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

Executive summary

The draft regulations (The Carer’s Assistance (Carer Support Payment) (Scotland) Regulations 2023) provide for the introduction of Carer Support Payment (CSP) which replaces Carer’s Allowance (CA) in Scotland. CSP aims to provide income for carers in recognition of their caring role and the impact on their lives, support them to access opportunities outside of caring, ensure carers have a positive experience of social security and maximise their take up of support. CSP is a non-means-tested, earnings-related benefit. It is a complex benefit with multiple interactions with reserved benefits.

During case transfer, many of the rules will mirror CA to avoid treating people in Scotland receiving CSP and CA differently. Despite this overriding focus on safe and secure transfer, there will be some significant changes from CA when CSP is introduced.

There is a widening of access to benefit for carers in education. In CA, only part-time students are eligible. For CSP, students aged 20 or over will be eligible regardless of the number of hours they study or the level of their course. Students aged 16 to 19 will be eligible in advanced education either full or part time. The widening of access to students is welcome. It gives carers more choice to take up opportunities for full-time study to develop skills, employment opportunities and have a life away from caring responsibilities. However, most young carers under 20 in full-time non-advanced education will see no change – they will not have access to CSP. The Scottish Government has said it wants to get the balance right between providing support and not incentivising or normalising young people taking on a larger caring role alongside their school-level education. This is a plausible risk to young carers’ right to education, but not a view necessarily shared by carers and the organisations that support them. More evidence is needed on how young carers’ education and caring roles are affected by the availability of a carers’ benefit. There is a gap in provision for young carers aged 19, many of whom will have no access to either Young Carer Grant or CSP. This could be addressed by extending Young Carer Grant to 19-year-olds.

There is a welcome change to the residency rules. Carers on CSP who come to the UK will be able to apply for CSP after 26 weeks instead of waiting two years as they do at present. This aligns the ‘past presence test’ with Child Disability Payment and Adult Disability Payment.

A £0 award will be introduced in certain circumstances to reduce the need to make a new claim when, for example, earnings exceed the permitted limit or a carer has a break in care of more than the permitted number of weeks. This may particularly benefit carers in work with fluctuating earnings and carers with fluctuating patterns of respite care. This kind of £0 award does not usually give carers access to passported benefits such as extra amounts for carers in Pension Credit. However, there is another kind of £0 award which does give carers access to passported benefits. This could be confusing for carers and may risk them missing out on passported benefits. Award notices will need to set out clearly which category of nil award provision applies and explain to carers the consequences for their passported entitlement to other financial help.

Carers in paid work can currently earn up to £139 a week and continue to receive CA. The introduction of a £0 award for carers who go over the earnings limit will remove the need to reapply for CSP in such circumstances and is a welcome improvement from the launch of CSP. However, the earnings limit and complex earnings rules are a barrier to some carers taking up paid work. Moreover, there are known issues with CA regarding the number of overpayments to carers in work, usually through accidental misunderstanding. There are plans under consideration, after case transfer from CA to CSP is complete, to increase the earnings threshold and introduce a ‘run on’ of support when earnings go over the limit. SCoSS considers this to be a priority as soon as possible after case transfer. Meanwhile, it is important that overpayments are minimised through the use of data sharing and automated processes, that information to carers is clear and easy to follow and that appeal rights are introduced against the recovery of overpayments.

Carers receiving CSP will be entitled to Carer’s Allowance Supplement in the same way as carers in Scotland receiving CA. SCoSS has not had the opportunity to scrutinise regulations to add the supplement to CSP. However, we agree that the proposed change from a twice a year lump sum, to paying alongside regular CSP payments and consideration of other changes to the supplement should wait until case transfer from CA is complete.

‘Overlapping benefit’ rules prevent people receiving more than one ‘earnings-replacement’ benefit at the same time. They have an ‘underlying entitlement’ to CA. Around a third of people who claim CA are affected by this rule. Most of them are carers who get a State Pension. This will be the same in CSP although it will be called a £0 award. It is still worth claiming because the £0 award gives entitlement to other passported benefits such as an extra amount in Pension Credit. Some older carers feel that the care they give is no longer recognised because of the loss of CA. The Scottish Government is considering, in the future, investing in a new payment to recognise the impact of caring on older carers and others who care for long periods of time. A ‘recognition payment’ of some kind would better align with the aims of CSP. Meanwhile, the experience of older carers of the benefits system must be significantly improved through tailored information, communication and processes.

The rules and structure of CA are much the same now as they were in 1976 when it was first introduced. With CSP, there is an opportunity to update rules and address some longstanding concerns. It is welcome that the Scottish Government has already developed options and consulted with carers and stakeholders. This has informed changes from the launch of CSP such as widening access to students, and resulted in commitments to introduce more improvements when case transfer is complete such as a new Carer’s Additional Person Payment for those who care for more than one person. Changes to the structure and eligibility rules, beyond those being introduced from the launch of CSP, will be needed to achieve its aims.

CSP is probably the most complex benefit to be devolved to Scotland with multiple interactions with reserved benefits. It is a challenge to develop regulations that completely and accurately cover all the eligibility and administrative rules required. Through the scrutiny process, various changes to draft regulations were made in response to issues raised by SCoSS. This report sets out issues identified where the draft regulations for scrutiny did not clearly or accurately express the policy intention.

For example, the rule to avoid duplicating payments by allowing arrears of CSP to be offset against payments of UK means-tested benefits (the ‘abatement’ rule) did not seem to produce a correct calculation in all cases. Another example involves applications from different people caring for the same person (sometimes referred to as ‘rival carer’ situations). These could involve entitlement to CSP, CA or Universal Credit carer element. A challenging degree of systems and processes working across Social Security Scotland the DWP will be needed to adjudicate fairly and clearly in these cross-jurisdiction situations.

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