Social security: response to consultation on draft investigation of offences regulations

Response to the main views expressed in the report on the consultation on the draft investigation of offences regulations and the code of practice for investigations, outlining where the draft code of practice has been updated and highlighting areas within the draft investigation of offences regulations that are being reviewed.

Chapter 2 - Standards for Counter Fraud Officers

50. Chapter 2 of the draft Code of Practice, laid out the standards required of those tasked with investigating fraud and sets out the safeguards put in place to prevent any misuse of the powers granted to them. Recognising that the scale of powers provided by the regulations is significant, the Scottish Government accepts that the number of officers able to obtain information through the use of these powers will be restricted.

51. Half of the consultation respondents said that they did not agree with the proposed approach to authorising persons to use the information gathering powers as set out in the regulations. The reasons for this included: a lack of detail regarding the number of authorised officers able to exercise these powers; and a lack of detail regarding the training that authorised officers would be required to undertake to perform their roles.

52. The Scottish Government is committed to limiting the number of those able to exercise the proposed powers to an appropriate level. However, it is not currently possible to specify the number of authorised officers within the Investigation of Offences Regulations. As the devolved benefits are being delivered on a phased basis, the number of authorised officers required will be subject to change and explicitly stating a number within either the regulations or the Code of Practice would require them to be updated each time there was a fluctuation in the number of authorised officers required. The number of authorised officers will be limited and proportionate to the benefits that are being delivered at any given time.

53. A number of respondents noted the rigorous and bespoke training in a range of subjects that authorised officers should undergo to allow them to carry out their role effectively. Specific areas of training suggested included data protection, equality and diversity, investigative approaches to fraud, relevant legislation, poverty awareness, domestic abuse and mental health.

54. The Scottish Government recognises the concerns raised with regards to the many varying and complex circumstances that could affect individuals and is committed to ensuring that all authorised officers are fully equipped to undertake their roles effectively, wholly in accordance with the principles outlined in the Act and our Charter.

55. As training for authorised officers is in its incipient stage and is likely to be updated on an ongoing basis as new investigative practices emerge, the Scottish Government does not believe it would be appropriate to provide the specific details of training programmes within the Code of Practice. This information will be made available, but the appropriate forum for doing so has not yet been defined.

56. An additional safeguard to ensure that all individuals under investigation are treated with dignity, fairness and respect is provided by the fact that all authorised officers will be subject to the provisions of the Civil Service Code. This code sets out the standards of behaviour expected of all Civil Servants to uphold the Civil Service's core values, which are integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality at all times.

57. The draft Code of Practice explicitly states that any authorised officer who misuses the power afforded by the proposed regulations will be subject to civil or criminal proceedings as well as disciplinary action. This should alleviate some of the concerns raised by stakeholders and is clearly reflected in the Code of Practice.



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