Social Security (Residence Requirements) (Afghanistan) (Scotland) Regulations 2021: scrutiny report

The Scottish Commission on Social Security's scrutiny report on the draft Social Security (Residence Requirements) (Afghanistan) (Scotland) Regulations 2021 with recommendations for the Scottish Government.

Practical Issues

To access devolved assistance, it is necessary to provide evidence to show that eligibility criteria are being met. Those criteria clearly extend beyond habitual residence and past presence tests. There may be additional practical problems, such as not having a National Insurance number or access to the internet, or the need to supply evidence of such things as age, disability; whether you are a child, parent, partner of someone, or an unpaid carer for someone. When it comes to ADP, for example, there are requirements related to the length of time a person has had their impairment and for how long it is expected to last, as well as detailed descriptors to score against.

Unlike the UK system, which relies on formal assessments often carried out by private sector companies, the Scottish system instead requires formal supporting information e.g. from a health professional, or support worker and only requires a ‘consultation’ in person if there is not enough information to make a decision. People recently arrived in the UK may not have had time to establish contacts with the professionals who normally would provide formal evidence – they may not have had time to register with a GP, have a care assessment, or start education. We would expect Social Security Scotland to take this into account when deciding what evidence they need to confirm entitlement, and to make efforts to evidence applications without the need for more formal consultations for this group than for other applicants.

Social Security Scotland officials informed us that the refugees are provided with information on registering with services such as GP services. This should help meet requirements for supporting documentation in disability benefit applications. They also intimated a degree of pragmatism around requiring evidence in support of the qualifying requirements, particularly the length of time the individual in question has the condition giving rise to eligibility for CDP.

Recommendation 2: Scottish Government is invited to clarify how it plans to evidence eligibility requirements, other than habitual residence and past presence tests, in order to enable people covered by these Regulations to access payments quickly, in line with the policy goal.

The practical delivery challenges would clearly differ from a tiny number of people in just two local authority areas to many people who are widely scattered. There will be issues to resolve when designing an appropriate, cost-efficient delivery model for different scenarios.

A key goal of the Social Security Charter is to help ensure that the way in which devolved social security is delivered is appropriate to the needs of those who apply for it (see also principle g i). There are practical implications of several Charter expectations when it comes to delivery that will be appropriate to the needs of refugees. Notably, these include:

  • Part 2, expectation 3: “adapt processes and ways of communicating as much as we reasonably can to meet your needs and preferences, for example by providing interpreters”.
  • Part 2, expectation 5: “ensure that disabled people who need help with the application process can get independent advocacy”.
  • Part 3, expectation 5: “ensure staff understand the needs of different people and the barriers they face – so that no-one experiences discrimination because of who they are”.
    There will be learning that may be helpful to draw on from other exercises , or from previous scheme for refugees. This includes the Centre for Social Justice report on the Syrian scheme (see also the The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) evaluation study12) which cites the need for better English language support and for recognising that ethnic and cultural differences exist within the same population. There may also be particular equality issues to consider when designing effective support arrangements for unaccompanied children, women and girls, and refugees with protected characteristics, which should be picked up by Equality Impact Assessments (EQIAs).

While it may fall to Local Authorities to play a leading role, and many agencies can be expected to have involvement at local level, such learning may, nonetheless, have implications for Social Security Scotland with regard to the delivery of Charter expectations and how this is integrated into its local delivery plans.

Observation 1: We note that the needs of refugees, such as for language support, may have a particular bearing on Social Security Charter expectations including those on adapting processes and ways of communication, independent advocacy provision for disabled people, and ensuring staff understand the needs of different people and the barriers they face so that no-one experiences discrimination.

There appears already to be considerable learning about the importance of simple referrals systems to multiple services. For example, the UNHCR evaluation study highlighted the need for further support for housing and employment facilitation. Access to healthcare services is a clear priority (and also may have a bearing on evidence for claiming devolved social security).

As above, we understand that local co-ordination of services is led by local authorities. Multiple providers along with Social Security Scotland (including DWP, health services, banks) go to the hotels where Afghan refugees are located. We note that the Social Security Charter accords Social Security Scotland a facilitative role in co-ordinating access to other forms of support:

  • Part 1, expectation 10, says Social Security Scotland will: “refer you to other organisations, services or forms of help where they could help improve your wellbeing or financial circumstances”.
  • Part 1, expectation 11: “tell you if we think you might be entitled to benefits not delivered by Social Security Scotland”.
  • Part 3, 9: “work with other organisations to ensure services and policy are joined up to provide the best possible help and support”.

In this particular situation, where wrap-around support co-ordinated by local authorities appears to be in place, there may be no need for Social Security Scotland to perform such a function, although presumably the need to co-ordinate would be a feature of local delivery plans. Social Security Scotland officials told us of links with third sector and other stakeholder at local level. However, wrap-around support for other refugees, particularly if in many different locations and situations, may be less straightforward to co-ordinate, and so there may be a role for it. The application of these Charter expectations when it comes to refugees in general may be worthy of consideration.

Observation 2: Social Security Scotland may in some cases be well-placed to play a facilitative role when it comes to referring refugees to wider support and wrap-around services, consistent with Charter expectations on referring people to other organisations, services or forms of help and working with other organisations to ensure services and policy are joined up.

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