What Scotland's own social security system should look like is the subject of a new consultation launched today by the Scottish Government.

The 13 week invitation to the public follows the transfer of power to Holyrood, under the Scotland Act 2016, to legislate in relation to certain benefits, including disability and carers payments. Regulations laid at Westminster this month have begun the transfer process, and Scottish ministers intend to bring forward legislation to implement the changes over a number of years.

Once fully devolved, the transferred powers will account for around £2.7bn, or 15% of the total Scottish benefit bill. 

Among the issues discussed in the paper is how to set the guiding principles for the system. Ideas put forward are a claimant's charter, a statement of principles in the legislation, or some combination of approaches. The example of the Northern Ireland Social Security Agency, with its emphasis on communication, is put forward as a way of maintaining user friendliness and customer satisfaction.

Delivery options include how to harness digital services, provision for face to face contact, and whether benefits should be in cash only, or cash and goods.

People are also asked whether an independent body should be set up to keep arrangements under review, and how it should be separated from Government.

What benefits?

Part 2 of the paper invites readers to "actively take part in designing and shaping Scotland‟s new, devolved benefits". Devolved powers cover:

  • Ill health and disability benefits, including disability living allowance (DLA), personal independence payment (PIP), attendance allowance (AA), severe disablement allowance (SDA) and industrial injuries disablement benefit (IIDB);
  • carer's allowance;
  • Sure Start maternity grants (proposed to be replaced by the Best Start grant);
  • funeral payments;
  • cold weather payments and winter fuel payments;
  • discretionary housing payments;
  • and some powers in relation to universal credit (i.e.to split payments between household members).

Part 3 asks for views on operational policy, covering:

  • advice, representation and advocacy;
  • dealing with complaints, reviews and appeals;
  • residency criteria for entitlement to devolved benefits;
  • managing overpayments;
  • how to protect the system against fraud;
  • holding of claimants' information; and
  • uprating of benefits.

The Scottish Government also proposes to introduce a new job grant for young people, who have been unemployed for more than six months, and who are entering the labour market. 

Early bill

Speaking at the launch, Social Security Secretary Angela Constance commented: “We have already committed to a number of measures that will benefit people in Scotland, including increasing carer’s allowance to the level of jobseeker’s allowance, and replacing the Sure Start maternity grant with an expanded maternity and early years allowance (now called the Best Start grant).

“However, we want to gather views from as many people as possible from across Scotland about their own experience of benefits, and how they think the system could be improved in the future.

“While the Scotland Act does not go as far as we would wish in devolving powers – leaving 85% of benefit spending in the hands of the UK Government – we will always use all of the powers available to us in the best interests of Scotland.”

Minister for Social Security Jeane Freeman added: “We have already committed to bringing forward Scotland’s first social security bill before the end of the first year of this Parliament, and evidence gathered during this consultation process will inform the development and drafting of the bill.

“We are well aware of the scale of this task and the handover of powers to deliver these benefits is of a level not seen in Scotland before.

“The Scottish Government has committed to consulting as widely as possible, and I want to make sure we hear from those people who have experience of receiving the benefits which are being devolved."

Click here to access the consultation. Responses are due by 28 October 2016.