Disability and Carer Benefits Expert Advisory Group - beyond a safe and secure transfer: advice
This proactive advice outlines a number of recommendations the Disability and Carer Benefits Expert Advisory Group made on the additional positive impact which disability and carer’s assistance could make, following the safe and secure transfer of all clients on to new forms of Scottish assistance.
3. Carer benefits
The stated purpose for carers benefits is:
- Carer's Assistance: To help carers protect their health and wellbeing, so they can continue to care if they wish, and have a life alongside caring. Carer benefits, while not a payment for care, can help achieve this.
This suggests that every unpaid carer should be eligible, but this is not the case. For example, unpaid carers will not receive Carer's Assistance if they are in work and earning more than £132 a week, which is a significant number of unpaid carers. Carer's Assistance is also not sufficient money for a carer. It doesn't meet the extra costs in the same way that disability benefits do. We believe this is unfair - the additional costs associated with caring will still apply.
We were pleased to see the Scottish Carer's Assistance consultation launched on 24 Feb 2022. We look forward to seeing the published responses, analysis report and formal Scottish Government response. We particularly welcomed inclusion of considerations on a number of impact assessments including an EQIA and Fairer Scotland Duty. We also welcomed the proposed future changes to Scottish Carer's Assistance to improve access to education, recognising different caring situations, improving stability of support and recognition for a wider group of unpaid carers.
To ensure unpaid carers access all of their entitlements, premiums and add-ons they should be encouraged to apply for carer benefits. This aspect of claiming benefits should be vastly improved to be less complicated, ensuring maximum take-up.
Considering the content of the recent consultation and prior to the analysis and Scottish Government response being published, there are a number of further and separate suggestions we have for the future of carers benefits which we have outlined below.
As we have noted previously, when justifying any proposed policy change, the financial analysis should extend beyond just the cost of implementing the change. This should assess the wider cost of not implementing it on other areas of the system as well as the social security system. This should also go beyond the financial costs to include the wider benefits for the individual and society.
Recommendations 22: The following should be reviewed for Carer's Assistance:
22a: The amount of money paid should be significantly increased to reflect it as an earnings-replacement benefit. This should be in line with the human rights principle of adequacy.
22b: Equality data regarding Scottish carers should be improved, both in terms of what is recorded, how it is recorded and how it is used.
This is key to identifying where and how improvements should be made to the system. There should be an appropriately wide investigation into how protected characteristics and seldom heard voices are affected by how Carer's Assistance will be designed and administered. Specific examples of note include gender, race and ethnicity, age and prior care experience.
22c: Possible additional passported benefits.
3.1 Impact on other benefits and tax
We would also like to highlight a number of impacts on other benefits and tax. These largely echo previously made recommendations.
As was recommended in our advice of June 2017 on Carer's Allowance Supplement (CAS):
'We would urge you to remain mindful that there are complexities and potential for people to fall through the gaps, and to ensure that communication and guidance is robust enough to anticipate the less straightforward situations. We recommend that clear guidance on the supplement, issues of overlapping benefits, tax credits, taxation etc is available for carers and advisors.'
We feel this can be mirrored for Carer's Assistance more generally.
Recommendation 23: Clear and up to date guidance on the following should be available for both carers and advisors:
1. the entire range of carer benefits available (e.g. working of premiums even when Carer's Assistance is deducted from Universal Credit);
2. issues of overlapping benefits for both the cared for person and unpaid carer(e.g. state pension)
3. other complexities of the eligibility criteria (e.g. full-time education; earnings threshold as a cliff edge)
4. tax credits; and
There is a lack of public information available on the impacts of applying for Carer's Assistance when on Universal Credit. This should be presented clearly alongside how this may impact Carer's Allowance Supplement entitlement. This penalises those on the lowest incomes in our society.
Recommendation 24: Carers that are on Universal Credit should be proactively contacted by Social Security Scotland to apply for Scottish Carer's Assistance.
This would ensure they receive all of the additional supplements, premiums and payments they are entitled to.
Recommendation 25: Additions should be made to the Social Security Scotland website targeted at carers currently not in receipt of carer benefits that they are entitled to.
This should explain that Carer's Assistance can entitle individuals to Carer's Allowance Supplement and Carer's Additional Person Payment.
Recommendation 26: A further Fairer Scotland Duty assessment should be conducted on Scottish Carer's Assistance.
This should look at specific wider impacts. For example, the effects on child poverty of the underlying entitlement issue referred to above.
3.2 Changes to Carers Assistance
3.2.1 Short-term Assistance
Short-term assistance and its interactions with Scottish Carer's Assistance is an entirely new concept and payment for carers and advisors. Therefore, it is key that explanatory information is well described and clearly explained. We agree with the intent of Short-term Assistance.
Recommendation 27: Any communications to carers around Short-term Assistance should be clear, concise and in sufficient detail. This should include information on eligibility, how and when to apply.
In instances when Scottish Carer's Assistance stops, or entitlement ends, we believe the Scottish Government should continue to provide financial support. This would decrease the unnecessary stress on clients in a number of circumstances which are likely to already be extremely mentally, emotionally, physically and financially challenging.
Recommendation 28: Payment run-ons should be implemented in instances where Scottish Carer's Assistance awards are stopped due to the underlying entitlement stopping.
3.2.3 Nil awards
We understand that the concept of 'nil awards' is being explored. This would allow carers to receive Carer's Assistance payments again sooner (compared to having to re-apply in current the DWP system) should the eligibility criteria for Carer's Assistance be met again within six months of the 'nil award'.
We would welcome further information on how any proposed nil award would work with carer premiums/additions. We would also welcome any insights into how it is envisaged other agencies would know what a nil award is, or if there are differences in entitlements, which could be further complicated through carers additions/premiums.
3.2.4 When a cared for person goes into hospital, residential care, or temporary care
Currently, when a cared for person goes into hospital, Carer's Allowance will stop after four weeks. We believe this does not align with the principles of the 2018 Act.
Hospitalisation is a peak point of financial stress for carers and cared-for persons, and is a time where carers are highly likely to have increased transport costs amongst other increased expenditure. In other words, this is likely to be a time when carers need stability in their income most. Additionally, in many cases individuals have an increased length of stay in hospital not because they are still ill, but because there is insufficient social care resource in place in the community to support their discharge. This is a strain on social care that we know is getting worse and therefore is set to become increasingly more common.
In some health boards unpaid carers are considered essential visitors, particularly when the cared-for person has notably complex needs, to continue to provide high levels of care. Therefore, it is in these most significant cases where the carer, as per the current eligibility, would be most heavily penalised.
Recommendation 29: Scottish Carer's Assistance should not be stopped, suspended or lowered to a 'nil award' in instances where the cared-for person has been in hospital, residential care, or temporary care for any number of days.
3.2.5 Past Presence test
As the past presence test predominantly impacts people that are not British nationals, this is discriminatory. We do not believe this test can be justified in the Scottish system solely for the purposes of mirroring the UK system for a safe and secure transfer. With equality and human rights underpinning the Scottish system, we would expect this to face significant challenges in future.
Recommendation 30: We would recommend that the 'past presence test' be removed due to its discriminatory nature. Any intended rationale to retain the test should be provided beyond it being replicated from the UK system.
3.3. Carer's Additional Person Payment
We are pleased to see that many of our previous recommendations on the formerly referred to Carer's Additional Child Payment, now Carer's Additional Person Payment have been accepted. However, there are a number of further issues we would like to highlight at this time.
It has been proposed that carers would have to provide evidence of at least 20 hours of care a week for each additional person they are caring for in order to be eligible for an award of Carer's Additional Person Payment, with this deemed to be a 'significant' number of additional caring hours. We believe this could result in a more onerous system than currently exists with the DWP in terms of assessing the number of eligible hours. We acknowledge that there are specific hours in the current UK legislation for Carer's Allowance, but in practice, the DWP do not ask for evidence of this.
A carer's statement of hours should be sufficient evidence to make a decision on eligibility, as is the case in the current system. This should be reflected in the supporting information, decision making guidance, and evidence used to make tribunal decisions.
Recommendation 31: A carer's statement of hours should be sufficient evidence of eligibility for Carer's Assistance and Carer's Additional Person Payment.
Recommendation 32: The Scottish Government should share the evidence that concludes 20 hours of care a week for each additional person is required to be deemed 'significant'.
We also believe that the proposed £10 per week payment is far too low and should be increased. This would go some way to better reflect and acknowledge the significant emotional and physical labour carers are under, as well as the pressures and costs they alleviate from wider social care and the NHS. This should be considered alongside the previously accepted recommendation from this Group as per our 23 December 2020 advice on Scottish Carer's Assistance:
'The relationship between unpaid carers and social care must be well understood when considering how to improve outcomes for carers. It is important that unpaid carers are not expected to take on or maintain caring roles due to inadequacies in the social care system.'
To better inform what the amount of Carer's Additional Person Payment should be increased to, it would be helpful to understand the specific intended purpose of this additional payment, and the analysis that concluded £10 per week would sufficiently meet this purpose.
Recommendation 33: The amount of Carer's Additional Person Payment should be substantially increased in line with the human rights principle of adequacy.
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