Welcome to the Social Security Advisory Committee’s (SSAC’s) website. Social security legislation can often be complicated. Even to those familiar with regulations, the volume of complex and inter-related detail involved in benefit law can be challenging.
Primary legislation on social security is increasingly becoming a means of securing broad policy objectives, with the detail on how that will be achieved being outlined in both secondary legislation and underpinning enabling guidance. The role of SSAC and its stakeholders is, therefore, becoming ever more important. This is especially true at a time when the Government is preparing to deliver a significant programme of welfare reform. Scrutiny of draft legislation, and our ability to offer independent comment and advice on it, is therefore an important part of what we do.
But we seek to add value in other ways too. For example, at our annual stakeholder event on 8 November we launched our latest independent project – a review in which we will seek to develop a better understanding of vulnerabilities in the benefit system and the implications for the implementation of Universal Credit. We aim to publish our report in Spring 2013 so watch this space!
The SSAC's responsibilities are defined in the Social Security Administration 1992 Act as:
- a general duty to advise the Secretary of State for Social Security and the Department for Social Development (Northern Ireland) on virtually all social security matters except those which are the responsibility of other advisory bodies (eg industrial injuries benefits)
- to consider and report on social security regulations referred under Section 172 of the Social Security Administration 1992 Act
- to consider and report on issues referred by the Secretary of State and Department for Social Development (Northern Ireland) under the equivalent Northern Ireland Act
The general advisory duty of the SSAC
The SSAC's general advisory duty forms the basis of most of its activity, particularly where it decides to pursue issues on its own initiative. Since it was set up the Committee has examined a wide range of policy issues and published its views on these general topics in its periodic stewardship reports.
The SSAC has also taken on, at the request of the Secretary of State, a significant new task of monitoring and scrutinising the Department for Work and Pensions information products. Whilst overall responsibility for Department for Work and Pensions publications rests with the Department, the Committee adds an additional level of quality assurance.
Wherever possible the Department involves the SSAC in major social security policy developments, although major changes are sometimes made without prior consultation with the Committee. The SSAC is usually invited by the Department to participate in any public exercise in its territory, for example, the question of welfare reform. Although the SSAC has no statutory responsibility for operational matters the Committee is encouraged to look at the operational implications of changes and service to the public.
Social security regulations
Most social security regulations come before the SSAC, the only significant exceptions being regulations which go to other advisory bodies or set benefit rates. Relief from routine and/or insignificant regulations is available, since the Act permits the SSAC to agree it does not need formal reference of particular regulations. However, they have to be considered by the SSAC, usually at a monthly meeting.
When the SSAC has considered regulations which it has asked to be formally referred, its report must be presented to Parliament when the regulations are laid with a statement from the Secretary of State showing what has been done (or is intended to be done) about the SSAC's recommendations.
Where the Secretary of State decides that the regulations are needed urgently without a reference to the SSAC before they come into force, the regulations are referred to the Committee after they have been made a report then produced. Where the matter becomes urgent after referral to SSAC, the Secretary of State may proceed to make regulations urgently without waiting for the Committee's report. The report and the Secretary of State's response would then be produced and published at a later date.
The Northern Ireland Responsibilities of the SSAC
The Social Security Administration Act gives the SSAC virtually identical responsibilities in relation to the Northern Ireland social security system as it has for Great Britain. Although the two systems are almost identical they operate in different settings; Northern Ireland is, according to most conventional indicators, more deprived than any British region. There are also differences in social security administration, partly due to the much reduced scale of the Northern Ireland operations compared to those in Great Britain and the continued existence of rates instead of community charge or council tax.
Not covered by the Committee
The Committee is not responsible for:
- industrial injuries
- war pensions or
- occupational pensions
All of which are dealt with by other advisory bodies. Nor does the remit extend to subjects which may interrelate with social security benefits but which are not the responsibility of the Department for Work and Pensions.
- social services
- employment, training and education policies
- health care
- National Insurance contributions and Tax Credits
The Committee takes an interest in the impact of these policy areas on social security but has no statutory advisory responsibility for them.
In the case of National Insurance (NI) contributions and Tax Credits (TC):
This sets up formal arrangements under which the Committee will be invited to comment on matters within HMRC's responsibility and to provide confidential advice to Treasury Ministers.
From April 2000, at the request of the Secretary of State, the Committee took on the significant new task of scrutinising the Department's public information strategy.