The Carer’s Assistance (Carer Support Payment) (Scotland) Regulations 2023: scrutiny report

The Scottish Commission on Social Security's scrutiny report on the draft Carer’s Assistance (Carer Support Payment) (Scotland) Regulations 2023

6. Older carers

A feature of CA which impacts on older carers is the ‘overlapping benefits’ rule. Non-means tested benefits paid for being out of work for various reasons, e.g. caring, old age, pregnancy or ill health are “earnings-replacement benefits”. Someone who qualifies for two of these benefits, for example, a carer who is over pension age, can only be paid one of them. Because of this overlapping benefits rule, a carer who gets a state pension cannot be paid CA. However, they can claim CA and establish an ‘underlying entitlement’ to it. The same applies in CSP (draft regulation 16) where receipt of an overlapping benefit results in a £0 award of CSP. Around a third of people who claim CA are affected by this rule – they claim CA and are entitled to it but are not paid. That is 42,440 carers in Scotland who have an ‘underlying entitlement’ to CA, the great majority of whom are over state pension age.

There are a number of consequences of the overlapping benefits rule for older carers.

  • Carers reaching pension age are not prepared for the loss of their benefit.

“There was no communication about Carer’s Allowance stopping at pension age. I lost three months support as a result. It needs to be done in a better way. Lots of people won’t know.”1Participant at SCoSS roundtable, May 2023

  • Keeping an underlying entitlement to CA (or to CSP) means carers can get a carer addition in Pension Credit. Because of this, it is worth claiming CA (or CSP). But this is not well understood, and carers can miss out on claiming other benefits.

“No one tells you about your entitlement to Pension Credit. There are vulnerable people due so much more support but they don’t know. I found out through word of mouth from other carers.”2Participant at SCoSS roundtable, May 2023

  • The policy rationale of avoiding double payments of earnings replacement benefits is unclear to carers.3Feedback from participants at SCoSS roundtable, May 2023 Carers can feel penalised by having benefit taken away at pension age. Some feel that the care they give is no longer recognised.

Carers who spoke to SCoSS at a consultation event said they felt that keeping the overlapping benefits rule in CSP was a missed opportunity for more progressive change.

“It doesn’t give me much hope for the future. I’m a long term carer. What will things be like for me at pensionable age? Why should I be penalised?”4Participant at SCoSS roundtable, May 2023

This disappointment was shared by some participants in the Experience Panel considering carers assistance.5

Although the rules in CA and CSP are very similar, CSP has wider aims which go beyond income replacement, in particular, CSP also aims to recognise carers’ vital role and aims to maximise carers’ take up of all support available to them. These wider aims weaken the rationale for not paying CSP to carers who get state pension or to others whose CSP is overlapped. In response, the Scottish Government has consulted on a proposal to invest in a new payment to recognise the impact of caring on older carers and others who care for long periods of time. This is under consideration for the longer-term future of CSP.

A ‘recognition payment’ of some kind would better align with the aims of CSP. However, while these plans remain on the drawing board, there are other things that the Scottish Government can do to make the experience better for carers at pension age. For example:

  • Giving carers of working age information about their entitlement to National Insurance credits towards a full state pension, including information for carers who do not meet the qualifying criteria for CSP
  • Giving carers in paid work information about paying into a private or occupational pension
  • Sending a tailored communication to carers before they reach pension age to prepare them for CSP payments stopping
  • Writing to carers whose CSP payments stop explaining about other support they could claim including UK benefits such as Pension Credit
  • Designing a simpler process for those needing to claim CSP over pension age only to establish an underlying entitlement
  • Tailoring take up campaigns aimed at older carers.

This would go some way towards putting respect for the dignity of older carers at the heart of the system (social security principle 1(e)).

Recommendation 15: Scottish Government should take steps from the launch of Carer Support Payment to deliver information, communication and processes tailored towards the needs of older carers to significantly improve their experience of the carers’ benefit system.

Keeping a rule on overlapping benefits and underlying entitlement is necessary for now, for safe and secure transfer from CA to CSP and also while an underlying entitlement remains necessary to access a carer addition in Pension Credit or other support. However, it is inherently confusing for individuals and not administratively efficient to require applications from individuals who cannot be paid. There are other ways to recognise the value of unpaid caring such as the Scottish Government’s proposal for a recognition payment. We would encourage the Scottish Government as they consider the future of CSP to work with the DWP on removing the need for underlying entitlement without losing access to a carer addition or other support.

Observation 2: It is inherently confusing for carers and inefficient for the system to require applications from individuals who have an underlying entitlement and cannot be paid. We encourage the Scottish Government as they consider the future of CSP to work with the DWP on finding a better solution.

Carers with an underlying entitlement to CA will be transferred to CSP at a £0 rate. This transfer is necessary but could be baffling for those affected. From a carer’s perspective, they have no award to transfer and may have had little recent contact with the DWP. The Scottish Government is aware of the need to communicate carefully to this group and has tested specific letters directly with carers. This is an opportunity to encourage older carers to take up other support they may be missing out on such as Pension Credit. But a letter alone will not be enough for everyone. Help to navigate systems is important for everyone and certainly for older carers. Some older carers may need face to face support.

“I can’t use a computer so it makes the biggest difference having someone help you through the system to help fill forms in.”11Participant at SCoSS roundtable, May 2023

The case transfer letters will signpost all carers to further advice and support. This should include information on where to get face to face help, including from Social Security Scotland’s own Local Delivery service.

Recommendation 16: Case transfer letters should link older carers with Social Security Scotland’s Local Delivery service and other face to face services.

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