New Scottish social security body to deliver disability assessments

Assessments for disability support will be carried out by Social Security Scotland, fully supported by public sector healthcare professionals, the Scottish Government has announced.

The move, which ensures there is no private sector involvement in the process, is also set to provide people with greater choice and flexibility over their assessments.

Making the announcement to Parliament, cabinet secretary for social security and older people, Shirley-Anne Somerville, said: “In line with the important principle that social security is a public service, I have decided that our new public agency Social Security Scotland will deliver assessments to determine eligibility for disability assistance.

“It is clear to me that the new agency is best placed to provide a flexible, person centred assessment service, fully supported by public sector healthcare professionals. This decision has been taken following an extensive period of research, analysis and consultation with key stakeholders.

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

Dr Jim McCormick, chair of the Disability and Carers Benefits Expert Advisory Group, said: “We welcomed the opportunity to advise Ministers on the delivery body for assessments earlier this year, and strongly agreed that agency delivery was the correct option, due to compelling practical, cost and presentational advantages. Therefore we welcome today’s announcement on this.

“We positively welcome the ongoing opportunities afforded to us as an independent group to provide advice on key issues of importance concerning the policy, design and delivery of the new social security system, a role which we look forward to continuing to play as it is put into place.”

Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) has welcomed the announcement that the new benefits agency will deliver any face-to-face assessments for disability benefits.

CAS spokesman Rob Gowans said: “We know from the thousands of people who seek advice on disability benefits from their local CAB that substantial changes are badly needed to the current process.

“Delivering assessments ‘in-house’ will mean that the quality and accuracy of assessments can be improved on the current system. We also welcome the announcement that people will have greater control over the location of assessments, which will mean that clients do not have to travel many miles for an assessment as is currently often the case.

“However, even with improvements to the assessments, far too many people are currently required to attend face-to-face assessments unnecessarily. We look forward to hearing further details of how the Scottish Government plans to reduce the number of assessments, as we have consistently called for.”