At the end of October, Shelter Scotland submitted our response to the Scottish Government’s consultation on social security. We appreciated this opportunity to help shape the new Scottish system and cannot overstate the importance of the Scottish Government making best use of the responses they received. Among these, some of the most important responses will be from those who are currently receiving the payments due to be devolved and whose voices and experiences we’ve worked to reflect in our response. After this, the voices of experts and benefit administrators themselves are valuable in designing a system that works properly for those who need it, while treating people with the utmost dignity and respect.
Although not many powers relating strictly to housing are being devolved, it became apparent that the issue that mattered most to the people who approach Shelter Scotland for assistance was the general administration and accessibility of the current system, rather than particular payments. The depth of response we received back was fantastic and showed both the intricacies of the system and the hoops that must be jumped through by people who try to access social security assistance. Of all the feedback that we got, one theme ran throughout: Just make it better for when I need to use it.
What seemed like very simple suggestions were themes that came up time and again, such as the need to simplify paperwork and getting rid of the outdated necessity of faxing evidence, but these small changes will be elements of the design of a new system that makes the biggest difference to many people. Additionally, equalities issues came to the surface, as a number of our service users with literacy or learning difficulties expressed frustration at the number of simple things which could be implemented or removed to make the process easier for them, such as having the option of paperwork being on coloured paper for those with dyslexia.
One of the biggest priorities for people we spoke to was the importance of receiving all the money they were entitled to in a way that suited their individual and household needs. In order to help them sustain their home. our service users wanted to have choice over the way their housing costs are paid. Greater flexibility in direct payments to private landlords can make the private rented sector more accessible to those receiving social security assistance.
The below points summarise our response:
- We urge the Scottish Government to carefully assess the impact of the previous system and work to provide a system that meets the needs of the individuals who use it while treating them with dignity and respect.
- In preparation for the Scottish Government to take responsibility of the full benefit administration in Scotland, we urge ministers to consider introducing a “start-off” payment to avoid financial hardship caused by the initial period of nil income experienced by many households directly after applying for social security.
- We recommend an end to immediate benefit stoppages which occur as a result of a change of circumstances. Individual cases should be investigated fully before any benefits are stopped so that households do not experience hardship.
- We support social security recipients having a choice over the way their money is paid to them, in terms of split payments and payment frequencies.
- We support greater use of alternative payment arrangements, especially in the private rented sector.
- We support the eventual abolition of the bedroom tax through use of flexibilities around universal credit.
- We strongly support benefit recipients having access to independent advice and advocacy to support them through the social security process, and that this right is embedded in a “Claimants’ Charter” type document or in legislation.
- We call for the improved administration of social security, including shorter waiting times and fairer assessments.
We hope that Scottish Ministers will effectively use the responses to the consultation to build a fair system that works for people when they need it.
Our full response is published in Shelter Scotland’s Policy Library, which you can view here.