Scottish Child Payment Regulations 2020: scrutiny report

The Scottish Commission on Social Security's scrutiny report on the draft Scottish Child Payment Regulations 2020 with recommendations for the Scottish Government.

Annex C: Summary note of SCP event

This annexe summarises, under broad headings, the main points made at the SCoSS’s event on the initial SCP draft regulations. The event was held on 18 November 2019. Participants were informed in advance that any comments they made would not be attributable. A list of participants is provided below.

  • There was a suggestion that SCP should be a new Scottish benefit, not a top up, with its own eligibility criteria. Some considered that the UK Government’s approach is to ‘nudge people off benefits’, so there may be a clash between two systems with a different ethos. SCP should therefore be ‘future proofed’ so that eligibility does not just rest on receipt of UK benefits
  • SCP eligibility is based on receipt of, rather than eligibility for, qualifying benefits. Some considered that, in future, SCP should be provided on the basis of eligibility.
  • It was suggested that the current qualifying benefits could be expanded.
  • Attendees questioned why the SCP is automatically to be paid in arrears, and whether it could instead be paid in advance. Doing so may avoid people having to get an ‘advance payment’ i.e. a loan.
  • People want to choose the frequency of their payments; some saw the decision to pay 4 weekly simply as protecting the workload of Social Security Scotland staff.
  • The Scottish Government should try to devise a means of ensuring that eligibility does not stop at the child’s 6th birthday. Not doing so could undermine the policy intention of the draft regulations and result in some people with low incomes not receiving the SCP for up to 2 years.
  • Suggestion that where a child turns six and as a result misses out on SCP for a period, provision should be made to pay in arrears when eligibility is extended to older children.
  • Some attendees recommended that there should be at least a 3 month guarantee of receipt of SCP when eligibility is established.
  • SCP stops the week after the qualifying benefit stops, meaning there are a few days in which people are not in receipt of a benefit. It was suggested that if SCP stopped the following month rather than week, this would provide a measure of continuity while staying within competence.
  • Some thought there should be an easy way to re-start SCP after a gap in the qualifying benefit.
  • The circumstances in which SCP overpayments should be recovered or not should be clarified, including how the Scottish Government will take account of people’s ability to repay.
  • The possible interaction between SCP and UK benefits was raised, for example, it may be difficult to know how to advise people who are being overpaid tax credits if this means they are also receiving additional money through SCP.
  • It was suggested that there was a danger of the policy failing to make its mark given the low take up of best start grant.
  • In terms of the best ways to focus awareness-raising of SCP, attendees suggested DWP staff (although they may not do it), midwives and other health professionals (it was suggested that there would be more of a relationship of trust with health professionals than with a work coach). They also suggested explicitly targeting households that are eligible but with low take up.
  • There is a potential gap in take up where a child is being cared for by grandparents, and a specific concern that focusing on health professionals who deal with babies and children would miss out grandparents
  • Automation of payment to households with appropriate-aged children and in receipt of a qualifying reserved benefit, removing the need for a specific application for SCP, was seen as a possible means of maximising take-up.
  • There was some confusion about whether receipt of SCP would have an impact on other benefits, and agreement that people need to be assured there is not as any such perception would be a potential deterrent to take-up.
  • There is a knotty issue about shared care and household relationships: the benefit system doesn’t really cope where there are protracted disputes between parents in split households about who should get a benefit.
  • The rationale for initially limiting eligibility to children under 6 years old was questioned, with some participants suggesting older children add more to household expenses.
  • In general terms, attendees noted anecdotal evidence that some people have voluntarily withdrawn from the benefits system because they hear about difficulties with making claims and therefore just do without money to which they are entitled.
  • Specific concerns were raised about Part 4 11(1)(b)(ii) – it was felt that the term ‘following an appeal’ was restrictive and may not cover other situations where someone’s circumstances have changed. Lots of people might not get to appeal – they might not appeal or ask for redetermination, but wording is so narrow that it could be interpreted as having to be following an appeal
  • Concern expressed that SCP claimants who increase their earned income, whether by increasing working hours or by other means, could face a considerable cliff edge in benefit entitlement. One hour’s increase in working hours, if it takes the claimant out of eligibility for universal credit, would result in the loss of £10 per child, which might be compounded in some cases by loss of free school meals. A taper was advocated so as to remove or limit any disincentive to increase earnings.
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