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Chamber and committees

Social Justice and Social Security Committee

Social Security Scotland: Key Priorities

Letter from Chief Executive of Social Security Scotland, 30 July 2021

Neil Gray MSP Convener
Social Justice and Social Security Committee 
The Scottish Parliament

30 July 2021

Dear Mr Gray

Social Security Scotland: key priorities

Thank you for your letter of 8 July regarding your Committee’s scrutiny of the areas within its remit in the coming Parliamentary session – including scrutiny of the delivery social security benefits in Scotland. As you say, the coming year will be an important one for Social Security Scotland, as we continue to expand our operations to meet the growing number of live devolved benefits.

I am pleased that the Committee is keen to establish a good working relationship with Social Security Scotland. I too am keen that we establish such a relationship at the beginning of this Parliamentary term. Therefore I should like to put on record that we are happy to assist the Committee wherever possible in our role of administering benefits.

In terms of our priorities for the coming year, as you know, we have recently set these out in our most recent Business Plan 2021-221. But I have provided details of some key areas of work below.

Administering benefits

Administering existing benefits, in the right amounts at the right time, and making sure that future benefits are delivered safely and securely, remain one of our top priorities. Figures detailing benefit expenditure and the number of people who have had a payment will be included in our upcoming Annual Report. To maintain and indeed improve our services, we will consider both internal and external feedback from our frontline people, stakeholder groups and our Client Panels.

The introduction of disability benefits in the coming year will require a more detailed assessment of clients’ eligibility, gathering medical and other supporting documentation on behalf of the client to evidence the impact of their condition. Decisions on eligibility for these benefits will continue to be made by casework managers. But as you will know, removing the out-sourcing of clinical assessments is a key feature of the new Scottish system. We have been preparing for this by recruiting, health and social care practitioners from varied backgrounds, who will give professional advice to support in making decisions on benefit applications.

Local Delivery Service

Ensuring access to our services is another key feature of the new system. On 26 July, we launched our local delivery service alongside Child Disability Payment pilot in three areas; Perth and Kinross, Western Isles and Dundee. We will provide benefit advice, support with application completion and, where appropriate, sign-post clients to other support services. With the national rollout of Child Disability Payment, and as new benefits are introduced, we will have over 400 people across all 32 Local Authority areas.

Creating the right culture and investing in our people

You indicate that another aspect of your Committee’s scrutiny will be to ensure Social Security Scotland continues to place ‘dignity and respect’ at the centre of our approach to our clients.

You will be aware that our values of dignity, fairness and respect lie at the heart of our Social Security Charter which breaks them down, alongside other principles included in the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018, into a set of clear, public commitments.

We measure our success in living up to the principles in the 2018 Act and the commitments in our Charter through our programmes of research with our clients, staff and stakeholders. This includes our Client Survey and our Client Panels. The Client Panels research mirrors the approach of Experience Panels in embedding the voice of people with experience of our decision-making.

Outputs from this work will be published and available for your Committee’s scrutiny in the form of our Annual Report and our next Charter Measurement Framework Report, which draws on statistical and research evidence, including responses to the Client Survey and our People Survey, to give a clear, transparent account of our performance.

A key way in which we will ensure delivery against our Charter commitments is making sure we create the right culture and support our people to deliver the best possible service.

We will continue to invest in the development of our people by providing learning options that not only provide the knowledge and skills to administer our new benefits, but also focus on developing our culture and values. This will include continued emphasis on lived experience, working with stakeholders, representative groups and clients, so all our people have a better understanding of the challenges faced by our clients.


This year we will be welcoming more new people and adding new skills to our workforce: in particular, so that we are ready to deliver more complex benefits and transfer clients from the Department for Work and Pensions. Building for the future gives us opportunities to run large- scale, inclusive and accessible recruitment campaigns.

For example, to enable the delivery of Child Disability Payment, we will recruit over 200 new colleagues by the end of September 2021. This will ensure that new colleagues have time to complete their training prior to the launch of the Child Disability Payment nationally in November.

We have a continued commitment to recruiting a diverse workforce in Social Security Scotland. For example, we have recently signed up to the Young Persons’ Guarantee and we are currently working with Fair Start Scotland to deliver work placements. For large recruitment exercises, we run candidate workshops to help candidates understand our recruitment process.

Post-Covid ways of working

We are committed to our head office city, Dundee. We will operate across three buildings in the city and work is progressing at pace to get Agnes Husband House – our head office – ready to welcome staff and clients when Covid restrictions allow. We also have a second main base in Glasgow and, as I said earlier, we are continuing with the set-up of our local delivery services in communities across Scotland.

Maintaining high quality service levels, while keeping our people safe, has been a priority throughout the ongoing pandemic. I am proud of how we have been able to respond and adapt, and there are a great many things we have learned over the past 16 months or so. Since the start of the pandemic, we have introduced new services including web chat and document upload, so that clients can supply evidence online. We have also increased the number of benefits we administer from 7 to 11. I am grateful to all of our people who have demonstrated huge commitment to continuing work to build this new social security system and provide the best service.

Due to the pandemic, we have been reviewing our ways of working to ensure we can work safely while meeting the needs of our clients. A project is underway to consider our ways of working, once Covid restrictions are no longer in place, and engage with colleagues looking for increased flexibility, and the need to offer this to attract and retain staff.

So, whilst still delivering our full range of live services, we will continue to use Covid as an opportunity to adapt, progress and learn from the effect it has had on our organisation. This includes providing a range of ways to apply for our current benefits and handling applications, as we recover from the pandemic.
Administrative Costs

You state that one aspect of your scrutiny of the Agency will be the administrative costs associated with its growth and development. That is as it should be, and I can give you my assurance that ensuring value for money for the public purse will be paramount as we move forward. It is enshrined as a principle within the Social Security (Scotland) Act and further defined in our Charter.

We currently work with Scottish Government Social Security Programme colleagues to develop efficient technology systems and processes to keep staffing at reasonable levels.

We continue to aim – once in steady-state - for our administrative costs to be broadly in line with those of the Department for Work and Pensions, as a percentage of benefit expenditure. Our current administration costs include costs for live benefits administration, preparation for benefits yet to be delivered; and recharges for services delivered by DWP. We publish financial information that provides more detail on our costs in our Business Plan and in our Annual Report and Accounts (laid in the autumn).

We would be happy to host a visit from you and your fellow Committee members to our new headquarters in Dundee later this year (subject of course to prevailing Covid restrictions). We will pick this up with Committee Clerks. I should of course point out that the building is not as yet open for business, and that we are currently only providing access for training, consolidation and well-being purposes.

Yours sincerely

David Wallace

Chief Executive, Social Security Scotland