MSPs on Holyrood’s Social Security Committee have backed a bill which would allow adult benefit claimants in Scotland to nominate someone to claim benefits on their behalf – while warning that safeguards must be in place to limit fraud and the exploitation of vulnerable people.
The support comes in the committee's stage 1 report on the Social Security Administration and Tribunal Membership (Scotland) Bill, which makes changes to the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018. The committee's main concern is that the bill's policy memorandum gives no detail about how it will be ensured that the consent of the claimant is explicit, informed and freely given.
Its report notes evidence from the Law Society of Scotland expressing concern that the current system of appointeeship in s 58 of the 2018 Act lacks sufficient safeguards to ensure full compliance with articles 6 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The report continues: "We are concerned that the proposed provisions on appointees in the current bill replicate these issues in relation to adults who may be capable but may also be more vulnerable and susceptible to abuse."
The committee believes, and recommends, that the bill should outline the general safeguarding principles that will underpin the guidance, which may include mechanisms for challenging appointee decisions, undertaking periodic reviews and resolving disputes; and that the guidance to be developed should also be statutory.
It also backs a change which would allow health professionals other than doctors to verify that a claimant is terminally ill, in order to fast track their disability benefit claim; and one setting out a duty to inform people of their eligibility for all top-up benefits, including the Scottish child payment.
Committee convener Bob Doris MSP commented: "The committee welcomes this legislation and strongly supports the general principles of this bill, including allowing anyone in receipt of benefits to appoint someone to collect benefits on their behalf.
"However, submissions to the committee from the Equality & Human Rights Commission and the Law Society of Scotland outlined that without suitable safeguards in the legislation, the appointee system would not be compliant with human rights legislation and could be open to abuse.
"The Scottish Government’s principal safeguard is that consent must be given. However, the legislation should go further and build in additional safeguards such as the ability to challenge appointee decisions, undertake periodic reviews and resolve disputes."