1. Strategic context
The SNP Manifesto 2016 committed to establishing a 'Disability Benefits Assessment Commission to provide recommendations and guidance on how often assessments should be, what conditions should be given an automatic or lifetime awards, and eligibility criteria'.
Ministers subsequently clarified that this should be known as the Disability and Carers Benefits Expert Advisory Group ('the Group'). The benefits for consideration by the Group are those being newly devolved that seek to help to meet some of the additional costs of a disability, benefits that provide financial support for people injured or affected by 'prescribed diseases' in the course of their work and carers' benefits. The current benefits for consideration are Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payment, Attendance Allowance, Severe Disablement Allowance, Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit and Carers Allowance.
The Group will consider the feasibility of different options within the current policy and financial landscape.
The purpose of the Disability and Carers Benefits Expert Advisory Group is to provide recommendations and advice to Scottish Ministers, by request and proactively, on the policy and practice options being developed on disability and carers benefits. This will include options for the benefits when powers over them are transferred to the Scottish Parliament, and options that would be implemented after the safe and secure transfer of the benefits. The Group's deadline for final recommendations is the end of this Parliamentary term.
To achieve this purpose, the remit of the Group is to:
Provide advice to Ministers on the benefits which are in scope, i.e. those that seek to help to meet some of the additional costs of a disability, those that provide financial support for people injured or affected by "prescribed diseases" in the course of their work, and carers' benefits. Currently these are:
- Disability Living Allowance (DLA)
- Personal Independence Payment (PIP)
- Attendance Allowance (AA)
- Severe Disablement Allowance (SDA)
- Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB)
- Carers Allowance (CA)
Specifically advise on key areas for reform, including, but not limited to:
- reform of the assessment of disability and carer benefits (from application to final decision and including data and evidence)
- award periods, automatic awards and lifetime awards
- eligibility criteria for disability and carer benefits
- take up of benefits
- Agency delivery and operation
Use evidence from a number of sources to provide recommendations and guidance to Scottish Ministers on specific policy options being developed by the Scottish Government on the benefits within scope, including options for the existing benefits when powers over them are transferred to the Scottish Parliament, and options that would be developed and implemented after the safe and secure transfer of the benefits.
Develop a Group workplan and order of priority for the development of advice and recommendations, taking into account the Scottish Government's programme plan for Social Security.
Fulfil their remit by engaging with separate workstreams as appropriate, including the Experience Panels, Collaboratives and existing reference groups. Work undertaken may make use of Scottish Government analysis in the first instance, and take a view on the extent to which independent analysis is commissioned.
4. Timing and Review
The Group will meet around four times a year. Workstreams may meet additionally / outwith this timeline. Any matters which need to be decided on outwith the schedule of meetings may be dealt with by correspondence.
The Group's programme of work will continue until the end of this Parliamentary session, with the potential for it to be extended.
A review of the Group will be conducted after the first 18 months to ensure that the remit and membership remain fit for purpose.
In addition to the review at 18 months, the Group will have the opportunity to formally consider and review this remit and terms of reference as necessary throughout the life of the Group. A degree of flexibility within the remit will be required as the Group progress with their programme of work.
5. Accountability, Governance and Support
The Group is independent. Advice will be provided directly to Ministers. The Terms of Reference, a high level workplan, an annual report and minutes of meetings will be published. The Group retains an option to make other documentation and resources public where appropriate.
The Group is not established on a statutory basis. It is therefore not subject to the formal public appointments process and the requirements of the Code of Practice for Ministerial Appointments to Public Bodies in Scotland. Members are appointed by Scottish Ministers, taking into account the views of the Chair and existing members.
Participation in the Group will not be remunerated. Any expenses such as travel and subsistence will be paid at normal Scottish Government rates, unless this is already covered by attendees regular working arrangements.
Meetings will be attended by named members, and support workers if required, only. Substitutes will usually not be accepted, apart from by prior agreement with the Chair.
Decision making will be as far as possible by consensus, or by majority if consensus is not reached, with the Chair having a casting vote if necessary. Attendance of 12 (out of the current 19) members will be considered quorate.
Members will agree to abide by the following Group norms:
- Attend the majority of meetings
- Observe good time keeping
- Take individual responsibility for engaging and completing tasks delegated to them
- Switch off phones and electronic devices during meetings, apart from those being used for note taking etc.
Meetings will take place in accessible locations. If members are able to offer suitable accommodation within their own organisations this would be appreciated. Although the Group is independent, suitable Scottish Government accommodation may be used if other accommodation is not available.
Dedicated secretariat support will be provided by Scottish Government staff from within existing budgets.
6. Communications and Information Sharing
The Group will not be subject to Freedom of Information (FOI) and will not be required to respond to FOI requests. This is because the Group is not established on a statutory basis, and because it is clearly reflected within the Group's remit and appointment letters that they are independent.
Any papers provided from the Group to Scottish Government Ministers or officials will become subject to the usual FOI requirements. This means that any e-mails, notes, initial or formative advice and communications to Scottish Government Ministers or officials, would immediately become Scottish Government documents for the purposes of FOI. The Scottish Government can apply exemptions to withhold certain information, for example if policy is still being formulated, but may not be applicable for other types of information. Documents withheld for policy development reasons are likely to become appropriate for release in the future, once policy in this area is fully formed.
The Scottish Government Secretariat will keep the Group's records in a separate electronic file with restricted access. This will clarify that, for the purposes of FOI, the Scottish Government is holding these records only on behalf of the group and not in its own right.
Information and papers sent to Group members are intended for viewing by those members only. There should be an assumption that papers will contain Official Sensitive level information and thus should not be shared with colleagues or third parties, either in hard copy or electronically, and their content should not be discussed outwith the Group or any of its agreed workstreams or sub-groups. Protocols will be developed for the distribution of information and papers.
Group discussions are confidential and not for sharing with third parties.
7. Collaboratives and Relationships with Other Groups
The Group will be able to commission and draw on the work of Collaboratives drawn from the broad areas of Users, Practitioners and Deliverers. It is envisaged that the Group will engage proactively with the Collaboratives, and that the Collaboratives will report directly to the Group on specific issues. Alongside this, officials can provide a conduit for interaction and information flow between the Group, Collaboratives and existing representative groups as needed.
The User Collaborative is intended to draw upon the experience of a range of recipients or ex-recipients of each of the benefits within scope. Members of this Collaborative will be drawn from the Experience Panels when these are fully established and operational by summer 2017. The Group will be able to commission specific pieces of work from the Experience Panels, and draw upon work already commissioned.
The Practitioner Collaborative is intended to consist of the range of professionals who interact with benefit recipients on their user journey and may include:
- GPs and other health care professionals
- Staff providing social care on behalf of local authorities
- Local authority, third sector and housing advice services staff
- Independent advocates with experience of supporting people through the PIP assessment process
- Union representation
This resource could be secured in the main from existing groups and networks, and the Group will establish the necessary links to prevent the duplication of work.
The Deliverer Collaborative is intended to consist of staff with experience of benefit administration. The Group will be expected to liaise as necessary with Scottish Government analysis and procurement colleagues to explore options around obtaining input from appropriate staff and to prevent the duplication of work.
Three representative groups already support Scottish Government policy development for disability, ill health and carers benefits: the Ill Health and Disability Benefits Stakeholder Reference Group, the Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefits Advisory Group and the Carers Benefit Advisory Group. These groups are remitted to advise the Scottish Government on:
- the evidence base for policy decisions
- potential impact of policy decisions
- user and stakeholder engagement
- fit with the wider public sector landscape
interaction with wider Scottish and UK social security benefits.
Much of this will also be considered by the Group, but these existing groups have a distinct role to play, principally in working closely with officials to develop options for consideration by the Group. In turn the Group will engage as appropriate with these existing groups around shared interests and will establish effective communication and feedback mechanisms. They also support officials to advise Ministers on these and broader issues. Their distinct roles include:
engagement with representative organisations to take messages in
- conduit for messages to wider stakeholder communities
- support to implement co-production
- expert input on detailed elements of policy development
While the Group will operate independently of the Government, reporting directly to Ministers, these existing representative groups will continue to work directly with the Government. The Group will develop an understanding of the respective roles and potential contribution of these groups, while the other groups in turn may update their remits and membership to take into account the work of the Group.
In addition, the Welfare Reform: Health Impacts stakeholder group was established in 2012 by health officials to consider impacts of the social security reforms on people's health, and the work and findings of this group will also need to be taken into consideration.
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