Attendees and apologies
- Anne Baldock, One Parent Families Scotland
- Jane Brumpton, Early Years Scotland
- Nicola Dickie, COSLA
- Roseanna McDonald, Scottish Women’s Aid
- Fiona McHardy, Poverty Alliance
- Kerry McKenzie, NHS Scotland
- Jackie Tolland, Parent Network Scotland
- Mark Willis, Child Poverty Action Group
- Dorothy Ogle, Scottish Government
- Ingrid Drever, Scottish Government
- Lauren Kelly, Scottish Government
- Elaine Paterson, Scottish Government
- Naeem Bhatti, Scottish Government
- Jamie Gregory, Scottish Government
Items and actions
Welcome and Introduction
The Group were introduced to Ingrid Drever the new Senior Policy Officer for the Best Start Grant. The minutes of the previous meeting were agreed by the group without amendment. It was noted that one of the actions from the previous meeting was to invite a representative of Scottish Women’s Aid, who are now attending.
Item 1: Scottish Government Update
The Scottish Government provided an update on the Baby Box, Healthy Start Vouchers, Service design and the experience panels. It was noted that the Baby Box opened for registration on the 15th August. The policy team for Healthy Start Vouchers are continuing to develop their eligibility criteria and are looking at the feasibility of moving from a paper voucher to pre-paid cards. It was highlighted that the Social Security Experience Panels “About your benefits and you” sessions had been occurring over the summer, finding our more about people’s experiences of the current system and what they would like to contribute to the process.
The Scottish Government provided an update on the work on-going on the Best Start Grant and shared the updated narrative for the three payments. It was noted that the Best Start Grant policy team have been looking at equalities issues and have held discussions with stakeholders to understand the potential effects of the BSG on different groups. It was noted that some of the issues raised were about service design rather than the rules and that these would be fed back to service design colleagues. There will be more work on an EQIA over the Autumn.
Item 2: Agency/ Local Delivery Update
The Scottish Government provided an update on the work on developing the new Scottish Social Security Agency. This will be an Executive Agency, responsible to Scottish Ministers.
An outline business case for the Agency has been published and a decision has been made that the Agency will have centralised functions with a local presence with Agency staff providing a face to face support service. Work is on-going to locate both the local presence and the central functions. The Scottish Government want to make it as easy as possible to access these services and therefore are looking to join up with pre-existing local services, in order to be as accessible as possible to applicants.
The following points were raised in discussions regarding the Agency:
It was highlighted that training was essential for the new Agency staff however it was noted that as, the BSG is one of the first benefits to go live, the Agency will not be fully staffed at that point. Development of the BSG provides an opportunity to forge links with the NHS, registrars, midwives etc. that will help to support the roll out of second wave benefits.
Item 3: Bill and Regulations
The Scottish Government provided an overview of the work they have been doing developing the Illustrative Regulations for the Best Start Grant. The Illustrative Regulations will be put before Parliament before the end of September to show how powers under the Social Security Bill will be used in practice. They also provide an opportunity to seek feedback on BSG policy for further policy development.
It was noted that there would be a series of tests of eligibility which would include, experiencing one of the three live events (e.g. the birth of a child), being responsible for a child, residency and a financial test. The financial test would be based upon being in receipt of a qualifying benefit.
It was noted that the eligibility for the Best Start Grant would be included in the regulations and this would include some extensions to the DWP SSMG eligibility i.e. being in receipt of any Tax Credit or of Housing Benefit. In addition any parent under 18 will also be eligible.
The regulations will also set out the three application windows for the Best Start Grant. A decision is still outstanding on some of the application windows to ensure there won’t be difficulties for processing or communication.
The following points were raised in discussions regarding the Illustrative Regulations:
The proposals for the regulations were generally welcomed.
There were discussions regarding whether payments should be split between partners or should go to women in the first instance. It was highlighted that domestic abuse can escalate during pregnancy and around child birth and 89% of women experience financial abuse when they experience abuse. Allowing a partner to claim the payment, it was noted, could increase a women’s dependency.
There were discussions regarding the eligibility criteria for applicants who had previously been in care or who are kinship carers. There are no current plans to remove the financial eligibility criteria for these groups but the policy team is still considering how their needs might be met.
It was confirmed that a payment would be made in the case of a still birth.
There were discussions regarding integration of the BSG into midwifery systems. It was noted that the Policy Team were in discussions regarding integration of the BSG into health pathways.
- Scottish Government to meet Scottish Women’s Aid to discuss equality impacts.
- Scottish Government to issue illustrative regulations to the group for comment as soon as possible.
Item 4: Re-determinations and Appeals
The Scottish Government provided an overview of the redetermination and appeals process that is proposed for the Scottish social security system. This process would have two stages, redetermination and a first tier tribunal. Redetermination would involve an independent official within the Agency going through the whole process again, no new evidence would be required although the claimant could provide further evidence if they wished. Redetermination will allow the Agency to make the right decision for the applicant at the earliest opportunity, if the first decision has contained an error.
The next stage of appeals would be to lodge an appeal with the first tier tribunal. If a redetermination wasn’t done within the set timescale then it would automatically be sent to the first tier tribunal.
- There were discussions about whether a claimant should have to reapply to the first tier tribunal if they are not happy with the initial redetermination decision or whether this should happen automatically. Some members of the group felt that the appeals system should mirror the housing benefit appeals system where an appeal goes straight to tribunal if it isn’t changed at the redetermination stage.
- Scottish Government to follow up with individual members to meet and discuss re-determinations and appeals.
Item 5: AOB and next steps
The next reference group meeting will occur around Christmas time.