Social Security Scotland is an Executive Agency of the Scottish Government that is tasked with managing a number of devolved benefits to improve the lives of Scottish people.
These benefits include pregnancy and baby payment, Carers' Allowance, disability benefit and housing and heating support.
Michael McEwan spoke to Rachael McKechnie about Social Security Scotland's work to date and its ambitions for the future.
MM - Michael McEwan
RM - Rachael McKechnie
MM On this next podcast, I went to find out more about the all new Social Security Scotland where I was talking to Rachael McKechnie and first off, I asked her: what is Social Security Scotland?
RM Thank you Michael so, Social Security Scotland is the organisation that's been established to deliver a subset of benefits that are being moved from the UK government up to the Scottish government so, those benefits are largely for people with disabilities so, the things like personal independence payment, disability living allowance, the carers, so, carers allowance is coming up and then another smaller number of benefits that are there to support people who are on a low income that need a bit of help to meet additional cost so, that's things like the Sure Start Maternity Grant, DWP's funeral payment and cold weather payments and winter fuel payments. We are there to deliver the new system in a way that meets the requirements of a piece of law that we've got called the Social Security Scotland Act which was passed last year and then also our charter which we have spent a lot of time over the summer working with people that have got direct experience of claiming benefits to understand what they want to see in the new social security system. So, the big thing for us is that this is about a rights based approach so, we work on the basis that social security is a human right and it is a public service that any of us could need at any time so, we're always making sure when we design and we deliver our services that we're proud of the service that we deliver, that we'd be happy to receive it if we were a client or our family were our clients and that we're always developing our system with people so, we're making sure all the time that we're actually talking to people about what they want and then working with them as we go forward to look at everything that we design and make sure that that actually meets what they need.
MM I suppose we may go on to speak about the benefits in a wee while but why was there a need for this organisation, as it were, in Scotland?
RM So the Scottish ministers were really clear that they didn't like the way that social security was working in Scotland up until this point so, they felt that they're system had kind of lost site of the fact that it was there to deliver for people and people were coming to a system in a time of need and were actually finding it a really difficult system to be able to access, they weren't clear what they were eligible for, it was really difficult for them to make an application for benefits and they just weren't getting the support that we felt that was needed. Because of that, after the referendum there was a group called The Smith Commission that met which negotiated between the UK government and the Scottish government and then there was a decision that we'd get the benefits that are coming up and then ministers on the back of that decided that they'd create Social Security Scotland to be able to deliver these benefits.
MM So, we are in Glasgow ...
RM Uh huh.
MM ... but you have the headquarters up in Dundee.
MM And also, am I right in saying, that you plan to open up a third one?
RM Uh huh.
MM Would it be this year or ...?
RM We're working on a basis where we've got 2 central offices so, we've got a headquarters in Dundee and then we've got an office here where we are in Glasgow.
RM But what we also want is to make sure that people can access the service as close to home as possible so, we'll also have, what we call, our local delivery service. So, that will be giving people face to face support and it will do that through a range of different ways so, it will have an office which is kind of co-located in a service that's already delivering so, what we don't want to do is make people go to a different place, we'll make sure that that service is in somewhere that they're already visiting. We'll have a kind of office approach but then will also pop up on a surgery kind of basis so, we might pop up in a mother and baby group or a carers centre or a health centre and then we'll also be able to do hospital visits so, we can support people before they're discharged, prison visits so, we can support them before they're released and then also to do home visits as well so, if people can't come to us then we'll be able to bring the service to them. And then in terms of the 2 central offices, they've got our teams who will be able to advise people on the phone and then also the people that will kind of process people's application for benefits and then our kind of corporate functions so, making sure that we've got our HR and things like fraud, finance those side of things that they all sit in the central offices. So, when we're fully up and running we're expecting to have about 1500 staff across the 2 offices, the 2 central offices so, about 750 staff in each office and then about 400 staff out and about the country. So, 1900 staff in total we're just about kind of 270 or so at the moment so, we've got a lot of recruitment to do over the coming years.
MM Let's go back to the benefits.
RM Uh huh.
MM So, what kind of ... I know you're getting feeding benefits one at a time so, what benefits have you got kind of power on at the moment?
RM Yeah, absolutely. So, as you said Michael, it kind of those benefits will come across to us one by one and that gives us a chance to make sure that we're taking the time to work with people to design a system for each benefit but it also means that we can kind of start small, make sure that we've got the right the processes in place and test as we go. In terms of what we're delivering at the moment so, the organisation only kind of started on the 1st of September last year, since then we've delivered 2 payments of what we call our carers allowance supplement. So, that's a top up for carers who are receiving the carers allowance from the DWP and essentially what it does is take the amount of money that they're receiving from the 64/60 a week that they were having up to 73/10 a week but we'd pay in 2 lump sums kind of every 6 months so, what we've done now is pay 75000 carers up to an additional kind of £442 so, there were 2 different payments there of £221 so, that's all gone really well, we've had some really great feedback from people about what they've been able to do with that extra money in their pockets and then in December we launched our second benefit which is the Best Start Grant Pregnancy and Baby Payment so, that's a payment for people from kind of 24 weeks of pregnancy up until when the little one is 6 months old and it will pay £600 if it's your first baby or £300 if it's a brother or sister to a baby that you've already got and it will also then pay if you've had a kind of a multiple birth, if you've had twins or triplets, it will give an extra £300 as well. So, we launched that in December, we had a fantastic response to that so, we got 4000 applications just on the first launch day alone and then we made an announcement last week that we just paid out £2.7 million to over 7000 eligible families for that so, we paid out more in 2 months than DWP paid out in the whole of last year so kind of 2017 to 18 for that so, we're really pleased with the response that we've got. What we'll then be doing over the kind of the coming months is to start to bring some more benefits on board so, we'll be launching in the summer time 2 additional payments for the Best Start Grant so, there'll be a payment which we call our Early Years Payment which is for families where they've got a little one whose between the ages of 2 and 3 and a half and that will be a £250 payment for eligible families and then another payment for families that have got children kind of just about to start to school so, again another kind of £250 for them and then we will also then be delivering funeral expenses assistance which is a kind of a part payment for people who are needing a bit of support to pay for a funeral, we'll be delivering that in summer 2019 as well and then in autumn 2019 we'll be delivering a Young Carers Grant which is a brand new benefit for us which we pay in £300 a year to eligible young carers who are kind of aged 16 to 17 or 18 and still in school full time as well so, really looking forward to kind of bringing each of those new benefits on and then we should shortly know the kind of time table for the other benefits coming through as well so, we're reliant on the Scottish Government just to let us know the timetable for that.
MM How can people apply for that kind of benefit that you just told me about?
RM Sure so, what we tried to do is give people real choice in the system so everyone lives their life in different ways, they'll want to talk to us in different ways so, we've tried to make sure that people can talk to us in a range of different ways so, we've got a free phone help line so, people can give us a call on that number which is 0800 182 22 22 and the lines at the moment are kind of open from 8am in the morning to 6pm at night, Monday to Friday. Those kind of opening hours are reflecting the fact that we're just delivering a small number of benefits at the moment, we'll look to kind of extend those as we get bigger and bring more benefits on board and we've been working with people to say, you know, "What hours do you want us to be open so that you can get hold of us?" so, that's on the phones, people can also apply on line so, they can go to mygov.scot and make an application for the Best Start Grant through that website and then obviously I mentioned the kind of local delivery service earlier as well so, when that comes on board, kind of next year that will allow people to talk to us on a face to face basis as well.
MM And do you feel more and more people's coming to you for maybe advice?
RM Yeah so, lots more people are coming to us but we still want more people to come to us.
RM So, the big thing for us is getting that service right and I mentioned that kind of looking at it as a human right so, if you come and talk to us then we'd be looking to make sure that we look at all your circumstances and what benefits you might be eligible for. We'd be able to support you to make your application as well, we'd be looking to kind of probe you as well to make sure that we get your best evidence through and to be able to support that and then if you get a decision that you want us to look again at, again, that we'll be supporting you to make that happen as well.
MM And so, what's the feedback been like for the people that you've supported through this up till now?
RM We've had really positive feedback from people, people feeling that it's a really friendly service, that the guys on the phone are there to kind of help them out as much as possible but it's early days for us as well, we want to keep getting better. What we want is the best service that we can so, we're looking for people to constantly tell us how it's feeling for them, if the service is giving them what they need so, that kind of feedback back from our clients is really kind of important but it's really, really positive so far so, we're really pleased with how we started.
MM Okay, thank you and good luck.
RM Thank you.
MM If you would like to find out more about the work that Social Security Scotland does, just go on to the website at https://www.socialsecurity.gov.scot/