1. What are the timescales for introducing new benefits to Scotland?
The Scottish Government's top priority on the transfer of benefits is safe and secure transition so everyone will receive the benefits they are entitled to, at the right amount at the right time.
The complexities of delivering benefits are challenging but also very exciting for the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government does not yet have responsibility for all the benefits which will be devolved. There is a process which needs to be followed, which means the Scottish Government cannot deliver devolved benefits until required changes to legislation by the UK Government have taken place, the Scottish Government has its own legislation and there is delivery infrastructure is in place. This work is all ongoing.
The Scottish Government's social security bill is currently going through the Scottish Parliament and is expected to be passed by summer 2018. We are also establishing Scotland's first social security agency for the delivery of benefits.
2. When will changes to benefits for carers take place?
As announced by Angela Constance, Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities on 30 May 2017, the Scottish Government plans to deliver the first wave of devolved benefits from summer 2018. This will include the Carer's Allowance Supplement which will be paid twice a year rather than weekly. Whilst delivery will be in summer, it will be backdated to April 2018.
There are powers set out in the Bill to allow for our other commitments on carers. The additional payment for carers of more than one disabled child will take place once we have we have full responsibility for Carer's Allowance, and other changes are for further down the line.
3. How will the increase to Carer's Allowance work?
We plan to pay the Carer's Allowance Supplement from summer 2018, backdated to April of that year.
When our Scottish social security agency is established the Scottish Government will pay all of Carer's Allowance with the increase. Before that, to ensure we can pay the supplement from the earliest point possible, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will continue to pay the main Carer's Allowance and the Scottish Government will pay the Supplement.
Until we take over all of the Carer's Allowance, the Scottish Government will be dependent on the DWP for data about who is receiving Carer's Allowance in order to make the payment. A six monthly payment is operationally simpler than making weekly payments - so it will reduce risk and help deliver a safe and secure transition. The level will be calculated using the formula Jobseeker's Allowance minus Carer's Allowance, multiplied by 26 weeks.
4. How will the government ensure any increases aren't clawed back through reductions in other reserved benefits – such as housing benefit, income support and tax credits - or devolved areas such as council tax reduction and care charging?
The Scottish Government has a formal agreement with the UK Government that additional benefit payments made by the Scottish Government will not be clawed back elsewhere. This is set out in the Fiscal Framework document.
Benefits paid by the UK Government, including Income Support and Tax Credits, will not be affected by the Carer's Allowance Supplement. The Carer's Allowance Supplement will not result in any reduction in the amount of Universal Credit people receive. People receiving Carer's Allowance are already exempt from the Benefit Cap.
Responsibility for some Council Tax Reductions and some passported benefits lies with the Scottish Government and Local Authorities. The Carer's Allowance Supplement will not affect these.
CoSLA issues charging guidance to local authorities each year and Carer's Allowance is one of a number of potential benefits that may be disregarded in the financial assessment. It is for individual local authorities to decide.
5. Will there be any changes to current rules of entitlement when Carer's Allowance is devolved? For example:
- residency – if a carer moves to Scotland to look after a relative
No. Our immediate priority is to ensure a safe and secure transition so that carers continue to receive Carer's Allowance at the right time and the right amount. To ensure the smooth transfer there will be no change to the current eligibility criteria at the point of transition.
6. What are the plans for a Young Carer's Allowance?
We have committed to consider the introduction of a Young Carer's Allowance to provide extra support for young people with significant caring responsibilities and expect to be able to say more about this in the autumn.
Scottish Government officials have gathered evidence from a range of sources to identify options. This included mapping existing provision, considering existing evidence and wider Scottish Government policies, discussions with young carers themselves, and carer organisations through the Young Carer's Allowance Working Group, and a review of the responses to the social security consultation.
7. What progress has been made with plans to set up a social security agency in Scotland and preparations for the benefits being devolved to Scotland?
Setting up the agency is a hugely complex task. Work is underway taking expert opinion and views from people with direct experience of the current social security system through Experience Panels. This will help deliver an agency that embodies dignity and respect, and that is sensitive and responsive to different needs and requirements.
An Agency Operations Reference Group has been set up to help guide and shape services. This brings together public and third sector organisations with practical experience of delivering local services. The Scottish Government is also meeting with local councils and key organisations to learn from their experiences in delivering services in their communities and to work with them to ensure the agency's services are joined-up with existing support.
The Disability and Carers Benefits Expert Advisory Group are clear that respect for the dignity of individuals should be at the heart of the system. They will be advising on the importance of getting the operational culture right, as more detail is set out around the planned shape of services in Scotland.
8. Where will the new social security agency be based?
The decision on location will be announced in the autumn. It will be based on a robust evidence-based analysis exercise to help ensure that the final decision delivers the best possible solution overall for the Scottish people and that all areas are evaluated fairly and equally.
9. Will carers be able to see someone face-to-face in a local office?
The agency will provide a local presence, with a human face, where people can go to get one-to-one support someone from the agency if required. This will be based, wherever possible, in places that people already visit so that the agency's services can be joined up with other related support. Depending on their preference people will also be able to engage with the agency through a range of additional options including online and by phone.
10. How will you reach carers who are not currently claiming benefits they are entitled to?
We want everyone who is entitled to benefits to claim them. Such financial support can make a difference to people's lives. That is why this year we launched our marketing and communications campaign to encourage people to find out what they are entitled to and apply for it.
Our campaign is based around a series of activities aimed at both the general public and specific groups of people. In March we ran messaging on local radio stations and local papers across Scotland aimed at all people, and we are repeating this activity in late September. This work is in partnership with Citizens Advice Scotland and their national network of bureaus.
Our first specifically targeted work encouraged young carers (aged 16-24) to apply for Carer's Allowance. Working with Young Scot, we built a dedicated webpage and created videos and infographics and broadcast a Q&A session between young carers and Minister for Public Health Aileen Campbell MSP. This took place in two bursts, based around Carer's Week in June and the Young Carers' Festival in August.
In October we are running month-long national advertising on TV, press and inside buses encouraging people aged 65 and over to contact CAS to get help in applying for the benefits they're entitled to. While this covers all benefits, when appropriate we're highlighting Pension Credit, Council Tax reductions and Attendance Allowance.
The Social Security Minister has met with local authorities and other local organisations and bodies to discuss how they and the SG can work together practically to drive take-up and support each other's activity.
11. Can you please provide an update on plans to improve disability benefits and the way they are processed?
We are building a social security system based on dignity and respect. This means an assessment process which isn't demeaning or deliberately difficult. The Scottish Government has also given an assurance that assessments will not be carried out by the private sector. For those with long-term conditions, longer-term awards will be introduced and wherever possible, we will reduce the need for face-to-face assessments.
The Disability and Carers Benefits Expert Advisory Group we have established will provide recommendations and guidance to Ministers on how often assessments should be, and on the possibility of certain conditions being given automatic or lifetime awards.
Where there is a need for an assessment of a person's needs, our assessment process will be designed to prioritise the needs of the disabled person. The process of applying for and receiving benefits will be made easier for everyone to understand and people will be supported through it. Clear timescales will be set for assessments, decisions and appeals and we will ensure the information is accessible for those who need it.
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