Five Family Payments Reference Group minutes: November 2023

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 22 November 2023.

Attendees and apologies


  • Anne Baldock (AB), One Parent Families Scotland (OPFS)
  • Carole Anderson (CA), NHS Borders 
  • Chris Birt (CB), The Joseph Rowntree Foundation 
  • John Cunningham (JC), COSLA 
  • Mark Willis (MW), Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)
  • Nicola Birrell, Scottish Government
  • Merlin Kemp, Chair, Scottish Government
  • Brendan McGinty, Social Security Scotland
  • Tony Mitchell, Social Security Scotland
  • John Mowbray, Scottish Government
  • Richard Strachan, Scottish Government
  • Kai Stuart, Scottish Government
  • Ben Sutcliffe, Scottish Government


  • Rosie Mears, Child poverty Action Group (CPAG)
  • Jules Oldham, Women’s Aid Scotland
  • Jill Wood, Engender

Items and actions


The Chair opened the meeting with introductions. All those present gave their name, job title and organisation.

Update on the progress of Best Start Foods Regulations

This was presented by Nicola Birrell who works on Best Start Foods and Grants policy. A copy of this presentation was shared with the group ahead of the meeting.

Key points:

  • the new Best Start Foods Regulations will come into force 26 February 2024
  • Nicola responded to a number of stakeholder queries relating to appointees, auto awards of Scottish Child Payment, and appeal rights
  • a young person does not always need an appointee – they can apply in their own right and only require an appointee if they are considered to lack capacity. This is the case during pregnancy and once the child has been born – including when the child turns one year old
  • Scottish Child Payment cannot be automatically awarded to those in receipt of Best Start Foods. There are complexities which currently prevent this, including the fact it is the child who is eligible for Best Start Foods but the responsible adult who is eligible for Scottish Child Payment
  • we are committed to exploring further automation, but this would also need to consider the significant programme of work which is already planned
  • these regulations will not make any changes around appeal rights for Best Start Foods, which would need to be brought under the 2018 Act to enable this
  • update on five family payment communications
  • this was presented by Brendan McGinty who works in Social Security Scotland communications 

Key points:

  • the update focused on plans for the coming year including communications plans to support the extension of Best Start Foods and a continuing focus on targeting families of children over the age of six who were newly eligible for Scottish Child Payment
  • targeted communications to schools and parent teacher councils were issued ahead of the launch of Scottish Child Payment for children aged 6-15 to encourage applications from individuals responsible for children in that age group
  • local delivery colleagues can support clients with making applications
  • concerns were raised around potential clients dropping out of Working Tax Credits and not migrating to UC thus affecting their eligibility for five family payments. Furthermore, at a time when changes were being made to Best Start Foods there was concern the volume of government correspondence could confuse clients 
  • there are proactive communications in place to raise awareness of this transition. Social Security Scotland has aligned messaging around the migration and further mitigations are in place to aid this as officials are aware of the challenges raised


  • communications colleagues to correspond further with NHS Borders on targeting take-up for Scottish Child Payment for 6-15s
  • COSLA offered support at future convenience in circulating internally information regarding changes to Best Start Foods

Update on the evaluation of the five family payments

This was presented by John Mowbray – Social Researcher within the Scottish Government.

Key points:

  • question was asked about whether questionnaires could be targeted to clients once they have received an award outcome, rather than when an application is made. Officials highlighted that from 2024 Social Security Scotland will be undertaking an annual survey of clients who have received a decision on their claim, and have agreed to take part in research
  • discussion on the future of the five family payments
  • this was a group session facilitated by Merlin Kemp as an opportunity for stakeholders to provide feedback on the operation of the five family payments
  • key points made during discussion
  • maternal and infant food security was highlighted as a key issue and in particular regard to UNICEF guidance. Work is underway to develop emergency pathways that will help families access breastfeeding support/formula and Best Start Foods can help before people reach that point
  • engagement on changes to Best Start Foods is ongoing with NHS priority leads
  • concerns raised around some groups are worse off due to inequalities in Universal Credit such as young people under 25 and those affected by the 2 child limit. There are stakeholders campaigning for targeted increases primarily to Scottish Child Payment for groups such as young parents
  • some groups which can struggle to hear about and claim benefits such as disabled people could be better targeted through communications and local delivery
  • stakeholders were keen to explore what further data exists that could be employed, or new data that could be collected, to support targeting communications to increase take-up of the five family payments. This included requests for health board level statistics and data on who is eligible, beyond official statistics and surveys which detail those who interact with Social Security Scotland. There were also requests for data sharing between Social Security Scotland and local authorities to identify gaps in take-up
  • the commitment to move to a cash payment for Best Start Foods is broadly supported by stakeholders, highlighting concerns with card activation and stigma. Notwithstanding client preference and the uses pre-paid cards do have such as for those in debt
  • requests were made for evaluation of whether families who receive more than one payment would prefer they were consolidated into a single regular payment. Alongside this, evaluation of the cliff-edge effect (loss of income) of clients who loose eligibility for Universal Credit and Scottish Child Payment
  • CPAG highlighted work by MatCHNet, to evaluate national policy impacts on maternal, infant and child health, and health inequalities across the four UK nations
Back to top