Attendees and apologies
- Mohammad Ali – Muslim Council of Scotland
- John Birrell
- Bill Stanley – ICCM
- Simon Cox – Dignity
- Paul Cuthell – NAFD
- Nicola Dickie - COSLA
- Karen Hurst - ABCUL
- Bryan Kerr – Church of Scotland
- Richard Meade – Marie Curie
- Ruth Mendel - CAS
- Mark Porteous – SAIF
- Caroline Pretty – NHS Lothian
- Mark Willis - CPAG
- Lucy Carmichael – Scottish Government
- Colette Hughes– Scottish Government
- Cath McKenna – Scottish Government
- Jamie Gregory – Scottish Government
- Naeem Bhatti – Scottish Government
- Jim Brodie - SAIF
- Graeme McAusland - Funeral Planning Authority
- David Hilferty - Money Advice Scotland
- Glenda Watt - SOPA
Items and actions
Welcome, Introductions and previous minutes
1. Lucy Carmichael welcomed all the attendees to the meeting and noted apologies had been received from Graeme McAusland (Funeral Planning Authority), David Hilferty (Money Advice Scotland), Glenda Watt (SOPA) and Jim Brodie (SAIF). Mark Porteous was attending the meeting in place of Jim Brodie.
2. The minutes of the previous meetings on 30 January, 24 May and 15 June were agreed and would be published on the Scottish Government website.
3. It was noted that the Funeral Payment data for Dignity (action 5) would be circulated shortly. It would be helpful if other funeral directors could consider whether they could provide similar information in order to strengthen the underlying data used by the Scottish Government in this area.
General Update regarding Social Security Bill
4. Since the last meeting, the Social Security (Scotland) Bill had been introduced to the Scottish Parliament on 20 June. The Bill provided an overarching framework for the new Scottish Social Security System whilst the regulations would provide the detail of each benefit.
5. The Bill set out 7 principles which would define the design, development and implementation of the new system. These are:
Social Security is an investment in the people of Scotland;
Social Security is itself a human right and essential to the realisation of other human rights;
Respect for the dignity of individuals is to be at the heart of the Scottish Social Security system;
Scottish Ministers have a role in ensuring that individuals are given what they are eligible to be given under the Scottish social security system;
Our processes and services will be evidence based and design with the people of Scotland;
We will strive for continuous improvement in all our policies, processes and systems, putting the user experience first; and
We will demonstrate that our services are efficient and value for money.
6. The Social Security Committee’s call for evidence had closed on 23 August and the Committee was expected to take oral evidence until early November.
7. If any reference group members had comments about the Bill that they had not fed back to the Scottish Government then the FEA and Funeral Poverty Team would be happy to pass these on to the Bill Team.
Funeral Poverty and Funeral Expense Assistance: General Update
8. The Scottish Government had published the Funeral Costs Plan on 8 August which set out a 10 point plan of Scottish Government action to tackle funeral poverty during this parliamentary term.
9. The Royal London National Funeral Cost Index report, which had been published on 30 August, recorded a rise of 2.9% in average UK funeral costs. This was a higher than 2016 where there had been a small reduction in funeral costs, but followed a long term trend of rising costs.
10. The 2016/17 Annual Social Fund report showed a fall in the number Funeral Payment awards to 27,000 from 29,000 the year before. The average award was now £1,427, a small increase from the year before.
11. The DWP consultation on changes to its Funeral Payment had now closed. The DWP was considering a range of changes including extending the application window, allowing electronic evidence submission and no longer deducting contributions from charities, friends and relatives from the FP award.
12. Consideration of a range of potential improvements to Funeral Expense Assistance (FEA) compared to the current DWP Funeral Payment was ongoing. As part of this process the Minister for Social Security had decided that the policy option of linking eligibility to the deceased would not be taken forward.
13. It was expected that illustrative regulations for FEA would prepared to share with parliament. The illustrative regulations would set out more of the detail on how FEA would be delivered. This was expected to provide an opportunity for MSPs and stakeholder organisations to comment on, and suggest improvements to, the regulations.
Discussions on update
14. There was a discussion about whether FEA could be extended to a cover a pregnancy loss under 24 weeks. It was noted that families could be facing a significant cost and were not eligible for support from the Funeral Payment at present. It was noted that health boards currently offer shared cremations, however, some people may not wish to use this service.
15. There was a discussion regarding cases where there was no recourse to public funds, and it was highlighted that this issue is being looked at across the benefits being devolved. The Scottish Government officials in attendance confirmed that they would highlight this issue again to the Bill Team.
Action – Scottish Government to consider further scope to expand eligibility to pregnancy loss pre 24 weeks for FEA.
Re-determinations and Appeals
16. Naeem Bhatti provided an overview of the dispute resolution process, which is referred to as re-determinations and appeals in the Social Security (Scotland) Bill in sections 23 to 29.
17. The Scottish Government’s proposals for dispute resolution were different from the DWP Mandatory Reconsideration (MR) process in a number of ways. The proposals were based on the views of the respondents to the social security consultation carried out in 2016. The Scottish Government had used the Social Security (Scotland) Bill to address the issues raised by stakeholders.
18. The Scottish Government key priority would be to treat people with dignity and respect, to get the decision right first time and quickly correct any errors if they do occur. Where an individual wanted to challenge a decision, they would be able to request a re-determination, which would be carried out by the social security agency. An independent officer would remake the decision from first principles putting the first decision aside. No new evidence would be required, though the individual could provide additional evidence if they wished. This process would be interactive, the individual would be able to talk to the agency to understand what was happening throughout.
19. There would be clearly published procedures and timescales and if the agency failed to complete the re-determination within the specified timescales, then the individual would have a right to take their dispute to the tribunal. This recourse is not available in the DWP system where an individual has to await the outcome of the MR and receive the necessary notice before they can take their claim to the tribunal.
20. The Scottish Government had made a commitment to set out the timescales for asking for a re-determination and for the agency to complete that within regulations. Further work on service design and user testing process would take place in this area.
21. Naeem then provided an overview of the first-tier tribunal process that would be the next stage to challenge a decision if the individual wasn’t satisfied with the outcome of the re-determination, or if it wasn’t completed within the specified timescales.
22. The tribunal system would be separate from the social security agency and therefore its rules would be set out separately. There were plans to establish a new Chamber in Scottish Tribunals which would hear appeals for both devolved and reserved benefits, however, this Chamber would have no powers to make substantive changes to the law regarding reserved benefits.
The following points were raised in discussion regarding re-determination and appeals:
Whether fast tracking of applications for benefits as well as fast tracking of the re-determination process should be considered for those who are terminally ill;
Whether FEA re-determinations should be fast tracked because of the short timescales associated with arranging and paying for a funeral;
The importance of clear communications regarding the re-determination and appeals procedure to ensure people understand the process; and
It was confirmed that there would be no tribunal fees for appeals. It was suggested that because this wasn’t in the Bill it would be easier for future governments to change.
23. Naeem thanked reference group members for their input and said he would be happy to meet people individually or collectively to discuss re-determinations and appeals further.
24. Lucy Carmichael provided an overview of initial considerations regarding residency that were expected to be set out in regulations. It was highlighted that there would need to be alignment with the DWP residency rules to minimise the risk of someone falling out of the system.
The following points were raised in discussions regarding residency:
Consideration should be given to communications between the DWP and the Scottish Social Security Agency to ensure that applicants did not lose out by applying for the wrong system;
Clear communications would need to be developed to ensure the public understand the transition between the DWP and the new Scottish Social Security Agency so that they would be more likely to make an application to the correct body;
It was highlighted that consideration should be given to the development of principles of residency across all of the benefits. The Scottish Government indicated that the cross-cutting policy at present was habitual residency and that joined up principles around residency would continue to be refined as the process to develop benefits progressed;
There could be issues in relation to the use of different eligibility hierarchies and the possibility of cross-border issues in determining which system should provide support. It was noted this may also be an area of concern in relation to multiple applications across jurisdictions, fraud and pressure being put on individuals to be financially responsible for a funeral to access a particular system if policy diverged;
In relation to the evidence of residency the Scottish Government should use, it was noted that relying on the DWP as FEA eligibility was based on a passporting benefit could be difficult as often people did not update their personal details; and
It was noted that lessons regarding Scottish residency could be learnt from others areas such as student awards and devolution in Northern Ireland.
Council Tax Reduction
25. Members discussed a proposal from CPAG to introduce Council Tax Reduction as a qualifying criterion for FEA in more limited circumstances than had been considered previously. It was highlighted that this could potentially help low income single people and couples without children. These people may be owner occupiers and might also be carers.
Local Authority Funeral Charges
26. COSLA provided an update on discussions with Local Authorities and the Scottish Government regarding funeral costs. It was noted that COSLA leaders supported the Fairer Scotland Action Plan which included an action to help tackle funeral poverty. It was highlighted that both welfare rights and burial and cremations colleagues would need to be brought together to take this work forward.
27. Other stakeholders would be kept informed of progress and involved as this work proceeded, as appropriate.
Code of Practice for Cremations
28. ICCM’s code of practice and its potential impact on funeral poverty were discussed. It was clarified that the Scottish Government Inspector of Crematoriums would not consider whether the deceased entered through the main entrance or a service entrance as part of their inspection process.
Action - The Scottish Government to undertake more modelling on Council Tax Reduction as a qualifying benefit based on the parameters suggested by CPAG.