Blog | Building safeguards into our social security system

30th October 2020

In our latest blog Public Affairs Officer, Craig, explains how SAMH has been working hard to ensure Scotland's new social security system works for people with mental health problems. 

Recently the Scottish Parliament passed the Social Security Administration and Tribunal Membership (Scotland) Bill.[1] While the title of the Bill may not be the most inspiring, it makes some important changes to Scotland’s new social security system, including introducing real safeguards which could affect people with mental health problems navigating the social security system.

Over the last few months, SAMH worked hard to change the Bill’s provisions on appointees. When it comes to social security, an appointee is someone who can legally act on behalf of the person who is applying for and receiving a benefit.

Before this new Bill, the Scottish social security system only allowed appointees for adults in cases where the person was not able to make decisions by themselves, or to use the official phrase, they “lacked capacity”.  

The new Bill extends the appointee system to include adults who do have capacity. This means anyone can decide to ask someone else to be their appointee – that is, to manage their social security application and receive benefits on their behalf. This is a good thing, because some people with mental health problems can find it really difficult to manage their social security.

So we welcomed this proposal, but we were worried that the Bill did not have enough safeguards to protect someone if their appointee was not acting in their interests: for example, by misusing their money.

We called for the following key changes:

  • Guidance, which will be used by decision-makers within the system to be made law, protecting people’s rights (called statutory guidance)
  • An independent witness to be required when someone applies to become an appointee, to make sure they are a suitable person and that the person on whose behalf they will act understands what is happening and has not been pressurised into agreeing[2]    

We were also worried about the Bill’s provisions on withholding information from a claimant. They meant that information could be withheld if someone like a doctor or nurse believed it would cause serious mental or physical harm. Withholding information like this is a very serious step - while we understand this would only happen very rarely, we wanted closer monitoring to make sure this provision was not misused.

We talked to MSPs and the Scottish Government, and gave evidence to a Parliamentary Committee explaining why we wanted these changes. We were happy that we were listened to and these changes have now been made.

The Bill is arguably quite dry and technical, but crucially it includes very important powers affecting people accessing the Scottish social security system. At SAMH we will continue to campaign for policy, no matter how technical, to be designed in the best interests of people with mental health problems.


[2] SAMH Social Security Administration and Tribunal Membership (Scotland) Bill – Call for views

You might be feeling lower, more stress or anxious at the moment. Even during these unprecedented times, there are things we can all to do protect our mental health. SAMH has developed a coronavirus mental health information hub where you can find information, tips and resources which you may find useful.