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Publication - Minutes

Agency Operations Reference Group minutes: September 2017

Published: 22 Nov 2017
Date of meeting: 20 Sep 2017
Location: Denholm House, Almondvale Business Park, Livingston

Minutes from the meeting of the Agency Operations Reference Group in September 2017.

Attendees and apologies

Present

  • David Coyne, Skills Development Scotland
  • Miriam Craven, Scottish Government (Chair)
  • Nicola Dickie, COSLA
  • Kim Dowie, DWP
  • Anne Lavery, Citizens Advice Scotland
  • Kirsty McKechnie, CPAG
  • Charlie Liddle, PCS Scotland
  • Elaine Paterson, Scottish Government (Secretariat)
  • Roddy Samson, NHS Scotland
  • Bill Scott, Inclusion Scotland
  • Andrew Strong, The ALLIANCE
  • Layla Theiner, Disability Agenda Scotland
  • Harvey Tilley, ILF Scotland

In attendance

  • Jane Callaghan, Scottish Government (presenter)
  • Carol Anne Hackland, Scottish Government (presenter)
  • Sara James, Scottish Government (presenter)
  • Victoria Keir, Scottish Government (observer)
  • John McVey, Scottish Government (presenter)
  • Margaret Wheatley, ILF Scotland (observer)
  • Robert White, ILF Scotland (observer)

Apologies

  • Kate Burton, NHS Scotland
  • John Downie, SCVO
  • Cathy Macphail, DWP
  • Andrew Montgomery, MacMillan
  • Ian Pope, PCS Scotland
  • Jamie Sinclair, Building Connections

Items and actions

Welcome and Introductions

The Chair thanked everyone for attending and explained that, as previously requested by members, today’s meeting would include a session on the Scottish Government’s planned approach to complaints, re-determinations and appeals. In addition the agenda also included a session on how we can create the right atmosphere in the agency’s buildings for staff and people accessing its services.

Update on Social Security

The Chair updated members on progress in developing plans for devolved social security including that the Social Security (Scotland) Bill has reached stage 1 of the process, during which the Social Security Committee has asked for views on the Bill.

Members attention was also drawn to the First Minister’s announcement on 18 September that the agency’s headquarters will be located in Dundee with another major site in Glasgow (https://beta.gov.scot/news/social-security-agency-2017-09-18/). Following this on 19 September the Minister for Social Security’s statement to Parliament set out in more detail the operations of the agency and reasoning behind the chosen locations (https://beta.gov.scot/publications/delivering-social-security-for-scotlands-people-ministerial-statement/). It was explained that the main agency offices will be open to the public and form part of the local presence where people can go and gain help with their applications and enquiries.

Progress on work to meet with stakeholders and learn of the different models of delivery across Local Authorities was provided with the Chair noting that she has met with 17 Local Authorities and a number of other organisations. These meetings have gone well and highlighted the very different approaches being taken. They have also provided the opportunity to discuss how the agency might deliver it services locally.

Additionally an agreement is being developed with COSLA to set out the principles that the Scottish Government and COSLA will work to in the delivery of local social security services when based in Local Authority buildings. It was raised that this doesn’t mean that the new agency will always co-locate with Local Authorities but rather shows that when working with Local Authorities certain characteristics will always be met and recognition will be given to the Community Planning Partnerships in place.

DWP and COSLA members also noted that more communications on the Universal Credit flexibilities, that will be delivered from 4 October will be available shortly.

Complaints, Re-determinations and Appeals

Scottish Government representatives delivered a session on the planned approach to Complaints, Re-determinations and Appeals for devolved benefits.

It was explained that complaints received by the agency will follow the handling procedures set out by the Scottish Public Service Ombudsman (SPSO). This also means that the SPSO will provide an independent role on any unresolved complaints presented to it that involve the agency. In creating the agency’s process the Scottish Government is aiming to design procedures where complaints are acted upon quickly, resolved and learnt from.

Members asked that in instances where a complaint also contains grounds for appeal if it would be treated as such. It was confirmed this will be the case and that the person making the complaint would be advised they also have grounds for appeal and given the opportunity to submit any additional evidence to support this appeal. Members highlighted that in these circumstances care needs to be taken to ensure that both the complaint and appeal are both captured when recording statistics.

It was also asked whether a person would be entitled to a compensation payment for any financial loss occurred, similar to that offered by DWP. It was noted that this has still to be considered along with a number of other factors and will be looked at as the complaints process for the agency continues.

While the aim of the agency is to get decisions right first time people will be able to request a re-determination of their decision. The approach the Scottish Government is planning to take was explained, such as the aim to make the process as simple as possible for people. Any reviews will be carried out by a team who, although agency staff, will be independent of those making the original decision. A full case review will also be completed and staff will be pro-active in sourcing any gaps in evidence to help ensure full information is taken into account and the right decision made. Some members didn’t think this was reflected in the Bill and an action was taken to provide further clarity on the agency’s role in sourcing information.

There was concern more generally from a number of members that the Bill does not include much detail and noted that to build and gain trust work needs to be done to detail in regulations what the timescales and procedures will be and that the public needs to be aware of this. Ultimately building trust will also be down to the design of processes and how the agency delivers operationally. This was recognised by Scottish Government officials. They explained that timescales for re-determinations were still being considered and were difficult to establish at this stage as the processing times for benefits, which will in turn help inform timescales to clear re-determinations were still being decided upon. Also amendments to the Bill had still to be decided and input from the Experience Panels sought.

With regards to set timescales for people to request re-determinations members raised that people, for various reasons, may need more time to request re-determinations and assistance in explaining what is required of them. Some flexibility therefore needs to be built into the system along with good cause, allowing people with certain conditions to automatically be given exemptions. Scottish Government officials confirmed there will be the opportunity for timescales to be extended and people will continue to receive payment pending a re-determination decision being made. While this approach was welcomed by some members others noted that leaving people in this “pending” period could cause people anxiety as there was no clarity as to whether this money would then need to be repaid should the decision not go in a person’s favour. Some members also expressed their view that people should be able to appeal directly without going through the re-determination process.

A brief overview on the approach to appeals was given noting that the Scottish Government is working with the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) to set up a new Chamber that will hear appeals for the devolved benefits and consider how it will function. Members input into this work as it progresses is welcome.

Officials also explained that throughout this work the aim is to build a culture where people are comfortable in questioning the decisions the agency makes and in requesting a re-determination or appeal.

Creating the Right Building Environment

Scottish Government officials updated the Group on work underway to look at how the agency’s main buildings can create an atmosphere that reflects its principles to those visiting, using and working in the buildings. The Group was invited to provide suggestions on how this could be achieved with the following points raised -

  • to help reduce the stigma of accessing the agency’s support space should be given over to local organisations, such as disability organisations and other service providers, to create a mixed economy of culture and shared experiences. Although if co-location is offered thought will need to be given to any Service Level Agreements between partners.

  • the locations of the buildings need to be accessible, this is something the Access Panel Network could help with. There should also be plenty of free parking spaces, buildings should be located near a bus stop and supermarkets and not at the top of a hill. However, too much importance shouldn’t be placed on local footfall as it can take 3-5 years for a new public facility to fully become part of the community.

  • the atmosphere in buildings should be warm and comfortable – both in temperature and welcome. This includes through the use of initiatives such as wall art that can make a big impact and help convey an organisations ethos.

  • the use of signage and messaging should be clear and well displayed. People should be aware of what adaptations are available to them.

  • services such as public access to computers and Wi-Fi should be provided for people to use and if possible childcare facilities. For any services such as cafes reputable providers should be used. Where possible it would be good to use local organisations.

  • all health and safety requirements need to be met.

  • a wealth of research materials is available on how to design buildings for people with impairments and is worthwhile looking into.

Next Steps (including date and location of next meeting)

The Chair thanked everyone for attending the meeting and for their participation.
It was decided that we should continue with themed meetings and the suggestions of sessions on recruitment and digital services for the next meeting were agreed. It was also agreed that Inclusion Scotland could invite along one of their colleagues who runs their internship programme for disabled people to input into the session. Citizens Advice Scotland offered to host the next meeting, which will be held in December and extended to 2 ½ hours to allow for fuller discussions.

Actions

1. Scottish Government to provide clarity on its approach to the gathering of evidence to make a determination [held at Annex A below].

2. Scottish Government to arrange further meeting in December that includes agenda items on recruitment and digital services.

Annex A.pdf

1 page PDF
61.3kB
Published:
22 Nov 2017
Agency Operations Reference Group minutes: September 2017