Update on devolved benefits
Update on the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on social security services in Scotland.
Social Security Secretary Shirley Anne Somerville has updated the Scottish Parliament on the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on social security services in Scotland.
The majority of Social Security Scotland staff are now working from home to support efforts to slow the spread of Covid-19. The delivery of existing benefits continues with applications being received, processed and payments being made.
On benefits due to be introduced from this year, the Cabinet Secretary advised that, although they were on track to deliver these benefits, plans have had to change as a result of the ongoing pandemic.
The Scottish Government, DWP, local authorities and health and social care practitioners – who are all required to develop and deliver these benefits – are currently focused on the response and recovery from COVID-19. As a result, the introduction of Child Disability Payment and the Scottish Government’s replacement for Personal Independence Payments will be delayed. UK Ministers have agreed that they will continue to deliver disability benefits to Scottish clients over a longer transition period.
Scottish Child Payment, which was due to be introduced from this autumn, will also be delayed. The Scottish Government said it will focus its resources to deliver this as soon as practicably possible. The aim is to start taking applications by the end of 2020 with payments being made from 2021, subject to sufficient staff being in place.
In her statement, Ms Somerville also outlined the markedly different approach that the Scottish Government plans to take in its delivery of disability benefits. The new decision-making process for this in Scotland will mean no face-to-face assessments and decisions will be informed by the professional judgement of health and social care practitioners – not assessors. The new process will involve the following steps:
- Social Security Scotland will make decisions using the information provided by applicants and checking this against existing guidance in the first instance
- where it is not possible to make a decision, applicants will be able to tell Social Security Scotland about the health and social care professionals who already support them. Social Security Scotland will then be able to contact those professionals to collect supporting information
- when it is the only practical way of collecting the information, a minority of working age clients will be invited to a discussion with a health and social care practitioner. If such a client consultation takes place, it would be arranged to suit the client, and the majority of these consultations are expected to be conducted by phone.
Ms Somerville said: “Our priority is maintaining our front-line services and delivering the seven benefits we have in place to support low income families, carers and people facing a bereavement.
“The Scottish Government, DWP, local authorities and – importantly – our health and social care services are focused on responding to the ongoing pandemic. When we get through this, these organisations will then take time to recover.
“We have had to take this into consideration in our plans for future benefits. Our approach to disability assistance was grounded in the professional judgement of health and social care practitioners and they are rightly needed elsewhere at this time. We also need to factor in that there will likely be further impact on Scottish Government and partner organisations staffing levels due to illness or caring responsibilities.
“As such, I have had to take the difficult decision to halt the introduction of disability benefits that were due within the coming year. These will continue to be delivered by the UK Government. This is the only way to ensure people continue to get the financial support they need. It provides certainty and security of payment at a time of great anxiety.
“While I cannot make guarantees around a revised timeline for the introduction of these benefits, I can guarantee that the work will not stop. And I will provide an update to timelines as soon as I am able to do so.
“We will prioritise delivering the Scottish Child Payment and we will do everything humanly possible to deliver this payment as soon as practicably possible. This new payment will play a major part in tackling child poverty, helping those who may be facing even more hardship as a result of coronavirus, and our remaining resources will be directed at that.”