. As members will appreciate, my officials are continuing to engage with relevant stakeholders with regards to the managed case transfer of those in the above cohorts and I am not able to commit to these recommendations in full at present. 

My officials continue to develop a case transfer journey that will be safe, secure and ensure that those in these groups will continue to receive the right payment at the right time, in line with our case transfer principles. Furthermore, in line with Social Security Scotland’s Charter commitment to treat people with dignity, fairness and respect, I would like to assure members that we will always aim to provide individuals with autonomy over their own payments wherever possible. 

Should the Scottish Government choose to pursue the introduction of a Scottish version of Disability Living Allowance, I will ensure that officials take the above recommendations into consideration. 

Recommendation 9: There should be an increase in welfare rights information, advice, guidance and representation to support all of these cohorts. This should ensure they are given the timely independent support and advice they want and need. 

As with the above, I am grateful to members for this recommendation, however as the policy position for case transfer of these groups is still under consideration, I am unable to commit in full at this stage. 

However, members will be aware that the Scottish Government is committed to increasing the awareness and take-up of benefits and other sources of financial and practical help. We have allocated around £12.5 million to support provision of free income maximisation, welfare and debt advice in 2022-23. 

Welfare Advice and Health Partnerships (WAHP) are an important example of such Scottish Government initiatives – placing welfare rights advisors in up to 180 GP surgeries in Scotland’s most deprived areas, as well as in remote and rural locations. WAHP practices can refer patients directly to an in-house welfare rights officer for advice on increasing income, social security eligibility, debt resolution, housing, and employability issues as well as helping with representation at tribunals. 

This vital support reaches people who have not engaged with traditional advice services, and ensures that Scottish households are supported to claim the benefits they are entitled to, challenge benefit decisions, maximise their incomes, resolve issues relating to employment, housing and much more. 

Attendance Allowance to Pension Age Disability Payment 

Recommendation 10: Additional Local Delivery staff and further Social Security 

Scotland resource should be allocated to identify those individuals in receipt of Pension Age Disability Payment who are eligible for a higher award, but transfer on a low award.

I do not accept this recommendation because a critical component of our case transfer process is that we trust that people’s awards are correct at the point of transfer from DWP. Reviewing every case simply to verify that the DWP award was correct would put many people through unnecessary reviews. 

However, we will be honouring the review dates set by the DWP in the first instance. Moreover, where a person feels that their needs have changed or their award is otherwise incorrect, we have committed to providing people with referrals to independent advice providers and other organisations where their assistance will improve the person’s financial circumstances or wellbeing. As above, we are investing in advice services to ensure this help is available. 

As with our intention to have an inclusive range of communication channels, people receiving Pension Age Disability Payment will also be able to report a change of circumstances online, by phone or by requesting or printing a paper form. This will allow people to seek a review when they feel there has been a change of circumstances that may impact upon their award. 

In circumstances where reviews are necessary, they will be light-touch and designed to minimise stress and anxiety for disabled people. We will tailor reviews for each person to ensure that they are appropriate to their needs, take account of their preferences and deliver the correct determination. 

Reviewing policy against the case transfer principles 

I am grateful to DACBEAG members for the assessment of the current case transfer policy and its consistency with the case transfer principles. I am pleased to hear that you believe the principles are being properly reflected and your past recommendations have been incorporated in the policies presented to you. 

As members are aware, my officials confirmed in their meeting with you that the evaluation will also seek to establish whether the case transfer process has been executed in line with the case transfer principles. 

In line with your specific point on communications, we have continued throughout the transfer process to communicate closely with stakeholders as we approached the launch of each form of Scottish assistance to ensure they, and people they support, have a solid understanding of the process and when and how their case will transfer. This communication will continue throughout the case transfer programme. 


I hope that you find these responses helpful. Once again, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Group for your support to develop a social security system that delivers with dignity, fairness and respect. 

Best regards, 

Ben Macpherson

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