Updated: Jun 3
Neale has slammed the UK government as "staggeringly incompetent” following claims that more than 7,000 Scots may have missed out on a payment to support people who have lost their spouses.
Neale has launched a campaign to push the UK government to publish a yearly estimated take-up rate of Bereavement Support Payment (BSP), as already happens for other social-security payments such as Pension Credit.
The campaign comes after Neale managed to extract new information from the UK government confirming that the Department for Work and Pensions has no intention to assess the take-up rate of BSP.
In February 2019, Labour MP Colleen Fletcher asked the UK government about the new benefit and was told that ‘to date no assessment of the take up rate of BSP has been made’. Neale followed this up with a written parliamentary question in April this year, but the minister, Guy Opperman MP, now claims that it is not possible to carry out such an assessment of BSP because ‘this would require monthly data on deaths by age and marital status’.
However, using figures supplied by the House of Commons Library and the National Records of Scotland, Neale and his team have estimated the take-up rate of Bereavement Support Payment between April 2017 and February 2020 to be just 60 percent in Scotland.
If correct, this means that Bereavement Support Payment has one of the lowest take-up rates of any social-security payment in the UK, putting BSP on par with the notoriously under-claimed Pension Credit. By comparison, Income Support and Income-related Employment and Support Allowance has a take-up rate of 90 percent and Housing Benefit 80 percent.
Bereavement Support Payment was introduced in April 2017 to replace Widowed Parent’s Allowance, Bereavement Allowance, and Bereavement Payments. It is available to people whose husband, wife, or civil partner died in the last 21 months. The deceased must have been under pension age at the time of their death and have paid National Insurance contributions for at least 25 weeks in one tax year since 6 April 1975.
Commenting, Neale said:
“I am shocked that so much money may have been deprived from people across Scotland.
“The minister claims that you can’t accurately assess the take-up rate of Bereavement Support Payment because the UK government doesn’t collect the necessary data. If we take that at face value, we’re being told that the DWP introduced a new social-security payment with absolutely no way of assessing whether it was supporting people who had just lost their partners.
“That is at best a staggeringly incompetent approach to supporting people.
“I first became aware of a possible issue when a constituent contacted me about missing out on some of the bereavement payment. He was unaware he was eligible until a chance comment from a friend and by that time he’d missed out on money, since you only get the full entitlement if you apply within three months of your partner’s death.
“Some people have sadly fared even worse. If our calculations are right, an appalling 7,000 people have missed out on any payment at all, including around 122 in my Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath Constituency.
“If the UK government can estimate the take-up rate of other social-security payments, they can do the same for BSP. It wasn’t hard for my team to get the necessary figures, factor in some assumptions drawn from sources like UN reports and the UK government’s own statistics, and come up with an estimated take-up rate.
“I’ll be ramping up the pressure on the UK government over the next few months to make sure more people don’t miss out on the financial support they are due. This is important work at any time, but particularly in the tragic context of the Covid-pandemic where so many people have been bereaved in the last year.”