Section 5: Replacing Carer's Allowance with Scottish Carer's Assistance
Scottish Carer's Assistance will replace Carer's Allowance. We know from listening to carers already getting Carer's Allowance how important it is that when we launch Scottish Carer's Assistance, we protect their income and they don't face disruptions to support. We also need to make sure that all carers in Scotland are treated equally and fairly, whether they are receiving Carer's Allowance from the DWP or Scottish Carer's Assistance from Social Security Scotland.
This means that when Scottish Carer's Assistance is first launched for new applicants, and carers in Scotland are still receiving Carer's Allowance from the DWP, we will not be making changes to the eligibility criteria for Scottish Carer's Assistance.
This is the same approach we have taken for the disability benefits. But this doesn't stop us from making improvements, and we can make changes which will have a real impact in delivering against the proposed aims, including our commitment to provide additional support to those caring for more than one disabled child.
Changes from launch
From launch, we will provide a service for carers that is different to the service Carer's Allowance recipients currently receive. Through our range of ways of engaging with clients and potential clients, we have the opportunity to reach more carers and help carers to access the support they are entitled to, through social security and beyond.
Social Security Scotland services will be co-located with existing services in local areas, including through agreements already in place with third sector organisations. This will make them more visible and help to join up social security with wider services more effectively. Social Security Scotland are already working with a range of partners to ensure clients are provided with the best advice possible, and can be referred to organisations who can help them further if they need it. Social Security Scotland's local delivery team have built up networks with local organisations across the country, including carers groups, which will allow us to reach more carers and raise awareness of the support available.
We will also be working with carers to design our Scottish Carer's Assistance application processes and systems to better suit their needs. Our communications will be digital by choice, and not by default, offering a range of options that allow carers to communicate with us, and to apply for support, in a way that suits them, including with face to face support.
Scottish Carer's Assistance can also help carers to access the wider support they need at key points in their lives, whether this is taking on an intensive caring role for the first time, or at the end of a caring role. We know that access to education, training and employment is important to carers and we can work to improve the communications and advice provided to carers on how Scottish Carer's Assistance interacts with these areas, as well as linking them to relevant support services. It will also be important to ensure carers can easily access the range of services which are available when a caring role ends due to the loss of a cared for person.
Joining up services will be a priority in delivering Scottish Carer's Assistance, given the wide range of support available, and the importance of ensuring carers can get the help they need. We will work with carers and stakeholders to agree how we can work with partners, including, as part of the discussions which this document will support, to identify priority areas to have in place in time for launch.
Changes once we have completed the transfer of eligible carers from Carer's Allowance to Scottish Carer's Assistance
Once Scottish Carer's Assistance has opened for new applications, we will begin the process of transferring information so that carers in Scotland who are getting Carer's Allowance from DWP can get Scottish Carer's Assistance from Social Security Scotland instead. This process is known as 'case transfer'. When this is complete, all eligible carers in Scotland will be getting Scottish Carer's Assistance from Social Security Scotland instead of Carer's Allowance from DWP.
From this point we will be able to begin making changes to eligibility. However, as carers will still be supported by other benefits provided by DWP, and many will rely on these to cover basic living costs, this will need to be done in a way which protects their existing support.
In particular, we need to consider that if the criteria for our benefit were to become very different from Carer's Allowance, we would need to reach agreements with DWP about how our benefit would be treated by their systems. Many carers receive extra amounts in means-tested benefits because they are in receipt of Carer's Allowance. This includes benefits relied on for basic living costs, like Housing Benefit.
It is vital we are able to make sure that DWP would continue to pay carers in receipt of Scottish Carer's Assistance any support which is linked to the existing Carer's Allowance benefit. This would need to be agreed with DWP as this linked support is reserved. Any costs of providing this linked support to newly eligible carers would need to be met from the Scottish budget, and if we were to expand eligibility for Scottish Carer's Assistance significantly, that could have implications for DWP payments. We also need to ensure that carers will be better off as a result of changes we make and that any extra support we provide is not taken away from them elsewhere in the system.
Overlapping benefits and 'underlying entitlement'
Carer's Allowance is an 'income replacement' benefit. It is designed to provide support to unpaid carers in recognition of their role and the impact this has on their ability to take on paid work. This means that carers cannot get Carer's Allowance and other income replacement benefits at the same time, as they are provided for the same purpose. These are called 'overlapping benefits'. Carers who get these benefits instead of Carer's Allowance are said to have 'underlying entitlement'. These overlapping benefits include contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance and the State Pension, and are typically paid at a higher rate than Carer's Allowance.
Almost 39,000 carers in Scotland had 'underlying entitlement' to Carer's Allowance at the end of August 2020. Some 85% of these carers were 65 or over and are likely to be getting State Pension instead. These carers may get extra amounts in means-tested benefits such as Universal Credit or Employment and Support Allowance. Being eligible for, or getting, Carer's Allowance will also usually reduce any work requirements for reserved benefits.
Most respondents to our 2016 consultation on social security were in favour of Scottish Carer's Assistance being designed to fulfil the same role as Carer's Allowance. This means it would remain an income replacement benefit that will overlap with other benefits provided for the same purpose, such as the State Pension.
If we extend eligibility for Scottish Carer's Assistance we will also increase the number of carers with 'underlying entitlement' to this support. This will be an important consideration in decisions about as the costs of any extra support paid to these carers by DWP will need to be met from the Scottish budget, in the same way as carers who are newly eligible for Scottish Carer's Assistance as highlighted above. It may also be the case that significant increases in the number of carers eligible for this extra support may mean DWP could reconsider providing this support to carers in Scotland.
UK Government funding for devolved benefits
The funding transferred from the UK Government to pay devolved benefits is based on current benefit rates and criteria. This means that in considering changes which would mean more carers are eligible for support, or more support is provided to eligible carers, we will also need to take into account that extra funding would need to be found from within the Scottish budget, in addition to the funding already provided to pay Carer's Allowance Supplement and Young Carer Grant.
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