A Best Start in Scotland
Mark Willis describes the new maternity grant in Scotland.
The Scottish government has used its devolved power to provide ‘early years assistance’ in the form of a new ‘Best Start grant’, replacing (in Scotland) the Sure Start maternity grant, and expanding on the support previously available.1 A new agency, Social Security Scotland, opened its headquarters in Dundee in the autumn, and the Best Start grant was introduced from 10 December 2018, six months earlier than expected.2 On the same day, additional conditions were added to the Sure Start maternity grant that the claimant must be living in England or Wales, and it is not possible to receive a sure Start maternity grant if a Best Start grant has already been awarded for the same child, unless there has been a specified change in responsibility for the child.3
‘Best Startgrant’ is the name given to a package of three payments, covering pregnancy to school age. The first of these is the ‘pregnancy and baby payment’. The other payments, to be introduced by summer 2019, are an ‘early learning payment’ of £250 from the age of two to three and a half and a ‘school age payment’ of £250 around the child’s fifth birthday. These payments will have similar rules regarding qualifying benefits and responsibility for the child.4 It is not necessary to have qualified for the pregnancy and baby paymentin order to getthe later payments; it will depend on the circumstances at the date of claim.
Pregnancy and baby payment – eligibility
Like the Sure Start maternity grant, the Best Start grant is primarily aimed at households on low incomes. The Best Start grant includes the same qualifying benefits (see CPAG’s Welfare Benefits and Tax Credits Handbook 2018/19, p783), with the addition of housing benefit and any working tax credit. For both schemes, child tax credit or universal credit are qualifying benefits, regardless of earnings or other income, but take-up of the Sure Start maternity grant among working families has been low, with only a third of recipients in work.5
The main difference for the Best Start grant is that claimants who are aged under 18 when they apply, or aged 18 or 19 and a dependant in someone else’s benefit claim, do not need to be in receipt of qualifying benefits, and can qualify regardless of income.
The amount for a new baby is £600 if there is no other dependent child under 16 in the household (compared to £500 for the Sure Start maternity grant). The amount is £300 if there is another dependent child aged under 16 in the household (compared to no Sure Start maternity grant usually payable). When determining whether there is another child in the household, both the Best Start grant and the Sure Start maternity grant do not count any other children where a dependent child/young person has her first baby. Where the other child in the household is not the claimant or the partner’s own child (eg, an adopted older child), the lower Best Start grant payment is made, but the Sure Start maternity grant would be payable if that child was aged over 12 months when the claimant first became responsible for her/him.6 If the only other children are siblings from the same multiple birth, the Best Start grant includes the higher rate for one, and the lower rate for the other children, plus a £300 multiple pregnancy supplement. So, for example, a claimant who has triplets and no other children in the household will receive £600 + £300 + £300 + £300 = £1,500. Comparing this to the Sure Start maternity grant, £500 would be payable for each triplet = £1,500. However, for higher numbers in a multiple birth, the total under the Best Start grant pregnancy and baby payment would work out less, although each child would be eligible for the later payments.
The Best Start grant can be claimed from the 24th week of pregnancy, compared to around 29 weeks (11 weeks before the due date) for the Sure Start maternity grant. There is no requirement for a health professional to sign the form and no need for additional evidence if the claimant has registered for a baby box, which is offered to all pregnant women in Scotland at around 20–24 weeks. The latest that a claim for a Best Start grant should be made is six months after the birth (now also the deadline for the Sure Start maternity grant).7 The date of claim is usually the date the claim is received. There is a provision to allow a late Best Start grantclaim made within 20 working days of the end of the six months if waiting for a decision on a qualifying benefit.
A draft amendment will allow a Best Start grant to be awarded without a new claim if a previous claim was turned down but a qualifying benefit has been awarded on appeal.8 There is also a provision, as for the Sure Start maternity grant, to claim before the child’s first birthday where the claimant has taken on responsibility for a child in specific circumstances. Social Security Scotland accepts claims online at www.mygov.scot/pregnancy-and-baby-payment, by phone on 0800 182 2222 or in writing on a claim form which can be downloaded or requested by phone.
The person who claims a Best Start grant must be ordinarily resident in Scotland. This will usually be accepted if the claimant or partner is receiving a qualifying benefit at a Scottish address. For claimants under 18, who might not be getting a qualifying benefit, it is also necessary to be habitually resident in the European Economic Area or Switzerland, but there is no need to show a ‘right to reside’ as is required for means-tested benefits. Some claimants, such as refugees, only need to show ordinary residence in Scotland.
People subject to immigration control are not specifically excluded, but would not usually be able to receive the qualifying benefits, so only those under 18 are likely to be able to qualify. However, the Best Start grant may be added to the definition of ‘public funds’, which would mean a payment could have an impact on those who are in the UK with a condition of no recourse to public funds, so they should get immigration advice.
A Best Start grant decision can be ‘redetermined’ if requested within 31 days, and a late request with good reason can be accepted up to one year later. Social Security Scotland should redetermine the decision within 16 working days of the request. If it fails to do so, it must notify the claimant that s/he has a right to appeal to the First-tier Tribunal in Scotland.9
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- 1. s23 Scotland Act 2016; s32, Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018
- 2. Early Years Assistance (Best Start Grants) (Scotland) Regs 2018, No.370
- 3. Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 (Best Start Grants) (Consequential Modifications and Saving) Order 2018, No.1138
- 4. Early Years Assistance (Best Start Grants) (Scotland) Amendment (No.2) Regs 2019 (draft)
- 5. www.gov.uk/government/publications/social-fund-annual-report-2017-to-201...
- 6. Loans for Mortgage Interest and Social Fund Maternity Grant (Amendment) Regs 2018, No.307
- 7. Social Security (Claims and Payments) (Social Fund Maternity Grant) (Amendment) Regs 2018, No.989
- 8. Early Years Assistance (Best Start Grants) (Scotland) Amendment (No.1) Regs 2019 (draft)
- 9. Sch 1, Part 1, Early Years Assistance (Best Start Grants) (Scotland) Regs 2018, No.370; ss41 and 43, Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018