Part 2: The Devolved Benefits - Other Devolved Benefits
About this Part of the Consultation
The second half of Part 2 of the consultation focused on a range of further benefits:
- Carers' Allowance;
- Winter Fuel and Cold Weather Payments;
- Funeral Payments;
- Best Start Grant;
- Discretionary Housing Payment;
- Job Grant; and
- Universal Credit Flexibilities.
Here we provide an overview of the main themes emerging from the consultation responses, for the second half of Part 2 of the consultation.
Continuing or expanding eligibility
In general, respondents supported a broad continuation of current eligibility, with support for the expansion of some benefits - such as Carers' Benefit, Winter Fuel or Cold Weather Payments, Funeral Payments, and Best Start.
A few respondents cautioned against more generous approaches where there was not a strong case for this, or called for a more targeted approach to some benefits.
Improved awareness and access
Across a range of benefits, respondents called for improved awareness raising and information provision. There was concern that benefits are often not well known or understood, and that take up is low as a result. Respondents called for work to improve general awareness amongst the public. There was also support for more targeted promotion through existing advice or support services, and public sector agencies in contact with eligible groups. Respondents highlighted the stigma attached to receiving certain benefits, and asked for this to be considered when raising awareness or considering the alignment of different benefits.
In general, respondents asked for simpler, clearer information and application forms. At times, there was concern that changes might introduce greater complexity.
Respondents said that some benefits currently take too long to access. For example, respondents criticised the waiting time to receive first payments of Universal Credit, Funeral Payments, Discretionary Housing Payment, Cold Weather and Winter Fuel Payments. These delays were leading to crisis situations in some cases, or preventing people taking forward key processes - such as securing a property, or paying for a funeral. Respondents supported longer application windows for Best Start and Funeral Payments.
Person-centred services and choice
There was a strong focus on ensuring benefits responded to needs and individual circumstances. Respondents often supported greater choice - for example, in relation to payment frequency, between goods and services, direct payments to landlords, or on issues such as split payments for Universal Credit. At times there was concern that some proposals might be demeaning or stigmatising (such as offering goods instead of cash), or that recipients might be put under pressure to make certain choices (such as having housing element payments paid directly to their landlord).
Respondents emphasised the importance of ensuring that systems are simple and straightforward. There was support for streamlining eligibility and assessment processes, with respondents looking for specific opportunities to build on existing activity or systems. This was seen as being important to improve access, and limit administrative costs. A few respondents suggested the Scottish Government needs to carefully consider the administrative complexities of some proposals - such as additional payment points, or increasing choice on issues such as splitting or changing payment frequency of Universal Credit.
Respondents wanted to see the system operate in as fair a way as possible. At times, they identified aspects of existing benefit processes they felt were unfair to some groups. For example, current restrictions on Carers Allowance mean that people can only receive payments for caring for one individual, and overlapping rules mean that people receiving other income-replacement benefits at a higher amount than Carers Allowance will not receive any additional amount.
There was concern that recent welfare reform has had negative consequences for some groups, and particularly in relation to Universal Credit. For example, there was widespread concern about usually making one payment per household, and reductions or limitations on the housing element. There was also concern that using Discretionary Housing Payments to mitigate the impact of the bedroom tax has reduced the resources going towards people in housing crisis situations.
Some respondents highlighted the variability in administration of some payments in different local authority areas.
Email: Trish Brady-Campbell