More details emerge on new social security agency

Jeane Freeman
Jeane Freeman

Social security minister Jeane Freeman has outlined more details on Scotland’s new social security agency and provided an update on the Scottish Government’s progress to abolish the ‘bedroom tax’ at source and in delivering choice in Universal Credit.

In a Ministerial statement to the Scottish Parliament yesterday, Ms Freeman told MSPs that an Overarching Partnership Agreement in being developed in conjunction with COSLA on the guiding principles to underpin delivery and secure a consistency of approach across Scotland, building local social security services tailored to local needs.

The minister said: “We will not compromise the level of service we require and expect and for which we will be accountable. It will always be our agency staff meeting and helping individuals, not private companies; people will always be treated with dignity and respect; and we will always meet the expectations of the Charter we are developing with the people of Scotland.”

She added: “We know that increasing benefit take-up is a challenge. If a person is unsure of what they may be entitled to, our local staff will offer advice on the benefits we will deliver, alongside wider income maximisation support.

“If a person is looking to apply for a benefit, we will support them to complete the forms and advise on the evidence needed to support of their application.

“And where a person is already receiving benefits, they will be able to get face-to-face advice on their payments, on notifying the agency of a change in their circumstances, on other benefits they may be entitled to or on making a complaint where their expectations have not been met.

“Above all, our service will be proactive, positive and geared to helping the individual in their particular circumstances.”

It was announced on Monday that 1,500 jobs would be split evenly between the agency’s headquarters in Dundee and a site in Glasgow.

On making this decision, Ms Freeman said a variety of socio-economic factors were taken into account.

“We have considered the scale of economic opportunity that over 1,500 jobs can generate, plus the scale of risk to business continuity if we were to choose a single site,” the minister said. “The sensible decision was to have two major locations of similar scale. Dundee and Glasgow both performed very well overall against the criteria and will benefit from the ability to attract staff from a wide catchment area thus spreading the economic benefit new jobs will bring,”

Ms Freeman said the social security agency was expected to employ around 250 staff by summer 2019 to deliver the first three devolved benefits - the carers allowance supplement, best start grant and funeral expenses assistance.

On top of the 1,500 jobs, around 400 locally-based positions would be created across Scotland.

“This number will be refined as we continue to work to design the service with local authorities and others but it illustrates the scale of our commitment to local delivery,” she added.

MSPs were also informed that a deal is in place to fully mitigate the bedroom tax in Scotland.

Ms Freeman said: “I am sure members will recall that our absolute commitment to abolish the bedroom tax had encountered some areas of difficulty prior to the summer recess. I met with ministers from the DWP last week and I am happy to report substantial progress in that we now have an agreed proposal that will fully mitigate the bedroom tax - without funding being clawed back or the support we provide to those to whom the tax applies being limited by the operation of the benefit cap.

“I hope to be in a position to bring forward an amendment at stage 2 of the Social Security Bill to provide full legal cover for the technical solution.”

On the Scottish Government’s progress to allow Universal Credit claimants to have rent payments made direct to landlords as well as twice-monthly payments, she added: “I also want to update Members on the work we have been doing on the Universal Credit flexibilities that will be delivered by DWP on our behalf from 4th of October. The flexibilities will offer people in Scotland the choice to have their housing costs paid directly to their landlord and to have twice-monthly payments.

“We have tested our work directly with those who will use the service to make sure we are being clear about what is offered so that informed choices can be made and people are clear about what a person they need to do.”

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