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Draft Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 (Disability Assistance and Information- Sharing) (Consequential Provision and Modifications) Order 2022

Debated on Wednesday 2 March 2022

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Christina Rees

† Bacon, Gareth (Orpington) (Con)

† Bowie, Andrew (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (Con)

† Edwards, Ruth (Rushcliffe) (Con)

† Fellows, Marion (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)

† Harris, Rebecca (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

† Howell, John (Henley) (Con)

† Linden, David (Glasgow East) (SNP)

† Mackrory, Cherilyn (Truro and Falmouth) (Con)

† Mills, Nigel (Amber Valley) (Con)

† Mishra, Navendu (Stockport) (Lab)

† Mohindra, Mr Gagan (South West Hertfordshire) (Con)

† Murray, Ian (Edinburgh South) (Lab)

† Osborne, Kate (Jarrow) (Lab)

† Russell, Dean (Watford) (Con)

† Stewart, Iain (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland)

Stringer, Graham (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab)

Sultana, Zarah (Coventry South) (Lab)

Guy Mathers, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Fourth Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 2 March 2022

[Christina Rees in the Chair]

Draft Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 (Disability Assistance and Information-Sharing) (Consequential Provision and Modifications) Order 2022

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 (Disability Assistance and Information-Sharing) (Consequential Provision and Modifications) Order 2022.

I am pleased to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. This order is made under section 104 the Scotland Act 1998, which allows for a necessary legislative amendment in consequence of an Act of the Scottish Parliament. It will support the implementation of welfare powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament under the Scotland Act 2016.

The order amends legislation as a consequence of the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018, which was passed by the Scottish Parliament, and of regulations made under that Act. Through the 2018 Act, the Scottish Government can introduce new forms of disability assistance using the social security powers devolved under section 22 of the Scotland Act 2016. Section 31 of the 2018 Act allows the Scottish Government to provide financial assistance called “disability assistance” for people in Scotland with a disability. Disability assistance will replace three existing UK-wide payments that are currently delivered by the Department for Work and Pensions: disability living allowance, personal independence payments and attendance allowance.

Through their devolved powers, the Scottish Government are legislating for an adult disability payment to replace the personal independence payment, beginning with a pilot on 21 March. Applications will be accepted from individuals of between 16 years old and state pension age. At its introduction, adult disability payment will operate in broadly the same way and for broadly the same group of people as personal independence payment. The intention of the UK Government and the Scottish Government is that while there are individuals in Scotland who remain in receipt of either adult disability payment or personal independence payment, there is equitable treatment of the approximately 300,000 individuals whose personal independence payment awards will be transferred to adult disability payment.

In respect of the equivalent reserved benefit, the UK Government allow eligibility for a driving licence at the age of 16 rather than 17 and provide for an exemption or a 50% reduction in vehicle excise duty, a VAT zero rate for the leasing of vehicles to individuals under the Motability scheme and a VAT zero rate for the onward sale of vehicles previously let under that scheme. We also provide an exemption from insurance premium tax on the insurance that covers vehicles leased under the Motability scheme. The order extends those provisions to ensure that people on adult disability payment will benefit from those reliefs.

The order also extends the definition of “disabled person” in certain taxation legislation to include individuals who are in receipt of a qualifying rate of adult disability payment, thereby ensuring that people in receipt of adult disability payment will receive the same tax treatment as those who receive equivalent reserved benefits. That will apply to the early withdrawal of funds from a child trust fund or junior individual savings account if the young person is terminally ill, and to the tax treatment of property held in trust for the benefit of a disabled person.

The order ensures that the adult disability payment will act as a qualifying benefit for the Christmas bonus, carer’s credit and carer’s allowance in England and Wales. That will support the continued entitlement to those benefits of an individual in receipt of adult disability payment who has left Scotland and moved to another part of the UK. In that situation, the Scottish Government would continue to pay adult disability payment for a period of 13 weeks, to give the individual time to make an application for personal independence payment in England and Wales. Corresponding provisions for entitlement to carer’s allowance and carer’s credit have been included for Northern Ireland, should a new carer need to apply for support in respect of their caring responsibilities to the individual who is receipt of adult disability payment, for those 13 weeks only.

The order also makes changes to allow an individual who is entitled to adult disability payment to apply for a proxy vote at a UK parliamentary or local election or for a proxy signature for a recall petition without the need for their application to be attested. Similarly to the other provisions I have outlined, that will ensure that the system for disabled people in Scotland who receive a Scottish social security benefit operates in the same way as the system for a disabled person who is entitled to the equivalent corresponding reserved social security benefit. Those changes are not within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament, so it falls to the UK Government to facilitate them through this order.

The order is a sensible and pragmatic move on the part of the UK Government in their commitment to make devolution work and reflects strong co-operation between the Scottish and UK Governments. I therefore commend the order to the Committee.

It is a great pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms Rees.

We will not divide the Committee on this order; we fully agree with it. We have continued frustrations that such provisions, which are transferred under the 2016 Act and the subsequent legislation, are taking a long time to get through.

I have some questions for the Minister. There is interaction between the new Scottish systems and existing UK infrastructure, including in respect of the DWP and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency—I am sure the Minister’s inbox is as full as mine with messages from constituents who have problems and are struggling to get a response from the DVLA—so how do we ensure the seamless transition of the benefit? Even more importantly, how do we ensure seamless passporting to other benefits and other attachments to the new benefit?

How do we ensure that people who are on PIP in particular are aware of the different timescales for when people can apply and of who to apply to? There is no doubt that the DWP system is, by its very nature, incredibly complicated—we see from the experience of our constituents who apply for PIP and other benefits how complicated the process can be—so what support will be put in place to ensure the seamless transition from previous benefits to the new benefits administered in Scotland? How can we ensure there are no delays in the process? Personal independence payments go to some of the most vulnerable people in the country so we would not want things to be delayed.

If I was being slightly playful at this time in the morning, I would have asked the Minister to emphasise the fact that if someone moves from Scotland to another part of the UK, the Scottish Government will continue to pay for 13 weeks, and to comment on how that would relate to pensions in an independent Scotland, but I shall not push him on that today. Perhaps the hon. Member for Glasgow East could enlighten us when he makes his contribution for the SNP.

I have asked several questions but we will not divide the Committee. It is great that orders such as this are now coming through and that powers are being transferred, as set out in the 2016 Act and promised after the Smith commission. We fully support the Government in respect of this order.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees, and to follow a slightly playful hon. Member for Edinburgh South. I am glad that he and his party are now finally entertaining the idea that a Scottish referendum is coming and that we will have a great debate on pensions. I gently suggest to him that changing his party’s logo from a rose to a thistle is probably not the answer that people in Scotland are looking for in respect of whether Scottish Labour is now relevant.

I very much welcome the order and we will certainly support it. The Scottish Government are using their limited devolved powers to tackle inequality for disabled people, to ensure that everybody has a chance to reach their potential. One of my great frustrations throughout the pandemic was seeing how 2.5 million disabled people in the UK were shamefully overlooked when it came to the £20 increase to universal credit. It is incredibly disappointing that 2.5 million people who were legacy benefit claimants did not receive that.

The new ADP is going to be one of the most difficult and complex things that the Scottish Government have had to deliver within the new devolved framework, but we are very much looking forward to the challenge. It is important to put on the record the fact that the Scottish Government have abolished the controversial DWP assessment system. Instead, we will hold person-centred assessments, where absolutely necessary.

If our social security system is to work for the most vulnerable, there must be a root-and-branch review of it south of the border and, yes, of the limited powers we have in Scotland. However, bearing in mind that 85% of welfare spending is still controlled here in London, it is incumbent on the UK Government to conduct a root-and-branch review of the social security system, because the overwhelming message in my constituency back home in Scotland is that social security from Westminster is not working. We are told that powers will be transferred to the Scottish Parliament, but until all those powers are transferred, I rather fear that that will continue to be the resounding message from my constituents week in, week out.

I have a couple of quick questions for the Minister. First, will he talk us through the 13-week run-on? Does it apply both ways? If somebody leaves England and moves to Scotland, for instance, do we fund 13 weeks of PIP while they go through the Scottish application process? What happens if a claim cannot be completed in 13 weeks? I am sure we all have many constituency cases of PIP claims not being approved within 13 weeks, especially if people are refused and have to appeal. Does the person effectively have a complete gap in their benefit payment until the claim is resolved in England, and do they lose all the knock-on benefits in the meantime? Indeed, they might effectively lose their right to vote, because they think they can cast a proxy vote but then cannot because it somehow drops away.

Secondly, I think the Minister said that for as long as the new Scottish benefit remains broadly equivalent to PIP, the provisions in the order apply. However, I do not see any measures to automatically terminate the add-on provisions if at some point we think the Scottish benefit has diverged too far from PIP. What is the process if the Scottish benefit becomes much more generous, or has completely different triggers, or is no longer seen as equivalent to PIP? Would we have to come back with a new order and start disapplying all these things? How will the situation be monitored? Will there have to be a continual assessment of Scottish Government legislation to decide whether the trigger has been met? Or does the Minister think that is unlikely because most of the things we are extending in the order are so automatic and uncontentious, and it is hard to believe that the Scottish system could ever become so different that we would ever need to withdraw any of them?

I am grateful to hon. Members for their contributions to the debate and particularly to the hon. Members for Edinburgh South and for Glasgow East for indicating their support for the measure. They and my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley all raised perfectly fair questions, which I will endeavour to answer.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh South asked about the transition process. Initially, there will be a pilot scheme for new claimants only in three parts of Scotland—Dundee, Perth and Kinross, and the Western Isles—before existing claimants are gradually transitioned over later in the year, so there will not be a cliff-edge or big-bang transition. I hope that will allay the hon. Member’s perfectly valid concerns about ensuring, as he rightly said, that the most vulnerable people in society are not disadvantaged.

It is very tempting at this hour of the morning to enter into a broader constitutional debate, but I am not sure my Whip would be particularly accommodating of that. In the same spirit, I will not rise to the bait of some of the points made by the hon. Member for Glasgow East. I am sure there will be plenty other occasions in the weeks, months, years and decades ahead—

Generations, indeed. I am sure we will return to these matters.

I should also say that such things are complex to transition, and we have been co-operating with the Scottish Government to ensure that it can happen in their desired timescale, with the pilots starting later this month. I also pay tribute to officials from both the DWP and the Scottish Government for doing the detailed preparatory work to ensure that this change can happen.

Finally, on the sensible questions from my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley, the situation does apply both ways. If a person in England claims PIP or one of the other benefits and moves to Scotland, the DWP would look to ensure that they had an equivalent transition period. The 13 weeks is a safety net, and applications can be made in advance. It is there to ensure that payments can continue if there is some delay, so that no one is disadvantaged.

On my hon. Friend’s further sensible point about whether the matter would need to be revisited if the Scottish Government chose to change the adult disability payment so that it did not capture broadly the same cohort as PIP, that is not the case at the moment. The definition of eligibility is very similar, and the quantum of payment is broadly similar. Until that diverges significantly—I have no crystal ball to see whether it will—the current carry-over remains sensible. Of course, we will always keep things under review to ensure we were not missing anyone out. I hope that reassures my hon. Friend.

This order is a sensible and pragmatic move on the UK Government’s part to make devolution work and reflects strong co-operation between the Scottish and UK Governments.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.