THE roll-out of new benefits in Scotland has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said proposed timescales are "clearly no longer possible". 

She said disability benefits due to be administered in Scotland will continue to be the responsibility of the Department for Work and Pensions.

Meanwhile, controversial plans to make it easier for people to change their gender are among legislative proposals being scrapped as ministers focus on tackling the coronavirus outbreak.

Parliamentary business minister Graeme Dey said three Bills, including one to give councils the power to introduce a new tourist tax, are being mothballed.

He added work is also being halted on planned legislation on fox control.

Ms Somerville said the priority is "maintaining our front-line services and delivering the seven benefits we have in place to support low income families, carers and people facing a bereavement".

She said the UK Government has agreed to continue paying disability benefits including Child Disability Payment and Personal Independence Payment.

She told MSPs: “I had anticipated laying out my plans for launching Scottish disability benefits this week.

“Work had been continuing at pace and I planned to lay out plans for rolling out Child Disability Payment and the Scottish replacement for Personal Independence Payment to the previously agreed timescales alongside, importantly, our plans for a new method of decision making which would in effect end face-to-face assessments.

“Those timescales are clearly no longer possible.”

Scottish Child Payment, which was due to be introduced from this autumn, will also be delayed. The Scottish Government said it will focus on delivering this "as soon as practicably possible".

It said the aim is to start taking applications by the end of 2020 with payments being made from 2021, subject to sufficient staff being in place.

The delivery of existing benefits will continue.

Ms Somerville said: "Our approach to disability assistance was grounded in the professional judgement of health and social care practitioners and they are rightly needed elsewhere at this time. 

"We also need to factor in that there will likely be further impact on Scottish Government and partner organisations staffing levels due to illness or caring responsibilities.

“As such, I have had to take the difficult decision to halt the introduction of disability benefits that were due within the coming year. 

"These will continue to be delivered by the UK Government. This is the only way to ensure people continue to get the financial support they need. It provides certainty and security of payment at a time of great anxiety.

“While I cannot make guarantees around a revised timeline for the introduction of these benefits, I can guarantee that the work will not stop. And I will provide an update to timelines as soon as I am able to do so.

“We will prioritise delivering the Scottish Child Payment and we will do everything humanly possible to deliver this payment as soon as practicably possible. 

"This new payment will play a major part in tackling child poverty, helping those who may be facing even more hardship as a result of coronavirus, and our remaining resources will be directed at that.”

Scottish Conservative social security spokesman Graham Simpson said the move was disappointing but understandable.

The Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, which has now been shelved, had outlined plans for transgender people to receive a Gender Recognition Certificate through self-declaration after six months rather than requiring medical evidence and a two-year period of living as that gender.

The proposed Circular Economy Bill, which was put forward to bring in measures to cut litter and waste, will not now be introduced in this current parliamentary session, nor will legislation that aimed to make Scotland a "good food nation".

Mr Dey said while these were "important Bills", the current coronavirus outbreak with "unknown timescales and consequences" means "we very regrettably need to pare back legislation and focus on the immediate term".