The UK and Scottish Governments must work more closely together to ensure people get the benefits they are entitled to, a new report by the Scottish Parliament’s Social Security Committee has said. It is estimated that currently billions of pounds in benefits go unclaimed every year.
The Committee welcomed the Scottish Government’s statutory duty to have a benefit uptake strategy and praised the Scottish Government for their attempts to increase the take-up of devolved benefits. They expressed express alarm at the DWP’s lack of benefit take-up strategy. The Committee suggested that Social Security Scotland could take the lead on driving forward uptake strategies for both devolved and reserved benefits.
The report raised concerns about the lack of accurate data on estimating eligibility and take-up, meaning the full extent of the problem is not known. The Committee recommended the UK and Scottish Government commission joint research to improve the data available.
The Committee also highlight the continuing barriers which can mean people do not claim benefits they are entitled to. These include the stigma of claiming, people being unaware of what they are entitled to, onerous application processes, and those living in rural Scotland facing geographical barriers.
The report also warns that the current ‘digital by default’ approach in Universal Credit is excluding people who are not IT literate or don’t have access to the internet. The Committee wants all benefits to be available through multiple application channels.
Bob Doris MSP, Convener of the Social Security Committee said:
“It is simply not good enough that billions in benefits continue to go unclaimed every year. Given one of the DWP’s stated aims with Universal Credit was to increase take-up, the fact they have no strategy to achieve this is deeply alarming.
“It is absolutely vital we get more accurate data on the numbers entitled to benefits so that any communications strategies can be targeted at those in need who are missing out.
“Data sharing across Governments and agencies is a key factor in improving take-up rates and we are adamant that GDPR must not be used as an excuse to not share data. It’s also crucial that welfare agencies are adequately funded and we are seeking increased and sustained funding for these agencies going forward.
“Our evidence has made it clear that both governments must do more to work productively together to ensure people receive the benefits they are entitled to and remove any barriers which mean people miss out.”
The convener added:
“We have also heard concerns over a possible policy spillover issue where if the Scottish Government increases the uptake of a reserved benefit, then they may have to financially compensate the UK Government. That’s unacceptable. We need urgent clarity on this issue and a far greater level of coordination for maximising benefit take-up, whether devolved or reserved, is required”.