Thank you for your letter of 1 June and to the Advisory Group and Fiona Collie, Lucinda Godfrey, and Judith Paterson in particular for their work to provide this advice on Carer's Allowance Supplement (CAS). I am grateful to them and to the wider group for their considered comments on this.
Please be assured that we do recognise the importance of the delivery of Carer's Allowance Supplement in building public trust in our new system and new agency. While there are challenges and complexities in delivering this as an interim solution, we are working to ensure the best possible experience for carers, in line with our overarching commitment to dignity, fairness, and respect. I have provided some clarification and further information on the issues raised below.
Data protection officials within the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have advised that they do not need to seek consent from individuals in receipt of Carer's Allowance in order to share their data with us. This is because agreement to share data with 'other government departments ' is already given as part of the completion of any DWP application form for support. Sharing of data between DWP and Scottish Government for social security purposes is permitted in line with the Scotland Act 1998, as amended by the Scotland Act 2016.
Under the terms of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), DWP are required to inform individuals of any changes to who controls their data. When executive competence for Carer's Allowance transfers to Scottish Government , we will become the 'data controller' for data on Scottish recipients of CA. DWP will therefore need to contact affected carers to advise them of this change. We will be working with DWP to ensure this information is provided in a way which is clear and does not create unnecessary concern among carers.
Social Security Scotland will include information in the notification letters which we issue to CAS recipients to set out our commitment to protecting individuals' privacy. The letters will also provide a link to more detail on how we will use, secure, and share information, and the right of individuals to access information we hold.
Detail on the data protection and sharing aspects of CAS will also be included in our wider stakeholder and public communications work. We are also working with the DWP on guidance for their staff and for Social Security Scotland staff to ensure we have a clear and consistent response to queries from members of the public on this issue.
Social Security Scotland will be responsible for all direct client communications on CAS, and these communications are being tested with our Experience Panels, as you noted. We are also working with carers organisations, advice organisations, and wider third sector and public service partners, including through our CAS short-life practitioner group, to ensure that our communications on CAS are clear and tailored to the needs of our audiences.
While CAS is an interim solution we do recognise the complexities as you have highlighted and the need for clear guidance to avoid any confusion or concern among carers. We have developed a detailed question and answer document on CAS for stakeholders, based on feedback from stakeholders and carers and this will be used to inform a range of GAS communications as we move towards making the initial payments and beyond. An initial version has been shared with stakeholders to support their communications and this will be continually updated, expanded and improved in response to feedback.
As highlighted in relation to data sharing above, we are also working with DWP on agreed guidance for their staff to respond to queries, and aligning this with Social Security Scotland guidance where possible. This will ensure clarity and consistency for carers. This guidance will also be constantly reviewed to ensure it is meeting need.
Underlying entitlement to Carer's Allowance
Our Q and A includes clear lines on carers who only have an underlying entitlement to Carer's Allowance, and these will also be covered in guidance for DWP and Social Security Scotland staff. These carers will not be elig ible for the supplement as it is targeted at carers in receipt of Carer's Allowance, as this is the lowest of all working age benefits. We recognise that carers in this situation - particularly those in receipt of State Pension who form the vast majority of carers with underlying entitlement in Scotland - have real concerns about being excluded from receipt of Carer's Allowance. This is a complex issue and one which we are considering with carers organisations in relation to longer term changes to support for carers.
Interactions between Carer's Allowance Supplement and other support
Interaction s between CAS and DWP benefits and other support have been one of the key issues raised by partners and through the Experience Panels in the development of CAS communications. We have agreed with the UK Government that CAS will be disregarded as income in the calculation of means-tested benefits and tax credits, but the supplement will be taxable, as the definition of income for tax purposes remains reserved to the UK Government. We have also agreed disregards in the Council Tax Reduction (CTR) scheme and college student support which are devolved.
As noted this will not affect the status of the main Carer's Allowance, which will still be taken into account as income in calculations of means-tested benefits, CTR and college student support.
Clear lines on these interactions will be included in the notification letters issued to all recipients of CAS and in the wider stakeholder and public communications on the supplement.
Data issues with the Department for Work and Pensions
Advisory Group members may also be aware of an issue which has emerged recently around the data on carers which may be available from DWP for the initial payments of CAS. Following an initial agreement with DWP we were informed that some of the data requested to pay CAS would not be available for the first payments later this summer, in particular, contact details for people who are appointees or have power of attorney for carers, details of carers who require correspondence in alternative formats, and data on carers with 'sensitive' records. I wrote to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on 17 May to raise our concerns about this missing data and to request assurances that commitments on CAS would be met and the full set of data would be available for future payments.
In response, the Minister for Disabled People assured me that DWP are continuing to work to try to resolve these issues, and that the data needed will be available in time for future CAS payments. We have now had confirmation from DWP that they will be able to provide the 'sensitive' records data so no payments should be delayed as a result of DWP data issues.
As part of the communications work outlined above, we will also be working with stakeholders to mitigate the impact of any missing data issues that cannot be resolved in time for the initial payments - in particular to ensure our correspondence is as accessible as possible for those who would norma lly receive this in an alternative format.
Processes for challenge or complaint
As you have highlighted, Social Security Scotland has set out a clear approach to challenge and complaint. This follows the model Complaints Handling Procedure as set out by the Scottish Public Service Ombudsman (SPSO), with the option for the complaint to be considered by the SPSO if unresolved through this procedure.
In terms of how we support recipients of CAS to understand what to expect from the system, in advance of the completion of the Social Security Charter, we will be publishing our commitments in terms of service, and our complaints and complimentsprocess in an easy to understand and accessible format.
We are also designing our processes to ensure that individual feedback, whether a complaint, compliment or suggestion, will be valued and acted upon. Where possible, a complaint will be resolved quickly and at the point of contact. Complaints will be independently and thoroughly investigated, without detriment to any ongoing claim for support, by the designated client experience team for the agency.
The agency will also publish its performance in handling complaints annually in line with SPSO requirements. This will include performance statistics showing the volumes and types of complaints and key performance details, for example, the time taken and the stage at which complaints were resolved. It is anticipated that the Charter will complement and refer to this complaints process once it is completed and in place.
If an individual has concerns regarding policy decisions underpinning CAS, then these can be addressed to Scottish Ministers, who would provide a policy response from Scottish Government. An individual would have the option to seek a judicial review through the courts, should they wish to exercise that right. Judicial reviews are dealt with by the Court of Session in Edinburgh.
In relation to the example given regarding residence and eligibility, it is our policy that residence in Scotland for the purposes of CAS is based on postcode. Where an individual has a Scottish postcode registered with the DWP they will receive CAS, and where they do not, they will not. If there are concerns with this approach, they could be raised with Ministers and others as per the above.
As Carer's Allowance will continue to be administered by DWP until the Scottish Government takes full control, Scottish individuals who wish to dispute decisions not to award Carer's Allowance will need to follow the DWP process for challenging decisions.
I hope that this information is of assistance and assurance to you and I look forward to seeing the group at your next meeting on 30 August.
Thank you once again for your work on CAS and your continued advice and expertise to support our work in delivering a fairer social security system, which meets the needs of the people of Scotland.
F/T: 0300 244 4000
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