The delivery of devolved social security benefits is the largest programme of change the Scottish Government has undertaken since devolution. It is estimated that Social Security Scotland will eventually be supporting 1.4 million people and providing in excess of £3.5 billion in payments every year. It is important to ensure the right payments are made to the right people at the right time.
Social security is an investment in the people of Scotland, and the system should be efficient and deliver value for money. The Scottish Government is guided by the Scottish Public Finance Manual (SPFM) and counter fraud strategy "Protecting Public Resources in Scotland" on the proper handling of fraud and reporting of public funds. These documents also underline the importance of a commitment to ethical standards in public life.
When suspicious activity is found during the processing of a claim for a benefit, or an allegation of fraudulent activity is made by a third party, an investigation may be launched. The principles underpinning the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 (the Act), in combination with the Social Security Charter, underpin the front line delivery of services to improve the everyday experiences of individuals. Like all other aspects of Social Security in Scotland, this code aligns with them. It is designed to take a rights based approach and to ensure that people will be treated with dignity, fairness and respect throughout any investigation.
Investigations involve gathering information from a variety of sources and giving the person being investigated an opportunity to explain how the circumstances have arisen. This statutory code is required under section 76 of the Act. It sets out how Social Security Scotland will undertake investigations utilising both existing powers and those created by the Investigation of Offences regulations made under section 75.
The publication of this Code aims to ensure that, as well as meeting the legal requirements for an investigation, Social Security Scotland investigators follow best practice at all times. It is designed to give assurances about training and accountability of staff carrying out investigations and an overview of the requirements and guidelines that they must follow. It does not include detailed or comprehensive guidance on all investigation processes.
The Code sets out the standards that Social Security Scotland should meet in its procedures and practices when investigating an allegation or suspicion of an offence.
It also provides information on what people should expect if they or someone else they know, or represent, is under investigation. It underlines that enforcement action will not be taken lightly. This will only happen when there is reasonable suspicion that fraud has actually occurred or has been attempted by an individual, group, or organisation. Genuine errors will not be criminalised.
In line with a rights based approach, the guidance also sets out how a complaint can be raised where a person who has been investigated feels staff have fallen short of these standards. Social security tribunals and civil and criminal courts will also have regard to this Code when deciding any question to which it is relevant.