Holyrood committee to investigate unclaimed benefits

An inquiry has been launched by Holyrood’s social security committee as estimates suggest a huge number of benefits remain unclaimed by those eligible for them.

Bob Doris MSP

The inquiry aims to explore the extent of the issue and what can be done to tackle it.

Statistics from HMRC and DWP estimated that in 2016/17 only 31% of families without children eligible for Working Tax Credit claimed, while only 60% of those eligible for Pension Credit claimed.

However, the full extent of benefit non-take-up in the UK is unknown because of difficulties in estimating eligibility.

The committee is now looking for information on issues related to benefit uptake including why estimates of take-up are available for some benefits but not for others, and the impact of awareness raising campaigns in improving benefit uptake.

The committee is also investigating how technology could help automate some benefits to improve take-up and how take-up rates for the new Scottish social security benefits will be impacted by their link to the take-up rates for UK benefits.

Bob Doris MSP, convener of the social security committee, said: “There can be any number of reasons for low benefit uptake rates, but it is absolutely essential that we learn the scale of this challenge and take every possible action to improve uptake.

“There is no doubt the stigma of claiming benefits hinders uptake while too often people are simply not aware of the benefits they are entitled to. Administration processes are also often too complex, and our inquiry is determined to identify any barriers to benefit uptake and how we can remove these.

“The committee will consider the Scottish Government strategy on benefit uptake which will be published in October, but what is clear is that everything possible must be done to ensure those in need receive the full benefits they are entitled to.”

Other issues the committee is keen to explore include whether different approaches are required for different benefits, and the impact of various eligibility criteria upon take-up rates.

The call for views is open until October 21.

The announcement was welcomed by Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) which gave evidence to the committee last week.

CAS social justice spokesperson, Nina Ballantyne, said: “The Scottish CAB network helps hundreds of thousands of people every year, and many of those are people who are struggling to make ends meet. We often find that people are entitled to payments they have not been claiming and helping them get what they’re owed can be life-changing.

“The reasons behind people not receiving what they’re entitled to vary, but in our experience they include stigma, the difficulty of the application system, including digital barriers, and low awareness of particular benefits or eligibility.

“This does require more extensive analysis however, so we are pleased that MSPs are going to look into the issue, and we will be keen to work with them in this and to submit further evidence.”

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