Social Security Bill Update
Following the passage of the Social Security (Scotland) Bill on the 25th of April, CIH Scotland's policy and practice manager Ashley Campbell provides an update on the main areas that the new Bill will cover.
The passing of the Social Security (Scotland) Bill (the Bill) on 25 April will see 11 benefits worth £3.3 billion per year devolved to Scotland. Benefits covered by the Bill include Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs), disability benefits, carers benefits, cold weather and winter payments. When it’s fully up and running, Scotland’s new Social Security Agency will employ 1,900 people across Scotland. These are exciting developments with the potential to achieve real changes in the way we support people to live well in Scotland.
However, it’s important to note that some significant benefits remain reserved to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), most notably perhaps Universal Credit (UC), and we remain vulnerable to the UK Government’s welfare reform programme. While some changes will happen fairly quickly – an increase in Carer’s Allowance is planned from summer this year – the new system is not due to be fully established until 2021 and we can expect a lot more secondary legislation in the meantime. So what does the Bill cover?
General rules, principles and accountability
The Bill sets out an overarching framework for how the benefits will be delivered, making provision for operational functions such as how entitlement will be determined and how appeals will be dealt with. Further details on individual benefits will be set out in secondary legislation. The Bill also establishes a general set of principles under which social security will be provided in Scotland:
- Social security is an investment in the people of Scotland.
- Social security is itself a human right and essential to the realisation of other human rights.
- The delivery of social security is a public service.
- Respect for the dignity of individuals is to be set at the heart of the Scottish social security system.
- The Scottish social security system is to contribute to reducing poverty in Scotland.
- The Scottish social security system is to be designed with the people of Scotland on the basis of evidence.
- Opportunities are to be sought to continuously improve the Scottish social security system in ways which put the needs of those who require assistance first, and advance equality and non-discrimination.
- The Scottish social security system is to be efficient and deliver value for money.
These principles will inform a new Scottish Social Security Charter and the work of a new independent Social Security Commission. The Commission will be responsible for scrutinising legislative proposals and reporting on the extent to which the expectations set out in the Charter are being met, making recommendations for improvements if required. A report on the performance of the Scottish social security system will be published annually.
Discretionary Housing Payments
The Bill requires local authorities to operate a DHP scheme as long as the Scottish Government makes funding available to do so. The Scottish Government plans to revise existing DHP guidance (inherited from the DWP when DHPs were devolved) this summer to make sure that it aligns with the principles of the new Scottish system.
The Bill introduces a new type of housing assistance. This was included specifically to allow the Scottish Government to mitigate against the UK Government policy which removed automatic entitlement to housing assistance for 18-21 year olds (which has since been dropped) and to mitigate the ‘bedroom tax’ at source without triggering the Benefit Cap.
While the Bill restricts its use to these two specific circumstances, it would be possible for Housing Assistance to be extended in future if Ministers had the inclination and funding to do so.
The Bill states that following consultation with the Secretary of State, regulations must be introduced to allow UC payments to be split between joint applicants unless the claimants decide otherwise. This final stage amendment has been welcomed by a range of campaigning organisations, being seen as a way to help prevent financial abuse within controlling relationships.
In previous consultations, CIH Scotland has welcomed the principle of offering split payments but we do have significant concerns about the practicalities of doing so, especially given the extensive administrative difficulties with the UC system. We look forward to further discussions on how this measure can realistically be achieved.
- Top ups – this reflects the power to top up reserved benefits as devolved through the Scotland Act 2016 and the associated existing restrictions. This particular type of assistance cannot be used to help meet housing costs or to negate the effects of a sanction.
- Uprating - Carer Assistance, Disability Assistance, Employment Injury Assistance, Young Carer Grant and Funeral Expense Assistance will be increased annually in line with inflation. Ministers will also be required to review the levels of other devolved payments each year to consider whether these should be increased.
- Accessing Scottish benefits - A duty will be placed on Ministers to encourage the take up of benefits, including consideration of access to information, independent advice and advocacy.
- Short Term Assistance – if someone appeals a decision to reduce or withdraw a benefit that they had been entitled to, they will continue to receive payments throughout the duration of the appeal process.