Publication - Minutes

Scottish Commission on Social Security minutes: June 2021

Published: 6 Sep 2021
Date of meeting: 30 Jun 2021
Date of next meeting: 1 Jul 2021
Location: MS Teams

Minutes from the meeting of the SCoSS on 30 June 2021.

Published:
6 Sep 2021
Scottish Commission on Social Security minutes: June 2021

Attendees and apologies

Present: 

  • Dr Sally Witcher (Chair) 
  • Sharon McIntyre (member)
  • Judith Paterson (member)
  • Dr Mark Simpson (member)

In attendance: 

  • Nathalie Leger – SCoSS Interim Secretary
  • Andrew Strong – SCoSS Interim Secretary

For agenda item 2:

  • David Hilber – Carer Benefits Senior Policy Officer, Scottish Government
  • Jennifer Sinclair – Policy Manager, Scottish Government
  • Niall Wilson - Disability Benefits Policy Manager, Scottish Government

Items and actions

Welcome and declarations of interest 

The Chair welcomed the Members and Secretariat. There were no declarations of interest.

Draft Disability Assistance for Children and Young People (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2021 and draft Suspension of Assistance (Disability Assistance for Children and Young People) (Scottish Child Payment) (Scotland) Regulations 2021

Members discussed how both sets of draft regulations included some provisions that are not within scope of the Commission to scrutinise. Members agreed it would be useful to highlight these areas to the Social Justice and Social Security Committee.

Action:

  • chair to approach the new Social Justice and Social Security Committee regarding an introductory meeting

Members considered issues to raise with Scottish Government officials responsible for both sets of draft regulations.  

The Chair then welcomed Jennifer Sinclair, Niall Wilson and David Hilber to the meeting. Discussion first focused on the draft Suspension of Assistance (Disability Assistance for Children and Young People) (Scottish Child Payment) (Scotland) Regulations 2021before moving on to the draft Disability Assistance for Children and Young People (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2021

Niall Wilson drew the Board’s attention to a point of detail around the right of an individual to request a review of a decision to suspend assistance. Niall advised that consideration was being given to put a duty on Scottish Ministers to carry out a review within set timescales. Members agreed that it would be helpful to understand the types of requests for information from a client that will not put the client on a path to suspension of their assistance.

Jennifer Sinclair confirmed the requested deadline of 21 July 2021 for the Board to report on the Draft Disability Assistance for Children and Young People (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2021. The Chair expressed regret that due to this tight deadline for reporting coinciding with her longstanding leave arrangements, she would be unable to have any involvement in reporting on these draft regulations. 

Members asked officials to consider whether ways could be found to make impact assessments more useful-friendly and useful, for example to avoid the current extensive duplication. 

David Hilber gave a short presentation on the key aspects of how responsibility for delivering some benefits for individuals living in Scotland will transfer from the Department for Work and Pensions on behalf of Scottish Ministers to Social Security Scotland. The provisions in the draft Disability Assistance for Children and Young People (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2021 relating to Case Transfer are made within the scope of powers conferred by section 95 of the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018. This means they are not covered by SCoSS’s remit and do not require formal scrutiny by SCoSS. However comments from SCoSS would be welcomed.  

Actions:

  • Scottish  Government officials to put SCoSS in touch with Scottish Government policy leads on appointees to find out more about the policy on assessing the suitability of appointees
  • Scottish Government officials to provide examples of the types of requests for information that will not put a client on a path to suspension
  • Scottish Government officials to provide the Board with a version of the Disability Assistance for Children and Young People Regulations which shows the proposed amendments

Following the officials’ departure, Members discussed their approach to the scrutiny process. 

They agreed that a further ad hoc meeting of the Board to discuss the draft Regulations would be useful. Members agreed that it would be very beneficial to get the views of stakeholders on the draft Suspension of Assistance (Disability Assistance for Children and Young People) (Scottish Child Payment) (Scotland) Regulations 2021. However, given the very tight timescales for reporting, engagement would necessarily need to be limited. 

The Members agreed to send Scottish Government officials more detailed questions on both sets of draft Regulations. They then confirmed details of the scrutiny process including lead drafter, approach to stakeholder engagement and time-lines for drafting reports.

Action:

  • given the very short timescales, Secretariat to explore with Scottish Government officials if there is any flexibility in the timelines for reporting
  • secretariat and Board Members to note agreed approach to scrutiny of both sets of draft Regulations and carry out their agreed roles

Risk update

Members reviewed the risk register, including the risk register dashboard, and agreed the proposed changes. Members discussed the risks around the capacity of the Commission to scrutinise draft regulations due to the instability in the Secretariat, and tight deadlines for reporting on several sets of draft regulations. Members agreed that it would be valuable to consider these risks when reviewing the protocol between SCoSS and the Scottish Government later this year.  

Finance update

The Secretariat provided an update on the work around recruiting an Audit Adviser to bring audit experience and assurance to the Board, in line with a recommendation from Audit Scotland. The draft Annual Reports and Accounts were sent to Audit Scotland on 14 June in accordance with their deadline. 

Members were asked to consider if any savings in the annual budget can be identified at this stage in the financial year. They agreed that it was too early in the financial year to identify any savings, particularly in light of planned secretariat recruitment and the potential need for procuring additional support.

Action

  • secretariat to keep Members updated on their meetings with Audit Scotland to discuss the draft Annual Report and Accounts

Secretariat support

Secretariat outlined the current short-term arrangements for providing Secretariat support. Members were asked for their views on requirements for recruiting permanent secretariat staff. 
Members agreed that availability and sufficient cover are vital. Continuity is very important and posts should be filled by permanent staff, rather than temporary cover, not least given the specialist nature of SCoSS’s work. More support is needed around report writing and drafting Board papers, and experience and skills in communications are needed. The Board also want to ensure communications are accessible. There needs to be a focus on building and maintaining relationships with stakeholders and more dedicated resource for this. The Board requires further support to take forward planned work around the Charter. Experience and skills in research are needed to support scrutiny of draft legislation but also to progress work around lived experience. Secretariat support requirements should be reviewed every couple of years.

Members also discussed whether it could be beneficial to procure short-term, skilled support to carry out particular tasks. They agreed that it could be beneficial, and agreed that part of the budget should be allocated for procurement relating to potential specific projects. 

Action

  • secretariat to take account of members’ views on requirements for secretariat support when recruiting. Chair to feedback Members’ views on their secretariat support needs to the Social Security Policy Deputy Director