Let’s make social security fair and accessible
On Wednesday 25 April, the Scottish Parliament will debate and vote on the Social Security (Scotland) Bill.
This is one of the most important pieces of legislation in our Parliament’s history as it sets out how the Scottish Government will administer the benefits that are being devolved by the UK Government for the first time.
At ENABLE Scotland, we welcome the Bill’s really positive focus on a rights-based approach to social security and the Scottish Government’s commitment to work with people to support them to access the benefits they’re entitled to.
But we need to make sure the wording of the final Bill truly delivers the fairer and more accessible social security system that we all want to see.
This is part of the work that we do at ENABLE Scotland every day for our members – we work with politicians to monitor legislation and make sure that we support amendments (or changes) to new Bills before they are passed to make sure that new laws work well for our members, and the people we support throughout the country.
That’s why Jackie Baillie MSP – who is Convenor of the Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Learning Disability – has tabled amendments to the Bill that will make the process for challenging decisions smoother and less complicated. We know from the support we offer to hundreds of people every year through our Welfare Rights Service that this is a difficult part of the process to work through.
Jackie’s amendments would mean that when someone challenges a decision about their entitlement to benefits, they can ask the new Social Security Scotland agency to take another look at the decision (called a “re-determination”) and – if the agency arrives at exactly the same decision or if it doesn’t actually make a re-determination within the time limit – it will pass that person’s appeal directly to the Tribunal Service for an independent review.
If someone wants to withdraw their appeal for any reason, they are free to do so at any time.
This fixes the issue ENABLE Scotland and many other organisations have identified in the Bill so far as being a problem for some of our most vulnerable citizens. In the Bill as it has been drafted, someone who finds themselves in these circumstances will need to actively challenge the same decision a second time before they can exercise their right to appeal to the independent Tribunal Service.
This is the same experience people currently have with the UK Department for Work and Pensions’ “mandatory reconsideration” process.
ENABLE Scotland’s welfare rights advice service was established in 2013, and to date has helped people who have learning disabilities, their families and carers across Scotland to claim over £4.7million in social security entitlements.
We’ve seen too many cases where people who have learning disabilities weren’t going to appeal to the Tribunal Service after their agency review because they didn’t understand that they were allowed to, or they’re afraid to challenge the decision a second time, or they find the “battle” too stressful and they’ve simply had enough.
Figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions show that across the UK since 2013, 72% of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) decisions that were challenged by claimants and unchanged by mandatory reconsideration were not appealed to the Tribunal – and yet 65% of all PIP appeals to the Tribunal were successful.
So we’re concerned that unless we change this in the Social Security (Scotland) Bill, many people won’t exercise their right to appeal to the Tribunal Service because of misunderstanding, fear or fatigue – and people will not receive the benefits they’re entitled to as a result.
That’s why we’re asking MSPs across the Parliament to support Amendments 124 to 131 in the name of Jackie Baillie MSP to makes the appeals process smoother and less complicated and to ensure the final Bill delivers the fair and accessible social security system for Scotland that we all want to see.
Frank McKillop is ENABLE Scotland’s Policy and Research Officer