Scotland will not use private companies to assess benefit claims
Public Finance.co.uk, by Keith Aitken
The new agency set up to run devolved benefits in Scotland will not follow the example set by Whitehall’s Department of Work and Pensions in using private companies to assess the entitlement of claimants.
Jeane Freeman, the Scottish social security minister, told MSPs at Holyrood that the agency would ultimately employ at least 1,500 people to run the 11 benefits – worth around £2.8bn – devolved under the 2016 Scotland Act, which mostly concern disability and carer programmes.
This would make it one of the Scottish government’s biggest executive agencies, she said, and reflected in part a determination to give it a local “human” presence across Scotland.
“It is extremely important that we start how we mean to go on – by listening to people and seeking expert opinion to deliver an agency that respects people’s views and is sensitive and responsive to their different needs and requirements,” Freeman said.
“One of our fundamental principles is that profit should never be a motive nor play any part in assessing or making decisions on people’s health and eligibility for benefits.
“We are building a system based on dignity and respect – this means an assessment process which isn’t demeaning or deliberately difficult.”
She added: “I am very clear that assessments should not be carried out by the private sector and I want to give people in Scotland this assurance as we take forward our new social security agency.”
Claimants’ groups have been fiercely critical of the approach taken to often vulnerable people by private assessment companies like Capital and Atos, which have racked up more than £500 million in fees for the work.
The Commons Public Accounts Committee reported last year that claimants did not receive “an acceptable level of service” from such companies.