The Social Security Committee of the Scottish Parliament has asked for views about the Bill that is about to be considered. Submissions have to be made by 23rd August: details can be found here.
My submission is here. Submissions are limited to four pages, which means I’ve had to be ruthlessly selective: I’ve said nothing, for example, about Carer’s Allowance, winter heating allowance or the awful mess that’s being threatened about funeral assistance. What I have covered is this:
- The reference in the principles to “efficiency” should refer instead to “cost- effectiveness” – the terms are not equivalent. It may be efficient, for example, to limit the number of home visits; to put the onus of clarification on claimants rather than paid officials; or to reduce services to claimants who are particularly expensive or difficult to deal with, a process which has been a major concern in employment programmes. This is not how the Scottish social security system should be trying to operate.
- The two stage-process of review and denial of direct access to appeal, based on Mandatory Reconsideration, is undesirable and arguably unlawful.
- The provision for recovery of overpayments, regardless of the reason for overpayment, whether the claimant could have known there was an overpayment, or whether the claimant could have expected to make provision to repay, is oppressive.
- Much has been left to subsequent regulations. In a framework bill, it should be considered how those regulations will be scrutinised and reviewed in future.
- There is insufficient protection for the rights of claimants in the event that the Agency mistakes the law.
- Short-term assistance should be more generally available than envisaged, and should be extended to cover problems with reserved benefits.
Additional note, 10th August. An article in Third Force News has covered one of the points in this submission in somewhat heated style. It’s suggested that I have ‘slammed’ the system and ‘hit back’ at the minister Jeanne Freeman. I don’t for a moment question the Scottish Government’s good faith or our shared intention to get the new system to work in the best way; we are trying to achieve the same objectives. The point of my submission is to draw attention to a series of technical issues that might otherwise be overlooked. More specifically, I do think that the Bill has on occasion accepted that the current practice of the DWP can be taking as the starting point for a new law – mandatory reconsideration is one example, the management of overpayments is another. If the points I have made are taken into account, it will be a better Bill.