The Scottish Government has published the new Social Security (Scotland) Bill, intended to lay the foundations for the delivery of a range of new benefits. The benefits specifically mentioned in the Bill include
- Carer’s assistance
- Cold-spell heating assistance
- Winter heating assistance
- Disability assistance
- Early years assistance
- Employment-injury assistance
- Funeral expense assistance
- Short Term assistance
as well as the specific top up for carers, and the addition of Discretionary Housing Payments.
Most of these clauses are a shell: they are creating powers to introduce specific benefits rather than specifying how the benefits will operate. We already know in relation to one category, Early Years assistance, that the name of one planned benefit in the general category (“Best Start” Grants) will be different. That leaves me some hope that they will also sub-divide “Disability assistance”, because mobility needs to be dealt with differently.
Probably more important at this stage are other aspects of the framework. Three points are worth noting. First, although there is an assumption that people will have to apply for benefits, there is provision to make regulations to allow claims to be registered without a claim. Claiming is normal in the UK benefit system, but things don’t have to be done that way – it’s perfectly possible to issue certain benefits without an application (a baby box is an example, and some grants for serious disability could be made via hospitals in the same way. ) It may be possible to develop systems that deal with claimants in a new way. (I have altered this part of the entry from my first posting on this; I’m grateful to the parliamentary counsel who corrected me.)
Second, reflecting some of the worst excesses of the system in recent years, there is a harsh rule covering overpayments: individual recipients are liable for the mistakes made by officials (s.36), regardless of whether or not they could have been expected to know that a mistake had been made.
Third, and most positively, all the benefits being introduced will be open to appeal to the First-Tier tribunal.