Joint Ministerial Working Group on Welfare minutes: December 2020

Minutes from the 16th meeting of the Joint Ministerial Working Group on Welfare.

Attendees and apologies

  • Chair Secretary of State for Scotland (SoSS)
  • Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People (CSSSOP)
  • Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (MfDP)
  • Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Scotland (PuSoSS)
  • Officials from Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland (OSSS) and Scottish Government (SG)

Items and actions

Items 1 and 2: welcome and introductions and minutes and actions from 15th meeting

SoSS welcomed all attendees to the meeting and gave his apologies for having to leave early. He confirmed PuSoSS would take up Chairing from the point he leaves.

All present noted the minutes of the previous meeting had been agreed and published. It was noted that a timetable had been agreed at official level for the publication of these minutes.

Item 3: disability benefits: child disability payment and adult disability payment

CSSSOP introduced the item and requested an update on the UK Government’s (UKG) plans for premiums and passporting. She explained she was keen to ensure a coordinated approach on the past presence test (PPT) for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) following an appeal made by a customer to the Upper Tribunal (UT) and the subsequent decision being handed down. She noted that Scottish Ministers would be amending Child Disability Payment (CDP) regulations accordingly and suggested she would be looking for assurance that this would not affect the agreement on passporting arrangements in the event that DLA took a different approach from CDP on PPT. She acknowledged that it had not been long since a decision had been made by the courts but explained there was much work to do before the pre-election period began.

MfDP began by thanking officials for the excellent joint working on the devolution agenda to date given the range of very complex issues it encompasses, and acknowledged that there had already been a number of very productive meetings both at Ministerial and official level. He confirmed that the implications of the UT decision were under consideration, and agreed to provide an update to the SG as soon as possible. In any event, the effects of the UT decision would not alter the agreement on recognising CDP for passporting to DWP benefits and premiums in the same way as DLA for children.

Action point 01: DWP to notify the SG of its policy on the PPT.

CSSSOP asked about the situation regarding disability benefit assessments, noting that there could be workforce implications should DWP’s external providers not maintain the location of assessment services in Scotland. MfDP confirmed that DWP would share plans for assessment services in Scotland in due course.

MfDP expressed concern about the absence of an option for face-to-face assessments in Adult Disability Payment. In his experience, these could result in higher entitlements for claimants because they allow a case to be built using information that is not available from other sources. He advised that some disabled people in Scotland may miss out as a result. CSSOP noted that personal consultations would be available at the claimant’s request and that these benefits were being co-designed with the people who will receive them and that the Scottish Government had been listening to stakeholders and people using the service. Further to this she confirmed that not only would GPs be involved where appropriate, but also other Health & Social Care professionals, carers and people providing day to day, week to week support. MfDP asked CSSOP for details of the SG’s plans in relation to Special Rules for Terminal Illness. CSSOP noted that these would be in place in time for the introduction of the Child Disability Payment.

CSSSOP asked that any legislation on benefits being delivered under Agency Agreements, including Personal Independence Payments (PIP), which would require the SG to deliver matching provisions, should take into account the pre-election period. MfDP noted this.

CSSSOP requested an update on the requests put to DWP on the sharing of data with other organisations. She asked that DWP formally confirm its position on sharing the SG’s data with other government departments. DWP officials agreed to clarify the Department’s position. Further she stated that when cases transfer to Social Security Scotland’s own delivery service it is SG’s desire that there should be no loss of entitlement to any agreed passported benefits at the point of transfer. She requested agreement that the two governments work together on data sharing. MfDP agreed and DWP officials confirmed the SG’s requirements were being considered and the Chief Data Officer had been engaged. All requests had to be fully considered in order to ensure that the privacy of citizens’ information was properly protected. MfDP acknowledged the detailed work in train and agreed to provide an update and timetable for responding to SG’s data sharing requests.

Action point 02: DWP to provide an update and timetable for responding to the SG’s data sharing requests

PuSoSS recognised the excellent joint working between officials on the section 104 Scotland Act Order required for Disability Assistance but provided a gentle reminder that deadlines in the timetable should be maintained where possible. CSSSOP agreed this was important and was paying particularly close attention to what must be done prior to the pre-election period.

Item 4: Scottish Child Payment

CSSSOP requested an update on the work being done to explore the provision of benefit entitlement data to support phase two of delivering the Scottish Child Payment. MfDP highlighted that the UKG was committed to supporting the SG with relevant information where this was possible, and officials were working well together. However, the request was complex and as had been outlined before, the data for children aged 6+ were not held in the format the SG requested. This contrasted with the data for 0-5 years cases which had been provided initially for Best Start Grant purposes and then been used to support the launch of the Scottish Child Payment in November 2020. MfDP agreed to let the SG know as soon as possible which data were and were not available.

CSSSOP then asked about citizen information. She noted that whilst the SG had shared its digital roadmap, her officials had found it difficult to obtain the equivalent roadmap information from DWP. This would allow them to fully understand, at a detailed level, the timings and specifications that would be needed to maintain access to key data and ensure delivery momentum. She asked for a definitive date by which her officials would receive this. MfDP said that he would ask his officials to confirm the position.

Action point 03: DWP to confirm position and timing on Citizen Information Roadmap.

Item 5: Universal Credit (UC) – split payments and spare room subsidy

CSSSOP requested an update on progress with split payments in Universal Credit. She highlighted that the SG was keen to restart work on split payments to ensure that the policy can be developed in the New Year. CSSSOP said the SG needed an understanding of whether DWP had capacity to look at this early in the New Year or not, and needed a timetable for that work.

MfDP explained that DWP was keen to help the SG deliver these changes, however the Department had constrained resources as many staff had been redeployed to work on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. DWP needed to understand the details of the SG’s proposed policy on split payments, and as soon as capacity returned, it would be able to assess the technical issues in a very complex area in terms of both how individual households manage themselves and how Universal Credit is constructed. He highlighted that DWP already made provision for split payments, for example in cases of domestic abuse, where it is flanked by access to broader support from relevant independent organisations. He asked how the SG envisaged splitting payments would work more widely, and whether any consideration had been given to piloting. CSSSOP stated the SG’s preference for an arrangement that allowed the payment of a household UC award to be effectively split into two individual entitlements, whilst recognising the complexity associated with this. She indicated that the SG would be open to running a pilot, but could only do so once DWP arrangements were understood and if DWP agreed to a pilot. Both MfDP and CSSOP suggested that officials should take this away to consider.

Action point 04: DWP and SG officials to further discuss split payments of UC awards, including the potential for a pilot.

CSSSOP asked about the incorporation into UC at source of SG policy to dis-apply the removal of the spare room subsidy. MfDP outlined the UC capacity issues which placed constraints on the timing and sequencing of changes at both Great Britain and Scotland level. MfDP noted the request, and the Ministers discussed policy approaches to combatting the problem of over-crowded housing.

Item 6: forward look

PuSoSS noted that since the last meeting good progress had been made on the legislative programme; the section 104 Order required for the introduction of Scottish Child Payment had come into force as well as a section 104 in relation to Winter Heating Allowance, Short Term Assistance and Young Carers Grant. However, he noted that there was still further to go and looked forward to hearing more from the SG on their priorities at the next joint ministerial meeting on welfare. MfDP highlighted the importance of sharing plans as early as possible so that DWP is able to assess the impacts and confirm what support it could provide in line with SG’s timescales.

Item 7: AOB

All ministers agreed that the joint working between officials was excellent and MfDP valued the openness of CSSSOP during their conversations. CSSSOP agreed that it had been a difficult year and wanted to pay tribute to officials who had done tremendously well to deliver under difficult circumstances. This sentiment was echoed by PuSoSS and MfDP.

PuSoSS closed the meeting.

Action point summary

Action Point 01:

DWP to notify the SG of its policy on PPT.

Action Point 02:

DWP to provide an update and timetable for responding to the SG’s data sharing requests

Action Point 03:

DWP to confirm position and timing on Citizen Information Roadmap

Action Point 04:

DWP and SG officials to further discuss split payments of UC awards, including the potential for a pilot.

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