Interface with UK system
As SCoSS has previously remarked the interface between devolved and reserved benefits is complex, both at policy and delivery level. Eligibility for both SCP and BSG are contingent on receipt of reserved benefits, and issues with DWP errors or in accessing DWP data are key drivers of these amendments. Thus changes to DWP benefits, the efficiency of its processes and the availability of DWP data all could have a direct impact on devolved provision and those who rely on it. This means there will always be advantages and disadvantages to weigh up when it comes to using section 79 top-up powers, or relying on reserved provision to serve as a passport to devolved benefits. On the one hand, going down that road can be quicker, less costly and less complex than setting up stand-alone forms of devolved assistance. On the other, it creates more reliance on the stability of DWP policy and the efficiency of its processes.
In SCoSS’s first report on SCP regulations, we (and stakeholders) commented on the decision to establish SCP using section 79 top-up powers rather than as a new, stand-alone form of devolved assistance,which was and remains an option. Scottish Government gave pragmatic reasons for this and made a judgement call that the benefits of acting quickly to put assistance in place (without the need for primary legislation) outweighed the potential disadvantages.
The more use is made of top-up or passporting powers, the more learning there will be to inform cost/ benefit analyses. The tribunal ruling reveals, and these amendments respond to, evidence about the nature of some of those potential disadvantages. This will be important learning to take forward when it comes to the future use of top-up powers or passporting arrangements, and any related developments or reviews.
Recommendation 5: The Scottish Government should ensure that learning arising from the need for these amendments is factored into the future use of top-up powers or passporting entitlement to Scottish social security assistance based on an award of a DWP benefit in general.
We note that the delivery issues that have arisen necessitating these amendments might also raise the question of whether reliance on DWP data and the efficiency of its processes have a bearing on Social Security Charter expectations: “handle… applications and enquiries as quickly as we can” and ultimately “pay [the SCP] on time and in the right amount.” That in turn might have implications for SCoSS in our role to report on it.