A new system for claiming disability benefits in Scotland will be the envy of claimants across the UK and a threat to private sector providers, if it lives up to the ambitions of the Scottish government, details released last week show.
The introduction of Scotland’s new system has been delayed by the pandemic, but position papers published by the government show how much more claimant friendly benefits claims should become.
In particular, claimants are far less likely to have to have an assessment and, if they do have one, it will not include a physical function examination and it will never be carried out by Atos, Capita or any other private sector company
The three main benefits involved are to be renamed:
- Child DLA will become child disability payment
- PIP will be called adult disability payment
- AA will become pension age disability payment
Claimants will be able to choose whether to claim by post, online, by phone, or through face-to-face contact with staff.
The online claim form can be filled in in any order and saved and returned to repeatedly.
It will also be responsive: based on the answers claimants give it will only ask further questions that are applicable to them. It will include pictures and possibly short videos to show claimants what information is required.
Social Security Scotland staff will be accessible by phone and web chat to help with form completion and face-to-face support will also be available, with at least 400 local delivery staff across the country.
Claimants who, because of a disability, need help with claiming will be entitled to the help of an independent advocacy worker.
The decision process itself will be markedly different from the rest of the UK.
Case managers will receive the claim form and supporting information. Wherever possible they will make a decision based on this evidence alone.
If further information is needed the case manager will contact the claimant and, where necessary, work with them to obtain more supporting information. Supporting information can be ‘formal’ from health professionals and similar or ‘informal’ from family, friends and unpaid carers.
If a decision can still not be made, the case manager will talk to a Social Security Scotland practitioner who can give advice on such issues as how two different conditions might interact and the side-effects of medication.
Only if all this fails will an assessment with the health practitioner take place.
But even this will be very different from current assessments.
For example, there will be no physical function examination at all, as the Scottish government considers that this can only provide an unreliable snapshot of how a claimant is affected.
In addition, the case manager will tell the practitioner which descriptors they are unclear about and remove the need for unnecessary questioning about other areas.
Assessments will mainly be carried out by phone, but video and face-to-face assessments will also be available where claimants have difficulty expressing themselves on the telephone.
All awards will be ongoing with no end date and reviews will, according to the government, be ‘light touch and as non-intrusive as possible’.
Where a claimant challenges a decision to stop or reduce their benefit they will receive ‘Short Term Assistance’ payments equal to the money they have lost, until their appeal is decided. And even if they lose they will not have to pay the money back.
It is much too early to be sure what the experience of claiming disability benefits will actually be like when the new system is brought in.
But there’s no doubt that the Scottish government is at least beginning from a much less adversarial position than the DWP, who seem to assume that claimants are generally dishonest and health professionals always to be trusted.
If the Scottish claims system is as described here, then the pressure will grow on the DWP to adopt similar measures and the profits of companies like Atos and Capita will be under threat. How each of these bodies will react to such a situation is something we will watch with interest.
Meanwhile, we had intended here at Benefits and Work to produce detailed guidance for the new Scottish disability benefits claims system, as we do for the rest of the UK.
But we are now wondering whether we will be rendered marvellously redundant north of the border.