Publication - Consultation analysis

Best Start Grant: Scottish Government response to the consultation

Published: 11 Sep 2018

Our response to points raised in the consultation on draft regulations for the Best Start Grant (Early Years Assistance).

21 page PDF

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21 page PDF

300.5 kB

Contents
Best Start Grant: Scottish Government response to the consultation
Summary of Consultation Findings and SG Response

21 page PDF

300.5 kB

Summary of Consultation Findings and SG Response

This table sets out the Scottish Government's response to points raised in the consultation. Further information on some of the action taken is in the text below the table, listed by consultation question number.

Consultation Question

Response Numbers

Summary Analysis from Consultation Report

BSG Policy Response

Q1 - Residence

Yes - 32

No - 2

Don't know - 1

Not answered - 16

Respondents were largely supportive of the 'habitually resident' test, however, concerns were raised in relation to the potential for this to unfairly exclude vulnerable groups such as refugees, asylum seekers, and victims of domestic abuse, as well as EU migrants and those that have recently moved from other parts of the UK. Some questioned how habitual residence in Scotland would operate in practice.

Despite broad support, on working through the practical implications, we have adapted our consultation proposals to make the process simpler and more accessible for applicants. Those on a qualifying benefit will have to demonstrate only ordinary residence in Scotland. This is a lower threshold than habitual residence and reflects the fact these applicants have already met stringent residency criteria in relation to their qualifying benefit.

Applicants not on a qualifying benefit will require to demonstrate habitual residence in the EEA, as well as ordinary residence in Scotland. This is because we will usually know much less about their residence and identity than those on qualifying benefits. This approach allows periods of residence accumulated anywhere in the EEA to be used to demonstrate eligibility.

The position for non- EEA migrants is explained in more detail below.

Q2 - There are two alternative responsibility tests set out in the consultation. Test 1 or Test 2?

Test 1 - 14

Test 2 - 21

Not answered - 16

There appears to have been some misinterpretation of the purpose of the proposed tests and related question by some respondents who considered this in terms of financial eligibility rather than to establish responsibility for a child. Test 2 was preferred by a larger proportion of respondents and was generally considered to be simpler, more efficient, and allow for greater flexibility in determining responsibility. However, concerns were raised over the reliance on Universal Credit ( UC) (for example the timescales involved in securing decisions via Universal Credit could have implications for the BSG), and in relation to the implications and risks to the BSG uptake due to the UC and Tax Credit ( CTC) two child rule. Concerns were also raised for kinship carers under the proposed arrangements at both tests.

Drawing on the responses to the consultation, we have combined the two tests we consulted on.

The main test will be whether the applicant is in receipt of CTC, UC Child or Child Benefit for the child they are applying for. Certain order will also be taken as evidence.

The test captures formal kinship carers and informal kinship carers who have secured a DWP benefit for the child they care for. It allows for electronic application without the requirement to present paper evidence. The use of CTC and UC Child have been welcomed as they are paid to the main carer of the child. CB is also included in response to concerns about the reliability of using CTC and UC.

If responsibility for a child changes during one of the application windows e.g. a child moves from living with a parent to a kinship carer, a second payment can be made to the new carer.

Q3 - We have proposed that qualification by UC should be an award of more than £0 in the month before or the month in which the application is made.

Yes - 17

No - 12

Don't know - 7

Not answered - 15

The need for UC to pay over £0 in the month preceding or the month in which the BSG application is made was argued to be a barrier for those with fluctuating incomes, those on maternity leave, those in areas heavily dependent on seasonal work, and those on zero hours contracts. Weekly/4 weekly wages, Christmas and bank holidays were also seen as creating potential issues for this approach; and consideration was needed around how sanctions to qualifying benefits might impact BSG.

The policy has been updated in response to the consultation so that, where an award has been reduced to £0 because of a sanction or debt recovery, the applicant will still qualify. This protects the interests of the child in the family. While we recognise that fluctuating income will have an effect on UC award levels, including the month before the application is made in eligilibilty, the applicant will know whether their award is more than £0 at the time when they apply. In combinaiton with long application windows, this gives applicants the option to choose when they apply so that they can qualify.

Q4 - We have proposed that in cases where the parent is under the age of 16, or is 18 or 19 and the grandparent (or another carer) is still in receipt of tax credit or UC because the parent is in training or non-advanced education, the grandparent or carer will be the eligible person.

Yes – 23

No – 8

Don't know – 3

Not answered – 17 (comments mostly indicate No)

The arrangements for payments to young parents were contentious. The majority of respondents agreed with the proposals, while others felt this negatively stereotyped young parents and impacted on their rights and access to the BSG. Also, difficult family relationships may prevent a young parent from receiving a payment if they are reliant on a parent to apply for them. There is also a risk that the money or associated goods might not ultimately be made available to the young parents/child. Several concerns were raised about taking control of the benefits away from the young parent, notably that the young person's self-efficacy and autonomy could potentially be undermined by possibly coercive or financially controlling grandparents (of the child) or otherwise difficult family dynamics.

In keeping with SSMG, the consultation proposed to make the grandparent the qualifying person for parents under 16 and those who are 18 and 19 and still in education and training. A number of concerns were raised about the grandparent qualifying, in particular around the rights of the child, empowering young parents and the possibility that the young parent might not benefit from the money.

In response to discussions during the consultation period and in keeping with the social security principles of dignity and respect, there will be a choice for young parents:

  • A young parent who is under 18 or 18 or 19 and still in full time education or training, can qualify for a payment.

Or/

  • A grandparent or someong responsible for a young mother can qualify for a payment on the basis that they are responsible for someone having a baby.

Q5 - Do you think that the regulations (Annex A) are likely to meet the policy intent set out in this document?

Yes - 28

No - 1

Don't know - 6

Not answered - 16

It was generally felt that the BSG was likely to meet the policy aims set out, and would contribute to tackling child poverty. However, there were suggestions by some that the first child payment should be more widely available, e.g. including those with large age gaps between children, and that effective promotion of the second and third payments in particular would be crucial in ensuring uptake. One respondent had concerns about the potential exclusion of kinship carers which would contradict the Government's intended policy.

The general exclusion of children in care in the consultation draft of the regulations caused concern among stakeholders because it would have excluded some children in kinship care and children looked after at home. The consultation document was not clear that this was not the intention. The responsibility test outlined above will allow access for these groups. However, it is not the policy that foster parents and children who are in residential care should be able to meet the test of responsibility as the costs that the BSG is intended to meet are covered by the Local Authority in these cases.

Q6 - Can you identify any potential unintended consequences of the regulations?

Yes - 11

No - 19

Don't know - 5

Not answered - 16

Unintended consequences identified included concerns around the reliance on UC( e.g. not providing a true reflection of income) and again highlighted the potential confusion around the Tax Credit/ UC two child rule and the implications for BSG uptake. Implications for those who choose not to use nurseries and/or to defer school intake were highlighted, along with a concern that the eligibility criteria and application process may be too complex for applicants to understand, and a risk that cash payments would not be used as intended.

While we recognise that UC has some limitations as a qualifying benefit, in order for BSG to be easy to access, requiring every applicant to provide evidence of their income to qualify for BSG would create a barrier to applying and make it expensive and time consuming to process. Using a qualifying benefit allows for a quick electronic check. We have extended UC eligibility over two months because of the short award period and because awards are made in arrears.

We have also included CB as a benefit to evidence responsibility for a child in part because of the 2 child rule for UC and Tax Credits. While the regulations will capture 3rd and subsequent children who are listed on a UC or CTC claim rather than just those where an award has been made, this is likely to be difficult to communicate and CB is widely taken up and easy to understand.

The BSG is not conditional on taking up a place at school or nursery. We have changed the name of the second payment to the "early learning" payment to reduce confusion.

Q7 - Can you identify any gaps in the regulations?

Yes - 11

No - 22

Don't know - 3

Not answered - 15

In relation to potential gaps, again it was suggested that the qualifying benefits currently exclude several which could be useful, including the Council Tax Reduction ( CTR), Maternity Allowance ( MA) and Disability Living Allowance ( DLA). Other gaps included the draft regulations not specifying how quickly applications will be processed or sufficient details regarding the re-determination process and timescales, and that students and care experience young people would potentially be excluded from the BSG where they did not hold a qualifying benefit.

We have sought to design the eligibility criteria for the BSG so that it reaches as many of the groups identified by stakeholders as possible. At the same time, in certain cases, we have decided not to change eligibility because it would reduce the focus of BSG on families who are on lower incomes and add a disproportionate amount of cost and complexity to processing. See Question 7 below for more information on policy decisions on CTR, MA, DLA as qualifying criteria and for students and care experienced young people.

Timescales for making a determination will be included in guidance rather than in regulations. Further information on re-determination processes and timescales will also be in guidance.

Q8a - We have proposed that requests for a BSG re-determination should be made within 31 calendar days of receipt of notification of the original determination.

Yes - 27

No - 6

Don't know - 2

Not answered - 16

The timescales proposed for re-determination requests and processing were largely supported, although some would prefer a longer request period for applicants, and also a longer window for processing should there be a need for further evidence requests/gathering.

The period of 31 calendar days to request a re-determination is consistent with the timescale provided to applicant's seeking to bring an appeal to the First-tier Tribunal. We believe the concerns raised by some respondents have been partly addressed as re-determinations can be requested up to 1 year after receipt of the original determination if there are 'good reasons' for lateness. The Agency will take a supportive role during this process and will assess every request individually, on a case by case basis.

New evidence does not need to be submitted in order to request re-determination; this will be gathered (if required) when the Agency is undertaking the re-determination. Guidance will be provided to help people better understand the re-determination process, their rights and the support the Agency will make available.

Q8b - We have proposed that a BSG re-determination should be processed within 15 working days of receipt of a request.

Yes - 31

No - 5

Don't know - 1

Not answered - 14

Many felt that having re-determinations processed within 15 working days of receipt of a request was acceptable, although some would prefer a longer window for processing should there be a need for further evidence requests/gathering.

Respondents were in favour of the Agency proposed timeline. The timescale will be clearly explained to applicants as will their appeal rights which are triggered when the Agency breaches the timescale.

We believe the timescales balances the operational needs of the Agency whilst ensuring applicants do not have an unduly long wait for a response. The Agency will take a pro-active role in ensuring that it has the necessary evidence to make a new decision.

9a - Are you aware of any equality impacts we have not identified?

Yes - 8

No - 22

Don't know - 4

Not answered - 17

Impacts on refugees and asylum seekers were identified.

We have considered whether the child of an asylum seeker could be eligible in their own right for BSG, rather than the parent qualifying for the payment. However, families with no recourse to public funds are regarded as a unit and that it is the unit which has no recourse to public funds. While there is no legal barrier to Social Security Scotland paying an asylum seeker or other person with no recourse to public funds; the difficulty is that person who receives those funds would be in breach of their immigration status, leading to potentially severe consequences. Scottish Ministers intend to make the case to the UK Government that since BSG seeks to support potentially vulnerable young families, an exception should be made that allows those with no recourse to public funds to access it. Should this work succeed, we will amend the regulations to make provision for this group.

See Question 1 below.

9b - Are you aware of any evidence relevant to the BSG policy and Gender Reassignment and / or Sexual Orientation?

Yes - 0

No - 32

Don't know - 3

Not answered - 16

No comments were offered in response to this question.

N/A

Q10 - Are you aware of any impacts on children's rights and wellbeing which are not identified here?

Yes - 6

No - 27

Don't know - 2

Not answered - 16

Impacts on child's rights (in the case of young parents), and on subsequent children receiving lowered amounts were all considered to be potentially discriminatory.

A possible negative impact was identified in the consultation on second and subsequent children because the payment that has been introduced is not as high as that for first children. Over the three payments, provision for second and subsequent children significantly exceeds that under SSMG. Paying all children a £600 payment would not be affordable within the budget available and introducing different rules depending on familiy would be complex and possibly create inequalities between children in different families

Q11 - Can you identify any business related impacts not identified?

Yes - 2

No - 29

Don't know - 4

Not answered - 16

Impacts on businesses were largely in line with those identified in the Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment, with increases in enquiries to advice services and the need for training among a wide range of staff highlighted.

A Business Regulatory Impact Assessment has been published alongside the regulations.

Other Issues

Communication

It was stressed that there is a need for clear guidance for both decision makers and applicants, and for effective promotion of the BSG at all stages to maximise uptake. Widespread training and awareness raising of the BSG will also be required among partner agencies and advice and advocacy services to ensure that appropriate signposting is provided, and that applicants can access the necessary information and be suitably supported throughout the process. Ensuring that potential recipients clearly understand the application and appeals process is key.

A plan to promote take up of the BSG is in development. This will include marketing activity to launch the new benefit, which will be aligned with ongoing work with stakeholders to ensure that there is an awareness of the new entitlement. This communications and marketing activity will also be aligned with wider work within Scottish Government to promote Scottish Government support available for low income families.


Contact

Email: Alison Melville alison.melville@gov.scot