The Scottish government has pledged to re-open the Independent Living Fund (ILF) to new applicants after it is devolved from Westminster in 2015.
Funding for current users of the ILF, which provides payments for higher level support to people with disabilities, will be devolved from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to the Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh administrations and to English councils from July.
The Scottish government has said it will put in £5m to open the fund to new applicants in Scotland – it has been closed to them since 2010 – as well as £500,000 to run it.
A spokeswoman said: “There is no quota and no limit to how many people can access this fund. However we expect that £5 million will be enough to cover likely demand.”
James Blair, policy coordinator at Self Directed Support Scotland, said it was estimated that the extra money could enable around 600 more people to benefit from the fund.
He added: “It is quite a major signal from government that they are willing to work with disabled people to create a social care system. That does not often happen; in the rest of the UK that is not commonplace.”
The Scottish government has also pledged that funding criteria for current users of the fund – about 3,000 people in Scotland – will remain the same after the money is devolved.
Existing users will transfer to the new fund from 1 July 2015 and it will open to new users later on in 2015-16. The government spokeswoman said exact dates would be decided with “disabled people and/or their representative groups”.
A DWP spokesman said that, in December 2013, the ILF allocation for Scotland was £47.3m. He said the allocation to the Scottish government in 2015 would be “in line with current usage”, but the figures were still being finalised.
He said there were no plans “at this stage” to put money back into the fund that had been taken out when recipients died or became ineligible for the scheme.
Funding for the scheme beyond 2017 will be determined by the next spending review.
A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “This is normal practice for managing public expenditure and is the same process that the existing ILF was subjected to.
“Westminster is also committed to supporting existing users, the Scottish government expects them to honour this commitment. It is our intention for this to be a long standing commitment. How this will be funded beyond 2017 will be for Scottish ministers to determine.”
Scotland’s deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “Last year we met with disability groups who asked that a Scottish Independent Living Fund be re-opened to new users, while protecting the packages of existing users.
“We were also asked that we jointly develop the scheme with disabled people on a national basis. We have listened to their views, which is why we are protecting existing users and opening the fund to new users.”
Northern Ireland and Wales
Details of how the ILF will work in Northern Ireland and Wales after the funding is devolved are still being worked out.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety for Northern Ireland (DHSSPNI) said a decision had not yet been made on the future of the fund in Northern Ireland.
She said the department had worked closely with relevant people including fund users, their carers and families. “However, the department will carry out a full public consultation on any proposals before [health] minister [Edwin] Poots makes a final decision later this year about the Fund’s future in Northern Ireland.”
She said as of 31 March 2012 there were 776 people in Northern Ireland who received ILF and the total cost was approximately £10m.
A Welsh Assembly spokesman said: “DWP ministers have only very recently confirmed to Welsh government ministers the detail of the ILF’s closure next year.
“We now plan to consult with representatives of stakeholders, including recipients of ILF in Wales, on the options open to us to continue to meet future care needs and will undertake a public consultation on those options.
“Following this consultation we will be in a stronger position to gauge how best to meet those needs and to put arrangements in place in good time to do so.
“The ILF has given an assurance that right up until its closure on 30 June 2015 recipients will continue to receive their current support.”