SNP Ministers have been urged to apologise after admitting it will take at least nine years to deliver a clutch of devolved social security benefits after yet another delay to the timetable.

Opposition MSPs said the slow pace made a mockery of the SNP’s claim before the 2014 referendum that it could set up a fully independent state in just 18 months.

Under the 2016 Scotland Act that followed the No vote, Holyrood was given power over 11 benefits worth £3bn, roughly 15 per cent of social security spending north of the border.

Despite criticising how the UK Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) oversees these benefits, SNP ministers have previously delayed delivering some of them because of the complexity of the process and the need to set up a new Scottish benefits agency.

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However the Government promised they would be fully operational by the end of the current parliamentary term in 2021.

But in a surprise Holyrood statement, Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said that, to get the system right, the group of benefits would not be fully devolved until 2024.

There could also be a further delay if ministers felt there was a risk to claimants.

A key hold-up is the transfer of cases from the DWP for the Scottish replacement for the personal independent payment (PIP).

There are 190,000 PIP claims in Scotland, worth up to £145.35 a week for a working age person with long-term ill-health or disability.

Ms Somerville told MSPs that new claims for the PIP replacement would start in early 2021 and no one in Scotland would be forced to go through a DWP face-to-face reassessment.

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She said: “We will start the work of transferring people from DWP to our agency next year. This involves moving more than half a million cases – 10% of people in Scotland.

“Such transfers have in the past caused huge problems when DWP has migrated people within its own benefits systems.

“What hasn’t been done before is transferring people from one government’s agency to another’s, and we must do this effectively and securely and in conjunction with the DWP. With their cooperation I expect the majority of people to be transferred by 2023, with all cases fully transferred by 2024.”

Tory MSP Michelle Ballantyne accused the SNP of “utter hypocrisy”.

She said: “For two years, the SNP has slammed the DWP... raised expectations and promised the earth to some of Scotland’s most vulnerable people.

“And after repeated promises that the new system would be up and running by the end of this Parliament, we now learn that it will be 2024 before PIP’s successor is in place.

“And this is from the party that said it could set up an independent country in 18 months. [Ms Somerville] must apologise to the Scottish DWP staff she has repeatedly denigrated.”

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Labour MSP Griffin said: “The SNP Government has left vulnerable people at the mercy of the callous DWP and the Tories for far too long already. Ministers must apologise to everyone in Scotland entitled to social security who is being left at the hands of the Tories.

“Delaying full control of the powers until 2024 is a betrayal of vulnerable people who were told the Scottish Government would assume responsibility within this term.

“It also makes a mockery of SNP promises in 2014 that a separate Scottish state could be set up within 18 months - vulnerable people will have been waiting a decade for the devolution of social security powers.”

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Scottish LibDem social security spokesperson Caron Lindsay said: “People rely on this money and are relying on a smooth changeover. The Tories handling of Universal Credit has shown the damage caused by botching the rollout of benefits.

“This will be really disappointing for those people waiting for a fairer system of benefits, who will now have to wait even longer. That said, this timetable makes a mockery of the SNP’s claim to be able to set up a new country in 18 months.”

Ms Somerville said responsibility for all devolved benefits and their funding would sit with the Scottish Government from April 2020, but their delivery would be phased.

The devolved Carer’s Allowance Supplement and Best Start Grant are already being delivered, with new claims for disability payments opening in 2020, she said.

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