SHIRLEY-Anne Somerville has been urged not to pay out to the UK Government – if a Scottish social security campaign leads to more people claiming benefits from Westminster.

Westminster agreed to devolve responsibility for 11 payments under the recommendations of the post-devolution Smith Commission, but not everyone who is entitled to support actually takes it up.

Now, if the Scottish Government runs an awareness drive to make sure that help reaches more eligible people, it could receive a bill from Westminster to cover any uptick in claims for reserved payments – even though all those claiming would be entitled to the cash anyway. The issue is described as “policy spill-over”.

Now the cross-party Social Security Committee has urged the Scottish Government to refuse any such payout.

In a letter to Somerville, the Social Security Secretary, the committee said it is “extremely concerned” about the prospect that a reimbursement claim from Westminster could also affect the block grant – the amount allocated to Scotland under the Barnett Formula.

The letter, written by the committee chairman as part of pre-Budget scrutiny processes, states that this scenario “does not appear to be a scenario envisaged” when the fiscal framework was agreed in 2016.

That followed almost one year of talks between Holyrood and the Treasury, which saw deadlines missed and reset.

Westminster’s lead negotiator, Chief Treasury Secretary Greg Hands, went on holiday during latter stages of the talks.

Amongst the stumbling blocks was a call for a review at the five-year mark, which is now set to take place in 2021.

The letter states: “In the view of the committee, any increase in uptake of reserved benefits, proven to have arisen solely from a Scottish Government campaign, must not in any circumstances give rise to a claim for reimbursement from the UK Government.”

The move comes as the committee begins an enquiry into the uptake of benefits.

Last night Doris told The National: “We want to see uptake levels maximised irrespective of whether that is a devolved or a reserved benefit.

“The committee has already highlighted that 40% of those entitled to pension credit do not claim it.

“Our inquiry will make recommendations on benefit uptake in due course.

“However, irrespective of those recommendations, we believe the behavioural effects of policy spill-over should be addressed as a matter of urgency during the review of the fiscal framework.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Alongside the UK Government, we agreed guidance in December 2017 on how the process for direct effect spill-overs would work, and continue to engage with them through the Joint Exchequer Committee regarding the process for behavioural effect spill-overs. As the Cabinet Secretary has made clear, there has not yet been an agreement on behaviour effect spill-overs between the two Governments.”

The committee’s letter also calls on the Scottish Government to work with councils body Cosla to review the operation of the Scottish Welfare Fund, which distributes crisis and community care grants to low-income families.

According to the committee, this is under “significant pressure due to inflation and rising demand”, with some authorities choosing not to advertise the fund due to lack of resources.