Winter Heating Assistance for Children and Young People (Scotland) Regulations 2020: scrutiny report
The Scottish Commission on Social Security's scrutiny report on the draft Winter Heating Assistance for Children and Young People (Scotland) Regulations 2020 with recommendations for the Scottish Government.
16 to 18-year-olds
Young people under age 18 are eligible for CWHA as long as they are on the right rate of DLA. From age 16, the usual process has been to invite young people on DLA to claim Personal Independence Payment (PIP), which would mean losing eligibility for CWHA. However, Scottish Government officials have confirmed that young people in Scotland who reach 16 from September 2020 will be able to stay on DLA until age 18 if they choose. This is called the ‘Rising 16’ policy. In terms of eligibility for CWHA under these draft regulations, the Rising 16 policy essentially means that 16 to 18-year-olds will be eligible for CWHA in much the same way as if the introduction of Child Disability Payment (the replacement in Scotland for DLA) had not been delayed.
Either way (under DLA or under Child Disability Payment), this does mean that young people under 18 who choose to claim PIP instead will not be eligible for CWHA. Benefit transitions generally for young disabled people are complex and often not well understood. This can lead to young people not getting all their entitlements or not being aware of the implications of choices they make. For example, they may be incentivised to stay on DLA so as to keep CWHA, when in practice they might be better off on PIP. In disseminating information about CWHA, the Scottish Government should therefore make particular efforts to ensure information is clear about 16 to 18-year-olds’ entitlement.
Recommendation 5: To maximise take-up amongst 16 to 18-year-olds, the Scottish Government should ensure that information on CWHA and interactions with DLA and Personal Independence Payment is clear and reaches young people and those who support them.
The eligibility date for claiming the CWHA is restricted to a one week period in September. SCoSS understands that this date has been set to allow for DWP data transfer processing/ data cleansing to be done in advance, and to align with DWP benefits. It is unclear whether this is a temporary expedient arrangement to enable the introduction of CWHA for the coming winter, or whether it is intended as a longer term arrangement and, if so, how much scope there would be to change it.
Overall, SCoSS questions whether there is a need to restrict eligibility to a qualifying week at all, not least because the regulations provide for eligibility for CWHA to be determined with and without an application. We would like to understand why it would not be possible for any household in which a child/young person receives DLA at the appropriate rate at any point during the winter to be eligible for CWHA.
Recommendation 6: As soon as an opportunity arises to review CWHA, the Scottish Government should consider the feasibility of widening the qualification window to include children and young people in receipt of DLA at any point through the winter months.
Furthermore, SCoSS noted in its report on the DACYP draft regulations that, in time, the Scottish Government aims to improve the way WHA is delivered, including to rural households who are not on the gas grid and may have higher upfront costs. It would seem sensible to consider the feasibility of paying WHA early to off-grid households, reviewing implementation and comparing the impact across urban and rural areas, when reviewing the case for the qualifying week.
SCoSSnotes that there is a distinction drawn in the regulations between children and young people in hospital and those in residential care. Those in hospital will receive CWHA but those in residential care will not.
This difference was not highlighted in the Scottish Government’s policy note accompanying the draft regulations and we are grateful to SCoSS stakeholders for pointing it out. We understand from the Scottish Government that underlying this is a view that hospital admissions are temporary whereas moving into residential care tends to be for a longer period, and perhaps even permanent.
SCoSS considers this approach to be overly restrictive. It cannot safely be assumed that a stay in residential care would be long-term, or that in hospital it would be short-term. Children and young people who normally live at home and have regular short breaks in a care home could miss out depending on the timing of the break in relation to the qualifying week for the CWHA. Short-term breaks can benefit the wellbeing of all concerned and there should be no disincentive to take them when needed. Moreover, the onus should not be on families to know enough about the CWHA to be able to base a decision on the timing of short breaks.
Furthermore, winter heating assistance for disabled children is being introduced ahead of winter heating assistance for people over pension age, which will replace the current Winter Fuel Payment. We note that Winter Fuel Payment is paid to people who live in residential care. It would be inconsistent if people over pension age living in residential care were to be eligible for winter heating assistance but not disabled children living in residential care.
Recommendation 7: The Scottish Government should extend CWHA entitlement to children in residential care so that they are treated the same as children in hospital.
Death before qualifying week
Draft regulation 4(2), ‘Eligibility rules for winter heating assistance’, states that a payment condition is not met where the individual has died before the qualifying week. Given that benefit entitlement stops when somebody dies, it is not clear why this provision is needed for CWHA and not for other types of assistance. If a payment is made before Social Security Scotland has been notified of the death of a child, there should be clear guidance about whether the payment would be recovered and this should be in line with the social security principle (d) on dignity and respect.
Recommendation 8: The Scottish Government should remove regulation 4 (2), regarding a payment condition not being met where the individual has died before the qualifying week, and ensure there is clear, sensitive guidance in place concerning the recovery of payments.
Each type of Scottish social security assistance has rules about residence in Scotland. In these CWHA regulations, the rule (in regulation 4(1)(c)(ii))is that to qualify a person must be ‘resident in Scotland’. In contrast, in Best Start Grant regulations, the rule is that a person must be ‘ordinarily resident’ in Scotland, which is the more usual formulation for benefit entitlement. In practice, there may be little difference in the way Social Security Scotland decides about residency. However, in law, the definitions are different, with ‘ordinarily resident’ drawing a clearer line where there is potential residency in more than one country.
SCoSS has previously highlighted the importance of ensuring consistency wherever possible when establishing different forms of devolved social security assistance, in the interests of designing out avoidable complexity and promoting simplicity from the outset. This is a case in point.
Recommendation 9: The Scottish Government should ensure consistency across all types of social security assistance regarding the test of residency in Scotland.