EUROPEAN migrants may have difficulties accessing new devolved benefits after the Scottish Government “missed an opportunity” to involve them in a wide-ranging consultation, the Scottish Greens have warned.

More than 2,000 people are set to take part in ‘Experience Panels’, which social security minister Jeane Freeman hopes will ensure her department can “design, build and refine a new and better” welfare system.

But in an answer to a parliamentary question tabled by co-convenor of the Scottish Greens Patrick Harvie, Freeman admitted she had no idea how many European migrants will take part in the panels because her department didn’t record participants’ immigration status.

The Social Security (Scotland) Bill, introduced by Freeman last week, will give the Scottish Government the powers to deliver eleven benefits devolved as part of the Scotland Act 2016.

A new academic study commissioned by the Scottish Greens warned that European migrants must be involved in Freeman’s Experience Panels or their “diverse and complex” needs may not be met.

The report - based on findings from the four-year Social Support and Migration in Scotland (SSAMIS) project - called on the Scottish Government to use the social security consultation to engage with migrants who are “evidently experiencing difficulties accessing the support they are entitled to”.

Researchers spoke to more than 200 Central and Eastern Europeans (CEEs) from Poland, Ukraine, Slovakia, Romania, Czech Republic, Kazakhstan, Hungary and Azerbaijan.

The report said the majority came to Scotland to seek work and welfare was not a motivating factor but many are on low incomes and are entitled to in-work benefits.

Academics found their experiences of the existing welfare system are “characterised by lack of information, limited awareness of their entitlements and a general anxiety about engaging with welfare and support services”.

It warned that “migrant voices are not being heard, and their needs are not being met”, partly due to language barriers but also because the system is overcomplicated.

The study commissioned by the Scottish Greens found that migrants’ “perspectives are necessary to develop services and forms of support that meet the diverse and complex needs of migrant claimants across Scotland”.

It added: “The upcoming Social Security Experience Panels are an opportunity to engage with a client group that is evidently experiencing difficulties accessing the support they are entitled to, so that – in the words of Jeane Freeman MSP – we can ‘build and refine a better model… that treat[s] people with fairness, dignity and respect’.”

Freeman has previously insisted the new welfare system for Scotland would not be “a simple inheritance” and pledged to “work in partnership with the people of Scotland to do things in a different way – one that is fairer, more inclusive, dignified and more respectful”.

However, when Harvie asked her last week for a breakdown of consultation participants by immigration status, she said: “The registration form did not collect information on immigration status.”

Harvie, who is economy spokesman for the Scottish Greens, said: "The creation of a Scottish social security system is a chance to improve everyone's experience of a vital economic safety net.

“Migrants make a huge contribution to Scotland's public services and businesses yet our report shows many are in need of financial support and are let down by lack of information, unnecessary bureaucracy and inconsistent rules.

“Scottish Ministers are right to condemn the UK Government's backward attitude to both social security and migrants, so it's disappointing that they have missed an opportunity to listen to migrant voices to shape the new devolved social security system.”

Joanna Zawadzka, co-founder of support group Migrants Scotland, said it is “disappointing that these voiceless communities have not been considered on this occasion”.

She added: “We believe that the Scottish Government should have made greater efforts to contact organisations working with and representing different migrant groups and sought their views during the consultation process for The Social Security (Scotland) Bill.”

Maciej Dokurno, who founded Fife Migrants Forum, which supports migrants who are between jobs, said individual migrants can have difficulty responding to official consultations.

He said: “This could be due to a language barrier, or simply because participation in consultations may not be their priority.

“The nature of a lot of work that migrants do is that they may be, from time to time, between employment - but our experience shows that when it happens all they are asking for is that we help them find another job as soon as possible, rather than help them with benefits.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said suggestions by the Scottish Greens that an opportunity to engage with migrants was missed are “wrong”.

She said: “During the social security consultation, we spoke directly to minority and migrant communities and listened closely to what they told us in terms of the issues they faced of access and culture.

“We have worked in partnership with people, including migrants, with direct experience of social security to co-design a rights based system founded on the principles of dignity and respect.

“Going forward, we remain committed to ensuring that Experience Panels are fully representative of the people of Scotland and that all views are reflected.”