Scottish disability benefits are taking a long time to process, and the huge increase in applications for Scottish Child Payment in November, as a result of extending eligibility to children under 16, was still being worked through at the end of December.
This blog looks at the statistics on processing times for Scottish Social Security payments, focusing on Scottish Child Payment and disability benefits.
Processing times vary a lot
The chart below gives an overview of processing times, showing the median number of working days taken to process applications for decisions made each month since 2018. The median is the middle value, or the point at which half of the values are higher and half of the values are lower. Using the median makes sure that a few very short or very long processing times don’t skew the figures.
Clearly it varies quite a lot. But what is particularly striking is the lengthy and lengthening times for the two disability payments and the varied pattern for the ‘five family payments’ (Best Start Grant, Best Start Foods and Scottish Child Payment). This blog therefore focuses on Scottish Child Payment (SCP), Adult Disability Payment (ADP) and Child Disability Payment (CDP).
It’s important to note that, although clients may have a wait for their first payment, they will get payments backdated to the date they applied, so they will not lose money due to delays in processing.
Scottish Child Payment
Scottish Child Payment (SCP) is a relatively simple payment. If a person gets a qualifying benefit and is responsible for a child under 16, then they should be awarded SCP. In most cases processing should be relatively quick and straightforward. Social Security Scotland has recently introduced a degree of automation to help speed up processing.
The chart shows the large surges of applications when SCP first started for children under 6 in November 2020 and then was expanded to children under 16 two years later.
Processing times (shown by the line on the chart above) slowed down from summer 2021, reaching 42 days by May 2022. Things then speeded up rapidly from September 2022. Even with the huge increase in applications in November 2022, processing times are much faster in December 2022 than they were in the previous summer.
Those that were processed were processed quickly, but by the end of the year there were around 40,000 applications outstanding.
David Wallace (Chief Executive, Social Security Scotland) explained that SCP processing times should settle down:
“The extension of the Scottish child payment to those under 16 within the existing devolution programme is the biggest single intake of applicants that we will ever have into the system. How we transition that volume in at a single point in time will always be enormously challenging. We cannot physically gear our staff up to give the same level of service on week 1 or 2 as we will once that becomes a more business as usual activity.”David Wallace, Social Security Scotland
Processing disability benefit applications is far more complex. It involves collating a wide range of evidence and making judgements against the criteria for the benefit.
Initially, Social Security Scotland had expected that disability benefit applications would take 8 to 10 weeks to process – so around two to two and a half months. The latest statistics show that average processing times were:
- ninety four working days for Child Disability Payment applications that were decided in December 2022 (around four and a half months)
- seventy nine working days for Adult Disability Payment applications that were decided in January 2023 (around four months).
“we faced some criticism when we took the eight to 10 weeks indicator down from the website. The reason we did that was so that we did not mislead clients as to what was expected.”David Wallace, Social Security Scotland
Janet Richardson (Social Security Scotland) explained that processing times would improve once more staff were available.
“among all the case managers we have recruited and trained and are delivering, we still have some who are not fully in that live service yet—and they will not be until the end of January. We will start to see things progress and ramp up from the new year.”Janet Richardson, Social Security Scotland
Child Disability Payment
CDP has been available across Scotland for over a year. In that time, around 19,000 ‘part 2’ applications have been received, of which 16,135 have been processed (85%). (The Part 1 application is a note of basic information. Part 2 includes more detail, which, together with additional information gathered by Social Security Scotland will form the basis of the decision).
Although application numbers have remained relatively stable at around 1,400 to 1,600 each month since March 2022, the time taken to process them has slowed down from 41 days in March 2022 to 94 days in December 2022.
As noted above, Social Security Scotland expects that processing times will improve during early 2023. The next CDP statistics are published in May 2023.
Adult Disability Payment
Adult Disability Payment (ADP) started as a pilot in March 2022 with national launch in August 2022. While the number of applications processed has increased steadily, it still lags behind the number of applications coming in. In total, by end of January 2023, around 57% of the ‘Part 2 applications’ (i.e the detailed information provided by the client) had been processed and the time taken is steadily increasing – reaching 79 days for decisions made in January 2023.
There isn’t a target for processing times. Social Security Scotland has a Charter that was developed through a co-design process with people with lived experience of social security payments. That Charter states that Social Security Scotland will:
“recognise that your time is precious and handle your application and enquiries as quickly as we can.”The Charter
There are over 60 performance indicators for the Charter, one of which is the proportion of applications that are processed within ten days. For example, in 2021-22, 22% of SCP applications were processed within ten days. However, Shona Robison, Cabinet Secretary explained to the Social Justice and Social Security Committee that:
“I do not think that it was ever a target as such, and it was not intended to reflect standard processing times across all low-income benefits.”Shona Robison, Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government.
And David Wallace told the Committee that: “Ten days will not be achievable for disability benefits.”
Improving Processing Times
Social Security Scotland has acknowledged that processing times for disability benefits are not where they want them to be. An update in January 2023 stated that:
“While gathering information on behalf of clients takes time, it allows us to make robust decisions.
Work is underway to speed up our processing times. This includes liaising with the organisations who most often provide us with supporting information to improve our systems and make decision-making more efficient.
As we learn and develop, outside of peaks in demand, we have seen processing times improve. This is something we expect to see across our disability benefits over the course of this year.
Providing decisions as quickly as possible remains a priority, while also ensuring we get decisions right first time. If eligible, we will always calculate the payment from the date that the person first applied.”Social Security Scotland
Redeterminations and appeals
It’s probably too early to tell whether Social Security Scotland is succeeding in ‘getting it right first time’ with disability benefits. The stage prior to appeal is redetermination. This is when a client can ask Social Security Scotland to look at a decision again and take new information into account. (If that doesn’t resolve the issue, the client can appeal to an independent tribunal).
The chart below shows that only a very small proportion of decisions are re-determined but those that are, tend to find in favour of the client. Around 4% of ADP decisions and 5% of CDP decisions led to requests for re-determination. Of those redeterminations that have been decided, 63% found in favour of the client for ADP and 86% found in favour of the client for CDP.
As mentioned, the next stage after redetermination is an appeal to the Social Security Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal. There have been very few disability appeals so far. By end December 2022, there had been 25 appeals received for CDP, of which ten had been decided. Of those ten, five found in the client’s favour.
By end January 2023, 20 appeals for ADP had been received. The statistics note that due to the small number that had been heard: “it is not currently possible to provide further details on appeals decisions.”
At SJSS Committee, David Wallace discussed the number of redeterminations and referred to the newness of the organisation:
“Inevitably, as we go on, people will become more experienced, more efficient and more productive.”David Wallace, Social Security Scotland
Janet Richardson told the SJSS Committee that a lot of redeterminations related to not enough detail being included in the initial application:
“We realised fairly quickly, because of the number of redeterminations that were coming in, that the client could have told us a lot more, which would have helped us to make a different decision
Since then, we have also put in place a step whereby we contact the client for both adult and child disability payments when they make that claim to talk to them about whether there is anything else they can tell us.”Janet Richardson, Social Security Scotland
In addition to processing new applications, Social Security Scotland is also transferring clients from DWP benefits. The move from Disability Living Allowance to CDP is almost complete, but around 300,000 people need to be moved from Personal Independence Payment to ADP. People moving from DLA to ADP will need to have their award reviewed within a year.
Aside from disability benefits, the next SCP statistics, due in May and covering up to March 2023, will show whether all the new applications received in November have been processed.
The agency is also in the process of sending out around 400,000 Winter Heating Payments over February and March and a new benefit – Carer Support Payment is due to start as a pilot this autumn.
Camilla Kidner, SPICe, March 2023