Performance of the System and Delivery of the Charter
10. This section provides an update on the Scottish Government's activity to deliver the requirements of the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018. As identified earlier, this information should be considered alongside Social Security Scotland's annual report which sets out the parallel and complementary activity that the Agency has carried out to deliver the Scottish social security system. It covers the period from 1 June 2018 to 31 March 2019.
Duty to promote take-up
11. Sections 8 and 9 of the Act require Scottish Ministers to prepare, publish and lay before Parliament a strategy to promote the take-up of Scottish social security assistance. The strategy should also set out a best estimate of take-up at the time of its preparation and how Ministers will seek to improve this. The first strategy will be published by 21 October 2019, one year from the commencement of the relevant sections of the Act. A second strategy must be prepared within 3 years of the section coming into force (i.e. before 21 October 2021). Thereafter, a new strategy must be laid in Parliament within 5 years of the preceding one.
12. The strategy is to cover the devolved benefits which are being delivered at time of publication. The Act also requires that, when preparing the strategy, Scottish Ministers must consult individuals who have received assistance from the Scottish social security system and those who represent individuals whose household income or expenditure is affected as a result of having a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.
13. The Scottish Government has been working both internally and with stakeholders to develop the first take-up strategy. Activity in the period to March 2019 has focussed on raising awareness and promoting take-up of the new Best Start Grant payments, the first benefits that Social Security Scotland is delivering. The Scottish Government has been working to ensure that information regarding the Best Start Grant reaches its targeted audience to encourage uptake. A co-ordinated communications plan is being implemented and work is taking place with NHS boards, local authorities and third sector organisations which support those who may be eligible for benefits to raise awareness and encourage applications. A range of resources have been made available to stakeholders, including guidance documents, leaflets, posters, model articles and social media content that can be copied or adapted across a range of their channels.
Inclusive communication and accessible information
14. Section 4 of the Act requires that Scottish Ministers must have regard to the importance of communicating in an inclusive way. Inclusive in this context means ensuring individuals who have difficulty with speech, language or otherwise can receive information and express themselves in ways that best meet their individual needs. Communication support, including language interpretation, translation, and transcription of information in over 100 languages, is in place for the delivery of Best Start Grant, Carer's Allowance Supplement and Funeral Support Payment. Beyond this, Social Security Scotland is leading on the development of an Inclusive Communications strategy. A Stakeholder Reference Group comprising representatives of 21 third sector organisations is being set up to help inform how that strategy will be embedded into all aspects of public engagement.
15. Section 5 of the Act requires that Scottish Ministers must have regard to the importance of providing information in a way that is accessible for individuals who have a sensory, physical or mental disability. Information for the first benefits to be delivered is available to clients in alternative formats, including braille, large print, audio channels and easy read. British Sign Language (BSL) users can contact the Agency through the Contact Scotland provision for public sector bodies, ensuring they are able to access the social security system. Contact Scotland is a Scottish Government service that connects deaf BSL users across the country through an online BSL interpreting video relay service with all of Scotland's public authorities and voluntary organisations.
16. However, it is recognised that there are limitations in the current Contact Scotland provision to support future benefit delivery. The Scottish Government are therefore currently preparing a business case to procure a service tailored to communication support for deaf and hearing impaired Social Security Scotland clients. Work is also ongoing to develop a range of contact channels, offering greater choice of how clients can engage with the Agency, as well as introducing a standard for the physical accessibility of Social Security Scotland locations for face to face engagement.
17. Section 10 of the Act requires Scottish Ministers to make independent advocacy support available to disabled people who, as a result of their disability, require such support to claim Scottish social security benefits. Section 11 of the Act requires Scottish Ministers to prepare and publish advocacy service standards which services providing social security advocacy support on behalf of Scottish Ministers must comply with.
18. The Scottish Government developed a set of draft advocacy standards which were drawn from existing standards, including those developed by the Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance (SIAA), the Action for Advocacy's 'Code of Practice for Advocates', the Scottish Government's 'Independent Advocacy: Guide for Commissioners', and draft standards for Children's Hearing advocacy. The draft standards were shared with SIAA for initial consideration and some revisions were then made. These revised standards were subsequently used a basis for early engagement with service users and providers. Sessions were held during November 2018 in Aberdeen, Inverness, Dumfries, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Focus group sessions with members of the Experience Panels were held during late February and early March 2019, where attendees were asked to comment on the draft standards.
19. A short-life working group of organisations with an interest in advocacy support, many of which had been involved in developing the provision in the Act, was established in December 2018 to review the feedback from the workshops and to make suggestions on improving the draft standards. During the period to March 2019, the group met 3 times and discussed revisions to the standards. Draft standards, as agreed by the group, will be subject to formal consultation in summer 2019 before being finalised.
20. The Scottish Government is considering the options for a procurement exercise around tendering for the provision of advocacy support. The intention is to undertake the procurement over the autumn, with a contract awarded before the end of the calendar year. This will allow the service to be in place around summer 2020, in time for the delivery of the first devolved disability benefits.
Scottish Commission on Social Security
21. The Scottish Commission on Social Security (SCoSS) was established under Section 21 of the Act as a body independent of both Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Parliament. Its functions and operation are specified within the Act. The SCoSS's primary role is to provide independent and expert scrutiny of the Scottish social security system, including proposals for regulations for types of assistance. The SCoSS has been established as an Advisory Non-Departmental Public Body, supported by a Secretariat supplied by the Scottish Government.
22. The key sections of the Act came into force on 21 January 2019, establishing the body as a legal entity, with the Chair and Members taking up their appointments from 23 January 2019. Appointments were made by Scottish Ministers following a public appointments process regulated by the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland. As part of this process, a selection panel was convened to carry out a 'fit and proper person' test on all individuals who applied, which included ensuring that every potential candidate understood the social security principles of dignity, fairness and respect.
23. The SCoSS wrote to both the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Ministers on 8 February 2019 to say that it was 'open for business' and ready to start carrying out its functions. The first regulations to be scrutinised by the body will be those for the Young Carer Grant.
Charter and Measurement
24. Section 1 of the Act, which set out the 8 Scottish social security principles, came into force on 22 October 2018. The Act also required Scottish Ministers to prepare a charter to reflect these principles. The charter was unanimously approved by Parliament on 6 February 2019.
25. A core group of people with lived experience of the existing social security system was established to co-produce the charter. The group was made up of people with a wide variety of experiences and perspectives. Most were disabled people with a range of different health conditions, many had experience of several benefits. The group was balanced for gender and geographical location
26. The core group worked on the development and presentation of the charter content, drafting and redrafting, with advice from stakeholders including Inclusion Scotland, Scottish Human Rights Commission Scottish public Services Ombudsman and government officials. The work was carried across seven full day workshops. For a full report on the role of the core group see Developing the Scottish Social Security Charter; co-design in action.
27. In order to ensure wider participation in the development of the charter beyond the core group, the Scottish Government also engaged with people through additional focus groups and individual interviews. The groups represented in this work were:
- Minority ethnic women;
- Young carers under the age of 25;
- People with experience of the asylum process;
- LGBTI people;
- Island dwellers;
- Women who have experienced domestic violence;
- People with experience of terminal illness; and
28. A survey of all 2,400 Experience Panel members was also carried out to ensure that other voices were heard and that as many different experiences and needs were represented.
29. A stakeholder group consisting of 27 organisations was convened to provide feedback and advice to the core group. This included groups working with or representing people whose household income is lower because a member of the household has one or more protected characteristics.
30. A measurement framework is currently being developed with a new core group of people with lived experience of social security systems (Core Group 2) and will be published in the autumn. The framework will show how the Scottish Ministers will measure and report on the progress towards achieving the commitments in the charter. Work will then begin to collect bespoke information to populate the framework and a report including the results will be published annually starting late 2020.
Carer's Allowance and Carer's Allowance Supplement
31. In October 2015, the First Minister committed to increasing the level of Carer's Allowance (CA) to that of Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA), in recognition of the important role that carer's play and their immense contribution to our society. The Act provides the mechanism to deliver this increase through Carer's Allowance Supplement (CAS), an additional payment made twice a year to Carer's Allowance recipients in Scotland, initially as a lump sum of the weekly difference between CA and JSA. CAS is paid automatically to carers who are living in Scotland and receiving CA on the relevant qualifying date. There are two qualifying dates each financial year – one for each payment.
32. Since September 2018, Social Security Scotland made 157,670 Carers Allowance Supplement payments to 86,305 carers who were eligible in either or both of the eligibility dates in 2018. Each payment was £221, giving a total expenditure of £34.8 million. Further statistics relating to Carer's Allowance at February 2019 and Carer's Allowance Supplement April 2019 eligibility will be released in August 2019.
Best Start Grant
33. The first replacement benefit to be paid by the Scottish Government was the Best Start Grant (referred to as Early Years Assistance in legislation) Pregnancy and Baby Payment, which opened for applications in December 2018. The Pregnancy and Baby Payment replaced and expanded on the UK Government's Sure Start Maternity Grant by:
- Providing eligible families with £600 on the birth of their first child and £300 on the birth of any subsequent children;
- Not putting a limit on the number of children that are supported; and
- Extending the application window from 24 weeks pregnant to 6 months after the birth, giving clients longer to apply.
34. Around 11,505 families received the Pregnancy and Baby Payment from 10 December 2018 to 31 March 2019. Two further Best Start Grant payments – Early Learning and School Age – will be introduced by the end of June 2019. The Best Start Grant Early Learning Payment will be a new £250 payment to help with the costs of early learning when a child is between 2 and 3½ years old. The Best Start Grant School Age Payment will be a new £250 payment to help with the costs of preparing for school around the time a child might start Primary 1.
Young Carer Grant
35. The Scottish Government ran a consultation from 17 September to 10 December 2018 about proposals to introduce a new Young Carer Grant. This would be an additional payment of £300 to young carers aged 16 to 18 who do at least 16 hours of caring a week, but do not qualify for Carer's Allowance. It will help to improve young carers' quality of life, assisting them to take part in employment, social or leisure opportunities. The analysis of responses will be published later this year. Regulations for the new grant are being drafted and will be subject to scrutiny by the Scottish Commission on Social Security before being laid in the Scottish Parliament for parliamentary consideration. The Scottish Government aims to start paying Young Carer Grant from autumn 2019.
36. A consultation on a new Job Grant was launched on 16 January, running until 9 April 2019. The Job Grant is not provided for by the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018. Instead, an Order under section 63 of the Scotland Act 1998 will give the Scottish Government further powers to arrange assistance under section 2 of the Employment and Training Act 1973. This Order needs to be agreed with the UK Government and will set the limits within which Job Grant can be provided. Work to agree its contents is underway. The consultation set out the Scottish Government's proposals for a cash payment to support young people with the costs associated with transitioning back into work after a period of time out of paid employment, and asks questions about the key eligibility criteria and the payment format of the Job Grant (including any unintended consequences and potential impacts). The responses to the consultation will be analysed and the Scottish Government's response will be published in due course.
Funeral Support Payment
37. From May to August 2018 the Scottish Government ran a consultation on the Funeral Expense Assistance Regulations to gather views and identify any gaps, issues or unintended consequences with the draft legislation. An independent analysis of consultation responses was published in November 2018.
38. When the payment launches in Scotland in summer 2019, the aim is to process applications within 10 working days of receipt of a completed application including the required evidence. Payments would be made as soon as practicably thereafter. It will be a one-off payment to support people on low income benefits with a contribution towards funeral costs, replacing the DWP Funeral Expenses Payment in Scotland.
39. Funeral Expense Assistance regulations were laid in Parliament on 18 January 2019. The response to the consultation and the impact assessments for regulations were also published on this date. Although in practice, the new payment will be known as Funeral Support Payment, the benefit will continue to be referred to in legislation as Funeral Expense Assistance, consistent with the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018.
40. The Scottish Government has undertaken user-centred design for Disability Assistance, utilising feedback from people with lived experience to support the development process. Research phases for each form of Disability Assistance were carried out in 2018, including significant user-research into the experiences of people in receipt of DLA, PIP and AA, and this research will continue to influence the design of disability benefits.
41. The Scottish Government launched a consultation on 5 March 2019, running until 28 May. This set out policy proposals relating to the three forms of Disability Assistance that will replace Disability Living Allowance for Children (DLAC), Personal Independence Payments (PIP) and Attendance Allowance (AA). The analysis of consultation responses will be published in the autumn and the Scottish Government will publish a report shortly after that sets out its response to feedback on the policy proposals described in the consultation document.
42. Respondent feedback from this consultation, along with feedback from user research, the Experience Panels and the Disability and Carer Benefits Expert Advisory Group, will support the drafting of regulations for each form of Disability Assistance. This commitment to genuine engagement with disabled people, their families and stakeholders will ensure that Disability Assistance in Scotland better meets the needs of the people it is designed to support.
43. In order to deliver Carer's Allowance Supplement as quickly as possible, the Scottish Government entered into an Agency Agreement with the Department for Work and Pensions to deliver Carer's Allowance to recipients in Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Ministers in the short term.
44. The Agency Agreement commits the Scottish Ministers to annually uprate Carer's Allowance at the same rate as applied by the Department for Work and Pensions. Uprating of Carer's Allowance was through a Carer's Allowance Order and regulations considered by the Scottish Parliament under powers conferred under UK legislation.
45. The Carer's Allowance Supplement was uprated as required under section 81 of the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 and through a published statement to the Scottish Parliament as a letter to the Social Security Committee.
46. Carer's Allowance and Carer's Allowance Supplement were uprated by the September 2018 Consumer Price Index (CPI) of 2.4% from April 2019.
47. In February 2019, Scottish Ministers gave a commitment that the Scottish Government would keep alternative methods of uprating under review and would engage with the Scottish Parliament and the SCoSS in the consideration of the uprating measures that may be applied by Scottish Ministers. A comprehensive report, including analytical evidence, will be provided to the Committee and the SCoSS in autumn 2019.
48. Sections 77 and 78 of the Act, which place a duty to uprate certain benefits on Scottish Ministers (including a duty to consider the effects of inflation), will be commenced later in 2019. There will be a duty to consider the effects of inflation on all devolved benefits that are being delivered at that time and to report to the Scottish Parliament on what the Scottish Ministers intend to do as a result of the changes to inflation. There will be a duty to uprate Funeral Support Payment and Young Carer Grant for the 2020/21 financial year. CA and CAS will also require to be uprated following a similar process to the 2019/20 uprate.
Offences and Investigations
49. The Scottish Government consulted on the content of the draft Code of Practice for Investigations and the information gathering powers contained within the proposed Investigation of Offences Regulations between 6 August and 29 October 2018. As a result of the responses to the consultation, the Scottish Government is engaging with stakeholders to address the concerns raised. The Scottish Government intends to lay revised regulations in the Scottish Parliament in the autumn of 2019.
50. In the interim period and to allow Social Security Scotland to undertake investigations using existing powers, the Scottish Government aims to publish a Non-Statutory Code of Practice in summer 2019. This will allow people to understand the standards Social Security Scotland should meet when undertaking fraud investigations and what people should expect if they are under investigation. When a final draft of the Investigation of Offences Regulations has been approved by the Scottish Parliament, a final Code of Practice explaining how the powers of investigation given by the regulations will be used will be laid in the Scottish Parliament in line with the duties laid out in section 76 of the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018.
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