Disability benefit claimants in Scotland to decide time and place for new assessments

Disability benefit assessments in Scotland will be more flexible than the current system and carried out in-house by the new national social security agency, the Scottish Government has announced.

Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville announced in a parliamentary statement that assessments will be carried out at a time and location that suits the applicants, and public health professionals will provide support.

She said the procedures will be carried out at home for those who have difficulty travelling.

Ms Somerville added assessments will be recorded to build trust in the system and these could be used in any appeals process.

Disability benefits is one of 11 welfare areas, worth around £3 billion a year in total, where power was transferred to Scotland through the Social Security Act, resulting in the creation of the Social Security Scotland agency.

The legislation, enacted in June, stipulates private providers cannot carry out assessments.

Ms Somerville said: “It is clear that the UK Government are content with an approach that sees private sector assessment providers prioritise profits over people.

“This Government puts people first and foremost. We will not farm out assessments to private companies.

“Furthermore under the Scottish Government system, people will be given greater choice and control over their assessment through four actions I have committed to today.

“People will be invited at a time that suits them and to a location that suits them. For those with difficulty travelling, the assessor will come to them.

“In addition, we will introduce audio recordings of assessments as standard to ensure accuracy and transparency. And we will also allow the social security appeals tribunal to access the audio recording to help inform their decision.

“From application to award, we will provide a service that manages performance, quality and outcomes. And it is this approach that will see dignity and respect embedded throughout, and ensure people can have trust in the system.”

The announcement that Social Security Scotland will carry out disability assessments in-house received cross-party praise.

Labour’s Mark Griffin asked the minister to set out a timetable for when the qualifying criteria and value of disability assistance in Scotland will be made public, as he said disabled people are “desperate to know”.

Ms Somerville said work is still to be done in this area and the Disability and Carers Benefits Expert Advisory Group is due to report on this by the end of the year.

Group chairman Dr Jim McCormick also welcomed the announcement.

A UK Government spokeswoman said later: “We’re committed to continuously improving assessments, and will be piloting video recording with a view to rolling this out widely.

“Our focus is on ensuring that everyone has a good experience at their PIP (personal independence payment) assessment, rather than who delivers assessments, and home visits are available for people who are unable to attend an assessment centre.

“Assessments are carried out by qualified healthcare professionals.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Scottish Government.