Scots should have a right to help with benefits system


More than 60 organisations have backed calls for the right to independent advocacy within Scotland's new social security system

20th April 2018 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

Scots should be given more help to access benefits by introducing a system which will cut down on the numbers of people appealing against decisions.

More than 60 organisations have backed calls for access to independent advocacy services to be a right within Scotland’s new social security law.

The amendment to the Social Security (Scotland) Bill has been prepared by the Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance, which want to see Scots have greater access to one-to-one support.

Engender, the Health and Social Care Alliance and the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) are amongst the groups backing the call.

In its submission to the Scottish Government, the alliance said the £1.68 million annual cost of the service could be recouped through a reduction in appeals and assessments.

A spokesperson said: “This funding would support thousands of people across Scotland and seeks to mitigate the risks of financial burden of not providing the service through lengthy appeals and redetermination processes if someone has not been heard during a face-to-face assessment.

“It is also anticipated that demand will be lower in the future as the Scottish Government has indicated that face-to-face assessments will reduce.”

The alliance suggests employing 48 full-time staff across Scotland to provide support to people to understanding the system, understand their rights, and to make informed decisions.

The service would help those most in need of support, including people with long term conditions, unpaid carers and the homeless.

Scotland's new social security system will administer 11 benefits, which will be devolved over the next three years. A final debate on the Social Security bill is due to take place next week, with a number of amendments being considered.

These include a proposal, backed by MND Scotland and Marie Curie, to extend the definition of a terminal illness in legislation from six months to two years, to ensure that those with terminal illnesses are not left waiting and do not have to go through several assessments.

How independent advocacy can benefit those needing support

Mary was in receipt of Disability Living Allowance and was invited to claim Personal Independence Payments (PIP), she was not aware that she could get support to do this and attended an advice appointment to complete the form. Having lived with her condition for 20 years, Mary was not accustomed to discussing her support needs and became anxious when questioned about what she was capable of.

When Mary was invited to attend a face-to-face assessment she attended alone and again became too anxious to discuss her condition. She found herself just agreeing with everything the assessor said so she could get out as quick as possible.

As a result Mary did not receive enough points to en​title her to PIP and her DLA payments were stopped. Mary was referred to advocacy.

Her advocacy worker contacted the DWP with her and asked for a reconsideration. Together they then drafted a letter explaining how her condition affects her.

The advocacy worker then helped her to gather evidence from her support team to support the letter, which was then sent to the DWP along with the reconsideration letter. 

As a result Mary was awarded PIP and her payments started again. The next time her PIP was reviewed she used the advocacy service to help complete her review form and attend the assessment. At both times Mary was able to give a more accurate picture of her support needs and continues to receive her PIP award.