Social Security Scotland supports some of the most vulnerable people in society. It is important that it has clear and robust safeguarding processes in place which can give us all confidence that people are being properly supported.
I am pleased therefore to be launching this consultation on safeguarding, which will provide important evidence to help us ensure arrangements of the highest standards are put in place.
The consultation seeks views on proposals which will support Social Security Scotland to meet the highest standards and align processes with other public agencies. This should include appropriately reporting certain facts and circumstances to a Local Authority where it becomes apparent that an individual may be at risk of harm. This approach will in turn help Local Authorities exercise their safeguarding responsibilities.
In line with our Social Security Charter we put people first, creating "a people's service" and adapting our communication styles and processes to meet their needs. Working with individuals and organisations with experience is central to our approach. We look forward to receiving your views on this consultation and I thank you for taking the time to contribute.
Ben Macpherson MSP, Minister for Social Security and Local Government
1. Social Security Scotland is a public body which has daily interaction with the public and, where appropriate, their representatives. In line with our Charter, which can be found here, we endeavour to put the client first, creating "a people's service" adapting our communication styles and processes to meet our clients' needs. This means our interaction and communications take place through various channels including telephone calls, face-to-face services in local communities and home visits.
2. The Scottish Government is very much aware that Social Security Scotland supports some of the most vulnerable people in society. To adequately support these clients the Scottish Government must have clear and robust processes in place. In relation to this consultation, that includes where information is presented leading Social Security Scotland to conclude during undertaking their duties that an individual may be at risk of harm.
3. Page 18 of Our Charter outlines the commitment of Social Security Scotland to refer a client to other organisations, services or forms of help where we believe they could help improve a client's wellbeing or financial circumstances. This is particularly important when we understand how some clients need extra support so they can safely and fairly access Social Security Scotland's services.
4. However, there may also be instances when Social Security Scotland interaction with clients presents situations where it becomes apparent an individual may be at risk of harm.
5. It is important to make a distinction between cases where an individual may be at a non-emergency risk of harm and cases where there is an immediate risk to life. Where a situation is presented where a direct risk to life is identified, a clear course of action already exists - Social Security Scotland will make an immediate call to Police Scotland. These cases are not the subject of this consultation, which relates only to instances identified where it is apparent individuals may be at risk of harm.
6. There are several organisations who can help with situations of perceived neglect or abuse. For example, in non-emergency situations, reporting someone who is believed to be at risk of domestic abuse to Local Authority is advised. For non-emergency situations where a child is believed to be at risk of harm it is recommended concerns be raised via contacting the appropriate local authority social work department. The mygov.scot website recommends immediate danger be reported to police, that 101 be called where it is believed a crime has been committed, and a report made to the Local Authority where there are suspicions of neglect or abuse.
7. Where a Local Authority have reason to believe that an adult or child may be at risk of harm, they have a duty to investigate. They can only do this if they are made aware of concerns.
8. This consultation will inform a formalised approach for Social Security Scotland to align its processes with other Government departments and report certain facts and circumstances to a Local Authority. Only where it becomes apparent that an individual may be at risk of harm. This will allow the Local Authority to exercise their duty to investigate.
9. Section 85 of the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 outlines principles for the sharing of information for the purpose of a social security function. It does not provide for information sharing for the purposes of safeguarding individuals who may be at risk of harm. To clarify the legislative position and provide an explicit gateway for information sharing for the purposes of safeguarding individuals, an amendment to the Social Security Information-sharing (Scotland) Regulations 2021 will be necessary.
Why are we consulting?
10. The Scottish Government is consulting to gather views which will inform the policies underpinning a formalised approach to Social Security Scotland sharing information with Local Authorities when circumstances are presented which raise concerns that an individual may be at risk of harm.
11. Co-operation around the sharing of certain information will be necessary before a Local Authority can undertake the required investigation.
12. Given the sensitivities around information sharing, there is a clear public interest in the processes Social Security Scotland employ. The Scottish Government remains committed to listening to the views of stakeholders at every stage in our processes. This public consultation is intended to communicate a clear message across all stakeholder groups, and invites feedback and comment on how we can improve how we deliver and support the people of Scotland.
Who do we want to hear from?
13. The Scottish Government is keen to gather views from people with a working knowledge of social security. For example solicitors, welfare rights officers and Local Authorities.
14. Importantly, the Scottish Government is also keen to hear from individuals, organisations and groups with an interest or experience in this particular area. For example organisations who are already asked routinely to provide information to Police, DWP or Local Authorities in relation to safeguarding risk, and from Local Authorities themselves.
15. The Scottish Government would also welcome the views of people who may have experience of reporting a safeguarding concern, or indeed having been the subject of such a concern being raised. The potential sensitivity around sharing experiences of this nature is recognised and information provided will be anonymised and treated with the utmost discretion. Respondents do not need to provide their name unless they want to and may request that their response is not published.
The consultation process
16. Responses are required by 17th June 2022. More information on how to respond can be found at Annex A.
17. All responses to the consultation will be analysed and fully considered, informing decisions on the final policy position. Regulations will then be drafted, which will follow due Parliamentary scrutiny process before formal procedures are implemented.
18. Views and suggestions will also be used to inform amendments to draft regulations as they are developed, as part of the decision-making process, in order to best meet the policy intention of safeguarding individuals. Feedback from this consultation will then be used to inform operational guidance underpinned by the regulations.
Key principles proposed for data sharing
1. The key objective is to safeguard and protect individuals who interact with Social Security Scotland where it becomes apparent they may be at risk of harm.
2. All information used will be treated confidentially.
3. Information will only be shared when it will provide support to the individual which could not reasonably be provided without such an intervention, and the amount of information shared will be only that required and proportionate to addressing the concerns relating to protecting the adult or child from harm.
4. Minimise any detail held relating to a referral in the client's individual case file with Social Security Scotland. Access will be restricted to senior manager level in line with The UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR) and the Data Protection Act 2018 requirements.
5. Alternatively, if supporting documentation relating to a referral is not to be retained in the client's individual case file with Social Security Scotland, it will be destroyed, or retained in a separate, secure space, separate from the benefit administration system, in line with The UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR) and the Data Protection Act 2018 and document retention/destruction policies.
6. A referral to a Local Authority will be only be made after the member of staff has had approval to do so by a suitably trained manager within Social Security Scotland.
7. Social Security Scotland will not be provided with information relating to the outcome of their referral, unless for example where a criminal charge is brought forward and the Social Security Scotland staff member is called as a witness in Court or asked to provide a statement to Police Scotland.
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