Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) today (Friday) outlines 5 key recommendations for Scotland’s newly devolved disability assistance payments.
New powers delivered to the Scottish Parliament means Holyrood will design a payment to replace the current disability benefits such as the Personal Independence Payment, Disability Living Allowance and Attendance Allowance.
The charity outlines 5 key points in a submission to the Scottish government’s consultation on Disability Assistance:
- A substantial cut in face to face assessments which can cause unnecessary stress and anxiety, and no reassessments for people whose circumstances are unlikely to change.
- Increasing the distance for the mobility component of the payment from 20 metres to 50 metres
- A shortened legal deadline of 28 days for responses to be made on challenges to decisions, otherwise known as ‘redeterminations’
- Ensure redeterminations and appeals appear as one seamless process from the applicant’s perspective as opposed to the current two tier model
- Keeping the criteria and assessment process under continuous review for improvements
The charity also proposes that the government could consider providing further mobility support to people above the state pension age.
Rob Gowans, Social Justice Policy Officer at Citizens Advice Scotland said:
“The Scottish Citizens Advice network helps hundreds of thousands of people each year, with Personal Independence Payment now the single most common issue that people seek advice about.
“In 2017/18 alone our bureaux helped people with almost 106,000 issues related to Personal Independence Payment. It is based on those experiences that we have developed 5 key recommendations for the new payments that the Scottish government should consider.
“We want to see a substantial reduction in the number of face to face assessments that have been a cause of undue stress and anxiety for claimants, in some cases even worsening conditions. Our view is that if someone’s circumstances are unlikely to change they shouldn’t face any reassessments.
“The mobility component of any payments should also be increased to 50 metres, returning it to the standard that was set under Disability Living Allowance. This is a small ask which would make a huge difference to the lives of the people who will receive this benefit, and who have lost out on vital support because of this arbitrary change.
“The government should have a legal duty to respond to challenges to their decisions within 28 days. People deserve clarity and quick answers, not to be left hanging on for months on end.
“Scotland has an opportunity to design a fairer system which puts dignity and respect at the heart of our welfare state. These recommendations are a starting point for that.”
NOTES TO EDITORS
The full list of CAS’ recommendations are copied below
1. CAS supports substantial reductions in the number of face-to-face assessments and is looking for further detail on how this will be achieved in practice.
The existing process does not treat clients with dignity or respect, causes stress (and in some case exacerbation of conditions) and results in poor decision-making. Consultation with several hundred CAB clients and advisers suggests that making best use of existing evidence could reduce unnecessary assessments, and that this is respondents’ highest priority. CAS recommends that assessors of disability benefits should give greater emphasis to evidence from people who know the claimant, including health and other relevant professionals, carers and family members. There should be a tiered approach to assessments, with face-to-face assessments carried out in a small number of cases when a claimant requests one or it has not been possible to gather enough information to make a decision. If an individual’s condition or circumstances are unlikely to change, they should not be re-assessed to continue receiving an award. We would welcome working with the Scottish Government to reduce the number of face-to-face assessments.
2. Improvements to the descriptors and points system are required– in particular increasing the distance for the mobility component from 20 to 50 metres.
This particular improvement returns the distance to what it was under DLA and restores access to the enhanced mobility component to those who will have lost out as a result of this change. Other improvements that that large numbers of CAB clients and advisers recommended include parity of mental health conditions and learning disabilities with physical impairments; increased flexibility to allow for fluctuating conditions; and automatic entitlements for conditions known to impact on the ability to perform everyday tasks, without the need for assessment.
3. There should a shorter statutory timescale for making decisions on redetermination requests –28 days, rather than the current proposal of 40 – 60 working days.
CAS welcomes the introduction of statutory decision timescales for redetermination requests, but would recommend setting this at one month. A wait of 40-60 days could result in prolonged hardship (both financial hardship and exacerbation of conditions due to stress and uncertainty) for those awaiting a decision. CAB clients have frequently faced detriment and stress due to lengthy waits, sometimes several months, for decisions to be made on PIP mandatory reconsideration requests.
4. The design of forms, letters and other communication should ensure redeterminations and appeals are one seamless process from the applicant’s perspective
CAS promoted and welcomed the amendments to the Social Security (Scotland) Act that removed the need for people to lodge a separate appeal and resubmit evidence if they wish to continue to appeal. For this to work in practice, the appeal to Tribunal level must be communicated as a continuation, rather than an additional step. Official statistics and CAB evidence indicate that a substantial number of PIP applications are appealed in a mandatory reconsideration, but not further appealed to a Tribunal, illustrating that the current two-step system acts as a barrier to justice.
5. In the medium to long-term, the criteria and assessment process should be kept under close review, with a view to improving the accuracy of decision-making where possible, and the system overall.
We expect ongoing monitoring, reviews and evaluations of the new system, as in other public services. Getting more decisions right first time not only benefits those who will receive disability assistance without unnecessary additional assessments or waits, it’s also likely to be a more efficient use of resources by Social Security Scotland.
Once the initial transition takes place, this may include moving from a needs-based system that asks what people are unable to do, to a more rights-based model focused on what a person is entitled to, able to do and the support that enables them. The Scottish Government may also wish to consider providing mobility support to people over the state pension age, which is not available to people receiving Attendance Allowance or the proposed Disability Assistance for Older People.