Social Security Scotland reports on its first full financial year
The Scottish Government has provided people who need it with over £540 million in payments since launch in September 2018 up to 31 March 2020, according to a financial report from Social Security Scotland.
From 1 September 2018 to 31 March 2020, benefits were delivered that support low income families during key stages in a child’s life, people struggling to pay for funerals and unpaid carer
The support paid over the course of the financial year reporting period 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020 totalled £346.7m.
A further three benefits have been introduced since March 2020. Job Start Payment, Child Winter Heating Assistance and the Scottish Child Payment which is estimated could pay an extra £142m to people in Scotland every year.
Social security secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “Social security is the most significant new public service to be created in Scotland since devolution.
“Social Security Scotland’s latest annual report shows that our new service is already supporting thousands of low income people including families with young children, carers and those who have lost loved ones. It paid out £346.7m in the last financial year and we expect this to be much higher when we report again next year given the introduction of three more benefits – including the game changing Scottish Child Payment.
“What’s also encouraging is that over 80% of clients who rated their experience of applying for Scotland’s benefits said it was good. Making sure we get money to those who need it is our priority but to truly do things differently we want to make sure that people have a good experience - that they are treated with dignity, fairness and respect.
“Of the ten benefits we currently offer, seven are completely new forms of assistance and the others are more generous than the UK benefits they replace. And despite the impact of COVID-19, we have introduced three new benefits in the last four months and our new Scottish Child Payment that will provide eligible parents and carers with an additional £10 per child per week is open to applications and will be paid from the end of February 2021.
“Over the course of this year, the service has continued to grow and take on new responsibilities. And next year will bring even greater challenges with the introducing of the more complex disability benefits. People can be reassured that we will continue to ensure that our social security system is there for people when they need it, and is something they can be proud of.”
Chief executive of Social Security Scotland, David Wallace, said: “I’m very proud of what we have achieved during the 2019/20 reporting period and since launching our brand new public service. And I’m pleased we have been able to effectively get money to so many people in Scotland who need it.
“There is still a lot more to do as we prepare to start to deliver the more complex disability payments and our service will continue to grow.
“The annual report demonstrates all that we have accomplished. Looking forward, our new Corporate Plan sets out what we will do to deliver on our responsibilities in the future.
“And our Charter Measurement Framework co-designed by people with lived experience of benefits - will help us measure our success.”
Meanwhile, a report by the Auditor General has shown that an estimated £14.8m of a carer’s benefit is thought to have been overpaid in Scotland due to error and fraud.
The Department for Work and Pensions calculated that 5.2% of the £284m paid out in Carer’s Allowance in 2019/20 related to estimated error and fraud, which led to auditors qualifying Social Security Scotland’s accounts.
The inherent risk of error and fraud in social security systems means an audit qualification is not unusual. The National Audit Office has qualified the annual accounts of the DWP for the last 31 years.
Stephen Boyle, Auditor General for Scotland, said Social Security Scotland has improved error and fraud prevention and detection in the last year. But it remains reliant on the DWP for the delivery of much of the £3.5 billion it spends on benefits, and for the associated estimates of error and fraud. That increases the audit risk to Social Security Scotland’s finances at a time when COVID-19’s economic impact brings added uncertainty.
Mr Boyle said: “Social Security Scotland has strengthened its error and fraud arrangements and reacted quickly to the immediate challenges posed by the pandemic, but there’s still a lot of key work to be done.
“It is now responsible for billions in complex benefits spending but remains heavily reliant on the DWP. Benefit spending may rise because of COVID-19, increasing the potential for greater error and fraud. And Social Security Scotland needs to think about what arrangements will be needed to manage that scenario.”