Disability and Carers Benefits Expert Advisory Group: award review - response from Ministers

Letter from Ben Macpherson to Jim McCormick, Chair of the Disability and Carers Benefits Expert Advisory Group, on 15 October 2021.

Dr Jim McCormick
Chair: Disability and Carers Benefits Expert Advisory Group
c/o Scottish Government

15 October 2021

Dear Dr McCormick,

Thank you for your letter of 02 July 2021 regarding award reviews for Disability Assistance. I am pleased to hear of your constructive discussions with officials and welcome your feedback. I have considered all of your recommendations and am pleased to confirm that I broadly support them. I would like to address each in turn.

Recommendation 1: Further consider whether a more appropriate approach would be the issue of a single form with clear guidance provided for clients in relation to the relevant sections in changes to condition.

I am happy to accept this recommendation. We now have a single client journey for all Child Disability Payment and Adult Disability Payment clients undergoing a scheduled review. There is only one form that each client fills in.

Recommendation 2: Clear support and guidance must be in place to support the decision making process as to which form will be sent, whether that decision is made by a case manager or by the client.

We have changed the client journey to a single journey with one form. As a result this recommendation is no longer applicable.

Recommendation 3: The award review processes put in place should be future proofed to ensure that the values of dignity, fairness and respect remain at the centre of decision making.

We continue to follow User Centred Design principles and carry out user research to iterate the Award Review process and client communications ready for Child Disability Payment National launch and as such I am happy to accept this recommendation.

Recommendation 4: Further consideration of a separate process for clients on indefinite awards may be appropriate.

I am happy to accept this recommendation. Indefinite award clients will not be reviewed, and this will be made clear at first decision. In Child Disability Payment the client will not have a Review date set before their 18th birthday.

Recommendation 5: Documents and forms sent to clients must be focused on capturing information about changes to a client’s functional abilities and care needs rather than simply changes to the client’s condition.

Subsequent iteration of the design includes a more detailed set of instructions for the client about what functional abilities to tell us about. The Mobility questions are now split into two sections, which map onto the higher/lower rate of Mobility. I am happy to accept this recommendation.

Recommendation 6: Further consideration should be given to what information the client should be provided with about the basis for their current award (e.g. points awarded) in order to ensure that information was and remains accurate and the client should be provided with the initial review documentation.

I accept this recommendation in principle. We are exploring how we can communicate the points that have been awarded on our Adult Disability Payment decision report that would explain which points relate to which functional question. Once the design of Adult Disability Payment Decision Report is complete we can look at how this may inform the Review Form. Although not point based, we may also be able to take learning from this to iterate the content for Child Disability Payment. We are presenting the Adult Disability Payment Decision Report to DACBEAG in November.

Recommendation 7: All documentation and forms should clearly signpost, up front, the sort of support, including independent advocacy and advice that is available to clients to help make any necessary decisions and complete the forms.

Our content on help available is widely used, and has been through improvement since the draft submitted to DACBEAG. This includes more communication channels and accessible options for clients. This content will continue to be iterated to ensure it is suitable for Child Disability Payment clients before National launch. We will review our user research findings and content around help and signposting, to ensure it fits this requirement. Challenges exist, as provision of help varies by Local Authority area. Citizens Advice Scotland are currently the only independent service we signpost, due to this factor. In addition there is the new independent advocacy service.

Signposting to this service will be available once the service is fully operational.

Recommendation 8: An equality and human rights impact assessment should be used to inform the award review process, including which forms are used, the content of those forms and potentially removing identifying client information.

A formal Equality Impact Assessment and Child Rights’ assessment for Child Disability Payment as a whole, rather than the Review Forms specifically, have been undertaken and published. The Scottish Government is required by law to assess the impact of its policies and practices.

To ensure that our Reviews processes and the Review Forms align with the principles of dignity, fairness, and respect that underline the new social security system and take account of the findings of our impact assessments, we have been conducting regular user testing.

We have completed six rounds of user research testing across the Reviews process since July 2020. The testing has included 30 parents/guardians, each with their own unique circumstances and perspective. The needs and views of those 30 individuals have fed into the design process to influence and shape the current status. Findings from user research outside of Reviews have also influenced design, e.g. where there are related or universal needs, such as communication channels (still a work-in-progress).

Thank you for your continued support as we work toward delivering Disability Assistance reflective of our ethos of dignity, fairness and respect.

Yours sincerely,

Ben MacPherson

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