14. Advice, representation and advocacy
Impact of the devolved benefits
14.1 The Scottish Government set out its proposals for the impact of the devolved benefits in Part 3 of the consultation document.
Question - What roles should publicly funded advice providers play in the development of a new Scottish social security system?
14.2 In total, 152 respondents answered this question, of which 100 were organisations and 52 were individuals.
14.3 The main themes emerging were:
- that advice organisations were well placed to advise the Scottish Government on the development of a new system;
- that advice services played a key role in providing impartial advice to individuals;
- the need for support for individuals in negotiating complexities around devolved and reserved benefits;
- the need for resources for advice services; and
- the potential of introducing a statutory right to advice or advocacy.
Advising on a new system
14.4 A large number of respondents indicated that advice organisations were well placed to advise the Scottish Government on the development of a new social security system. There were three main roles:
- identifying where current problems exist - through evidence, service user experiences, and systems such as Early Warning Systems which identify issues emerging from frontline advisors;
- advising on policy and practice development - co-producing the new system, being consulted at key stages, testing ideas and systems and gathering service user feedback; and
- identifying where new problems emerge - as the new system is implemented, relating service user experiences and difficulties, providing valuable insights into how the new systems work in practice, providing a 'bridging role' in providing intelligence about issues on the ground and driving continuous improvement.
14.5 Many indicated that advice agencies were experts and should be key partners in the design of a new Scottish social security system. Respondents pointed to key organisations, including Citizens Advice Scotland, Rights Advice Scotland and COSLA, which they felt should be involved.
"In the light of this we would recommend that the Scottish Government should carry out a separate consultation exercise on developing advice and advocacy services to support benefit claimants."
The Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers
"Advice providers could also play a leading role in highlighting areas where improvements to social security may be necessary, either by reporting the impact that they have on the clients that they are supporting, or by means of the policy and research activities that many larger advice providers are routinely engaged in."
Children in Scotland
"It is clear that advice providers must be involved in the development of the new Scottish social security system as they are informed by the direct experience of those they work with and support. As a key stakeholder, advice providers must be involved in a focused way in developing the structures of the new system especially in terms of the application process and the appeals process."
Providing impartial advice
14.6 A large number of respondents highlighted the importance of advice services in providing impartial advice, raising awareness of individual rights, and helping individuals to negotiate the changes coming about because of a new system. Many highlighted the vital role which advice plays, and the importance of this being independent and impartial. Many talked of the advice provided by Citizens Advice Bureaux and social landlords, and a few mentioned other advice providers, for example, those based in colleges and universities.
"It is important that advice is seen to be independent, even if it is publicly funded."
"Given the central importance of citizen's advice bureaux to the current social security system, it is essential that this role is built into the development of a new Scottish system."
Citizens Advice Scotland
14.7 A few respondents pointed to the scope for advice agencies to have a more formal role in the new social security system, as an initial point of contact when people seek advice on their entitlement to benefits.
"Advice providers might, for instance, be given a more formal role as one of the first point of contact for people who need more information about the benefits they might be entitled to or who need help and support initiating a claim."
14.8 However, a few organisations felt that the need for advice agencies to be impartial meant that they needed to be careful about how involved they became in developing a new social security system.
"All agreed these agencies need to remain impartial and not play a significant role in the new system other than to assist with policy and review of policy and reflect trends and impacts of welfare."
HIV-Aids Carers and Family Service Provider Scotland
14.9 Some highlighted the particular importance of independent advice given the complexities which could arise from having a Scottish social security system and a UK system, which dealt with reserved benefits. Some also talked about the positive messages that advice agencies could provide in terms of access to rights, and empowering individuals within the new system. A few highlighted the role that advice agencies could play in ensuring that individuals have up to date and accurate information about how the new system would operate.
"Investing in advice services will help to ensure that claimants are aware of their entitlements and what to expect from the system. Support and advocacy services can help people to access the support they need, preventing issues arising elsewhere and potentially helping to avoid costly interventions. Support with applications can also help to reduce administrative errors and delays."
Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland
Resourcing advice services
14.10 Many respondents talked about the resources that would be required to ensure that advice was central to a new Scottish social security system. Many expressed their concern that advice services were under pressure, and had been negatively impacted by public sector budget cuts. Many felt that demand for advice services was likely to increase in the transition to the new system, particularly with people having to navigate both a Scottish and UK social security system. Some indicated that making the provision of advice a key part of the new social security system was central to meeting the commitment of putting the user experience first, and making sure individuals are aware of their rights.
14.11 Many expressed a broad view that advice services needed to be well resourced. A small number talked about how advice should be provided. A few housing organisations highlighted the potential role of housing associations in advice provision, through using their facilities as a base for advice, or involving associations as advice providers.
"The RSL sector has increased its role substantially in the advice sector over recent years as can be seen from our growing membership of advice providers, and staff there are well placed in local communities to identify problems and be pro-active in assisting claimants with benefits. This is largely happening without any public finance being provided."
Welfare Rights Officers Forum
14.12 A few individuals (and some others) highlighted the important role of Citizens Advice Bureaux. And a few other individuals felt that legal aid support was important in terms of accessing advice.
"Organisations such as Citizens Advice Bureau have important roles to play. They need to be better financed. It is particularly difficult to get impartial advice in remote rural areas and this needs to be addressed."
14.13 A few respondents suggested the creation of a new advice service at either national or local level, as a 'one stop shop' for advice provision. However, others felt that the Scottish Government should work with advice providers to understand advice needs and resource requirements, and how this should be met.
14.14 Some respondents, and a few who responded to the summary version of the consultation, felt that there was a need for a statutory right to advice or advocacy embedded in legislation. These respondents largely felt that this would be in keeping with the principles of dignity and respect within the new social security system.
14.15 Respondents also highlighted the importance of:
- collaboration - between advice agencies, at both local and national level;
- standards and training - for advice agencies to ensure quality of advice and consistency across the country; and
- advice for vulnerable groups and ensuring equality - highlighting the need for support for people who may face disadvantage or inequality, including young people in care or leaving care, people leaving prison, people for whom English is not their first language, disabled people and women (including those experiencing domestic abuse).
14.16 A few also felt that advice providers could play a key role in identifying inequalities in the new system and working to address these. One respondent highlighted the need for information and advice to be available in BSL, using Scottish signers.
"They should also provide advice if an individual feels they have experienced discrimination or racism from the system and offer opportunity to see redress. Advice providers should also seek to identify especially marginalised groups and ensure they are not further disadvantaged by the new system."
Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights
"Independent advocacy plays a key role in ensuring children and young people have the opportunity to raise comments and complaints about matters which affect them, and access to this must be a feature of the new social security system."
"A consistent feature of reports from General Practitioners at the Deep End is that referral services in deprived areas have to be prompt, reliable, flexible, local and, above all, trusted, if they are to work well for often vulnerable patients."
General Practitioners at the Deep End
Question - What steps need to be taken to understand the likely impact of the transfer of the devolved benefits on publicly funded advice in Scotland?
14.17 In total, 102 respondents provided comments on this question. This included 63 organisations and 39 individuals. However, a few simply stated that they did not know what steps needed to be taken, or they were not experts in the area. Therefore, there were 93 substantive comments on this question.
14.18 The main themes emerging were:
- the need to understand the current landscape;
- the need to involve advice providers in the process of developing a new Scottish social security system; and
- the need to recognise the likely increase in demands on advice services during the transition to the new system.
Understanding the current landscape
14.19 Many respondents felt that there was a need to better understand the landscape in Scotland in terms of demand for and provision of advice services. Respondents suggested that this would explore:
- provision of advice - including in different locations (such as in urban and rural locations) and of different types of advice;
- demand for advice and profile of service users;
- funding patterns;
- what is and isn't working in existing advice provision - including exploring barriers, gaps and why people aren't using some services; and
- the wider context - what happens in other countries around advice provision.
"The opportunity should be taken to have a full review of what advice provision currently exists, how it is funded, and how this could be better organised to remove gaps and duplications."
Argyll and Bute Council
"Vulnerable people often have many and complex needs that cannot easily be put in to a rigid system of assistance."
The Salvation Army
14.20 Many were also keen that this review should be followed up with a projection of how advice requirements might change in light of a new Scottish social security system, including detailed information about who might be most affected by change and require advice, and predicted forecasts for demand. A few indicated that it was quite difficult to comment on this question in detail until they knew more about how the new social security system would develop. A few emphasised the importance of thinking carefully about any changes also happening at UK level, and the requirements placed on advice providers as a result of these changes, as well as those at Scottish level.
Involving advice providers
14.21 Many respondents, across a wide range of respondent groupings, felt that there was a need for detailed discussions between advice providers and the Scottish Government or new social security agency about:
- the current context for advice provision;
- the likely demand for new services;
- training, funding and resources;
- the timing of changes - with notice so that providers could plan provision; and
- communication, information sharing and on-going relationships - including user groups, local advice forums, and other mechanisms for identifying feedback on the transition to the new system.
14.22 Many felt that there was a need to work closely with advice providers before, during and after the transition to the new system. Some, particularly individuals, highlighted the need to involve a wide range of service users in the process, through close working with advice providers.
"Ask recipients and advice providers as the experience unfolds."
Aberdeen Action on Disability
"Talk to as many disabled people, parents, carers, siblings, support workers, disability orgs as possible."
Recognising increasing demands on advice services
14.23 Many respondents expressed a clear view that demand for advice services would increase during and shortly after the transition to the new system. A few felt that in the longer term, the need for advice could decrease if the new social security system placed the user experience at its centre.
"If the new powers are to be taken full advantage of, there is an opportunity to make the system work for the citizen - If the system works well in the long term, there should be less pressure on the advice sector."
Advice Direct Scotland
14.24 Many felt that the transition to the new system would result in increased pressure on advice services, and suggested that there was a need for either maintained or increased funding and resources. While some local authority respondents felt that funding levels should be maintained and targeted based on need, others felt that the Scottish Government should consider committing more funding to advice if required. Many disability, poverty, advice and support organisations and individuals felt that there would be a clear increase in support required, which combined with additional complexity meant that more resources should be committed to advice over the long term. Some individuals mentioned a specific need to support Citizens Advice Bureaux.
14.25 A few respondents reiterated concerns about changes at UK level, and the complexity that this could create, as highlighted in the previous question.
14.26 Respondents also highlighted the need for:
- training for advice providers;
- awareness raising and information provision activity - both for individuals and for advice providers; and
- continuous improvement - monitoring the impact of the new system on advice requirements in Scotland, and adjusting accordingly.
Question - How could the transfer of the devolved benefits to Scotland be used to drive improvements in the provision of publicly funded advice?
14.27 In total, 96 respondents commented on this question (67 organisations and 29 individuals). However, a few simply indicated that they were unsure.
14.28 For those providing substantive comments, the main themes were:
- working together;
- quality and standards; and
- equality of access.
14.29 Some respondents emphasised the importance of joint working in driving improvements in publicly funded advice provision. A wide range of ideas were suggested around working together, including:
- strengthening connections between publicly funded advice agencies, independent advocacy services, community, equality and third sector organisations - including closer working with Disabled People's Organisations, Registered Social Landlords, the NHS and health organisations, employability organisations and others;
- linking advice on benefits with a range of other issues, to provide a holistic, streamlined and person-centred advice service;
- a strategic long term plan which reduces competition and over provision of advice, while addressing gaps and providing greater efficiency;
- co-locating services at local level, to strengthen connections to local communities;
- improving joint working and communication between the social security agency and advice providers, to reduce errors and demand for advice;
- regular liaison between advice providers and the Scottish Government to drive continuous improvement;
- joint working between local government and Scottish Government; and
- joint working with service users.
"As the consultation paper suggests, advice and help on devolved benefits could be linked to advice and help on other issues."
"If the devolved benefits were administered as a collective package with clear connections between them rather than individually administered, this would encourage the advice sector to look at an individual's needs more holistically and therefore drive a change in methodology."
Glasgow City Council
" DWP research has shown clearly the value of co-location of advice services in providing better take up of advice and benefits. We consider that the provision of employability and advice hubs should be encouraged."
Argyll and Bute Council
14.30 Some respondents expressed the need for advice services to be adequately resourced and funded. Some felt that advice provision needed to be properly resourced in order to improve, and that improvement could not occur within an environment of spending cuts.
14.31 A few reiterated the need for a long term plan for advice provision, with funding allocated based on this. A few indicated that they would welcome a more strategic and less competitive funding environment. A few highlighted that it was important to fund small, local organisations who were able to offer a personal service, and a few volunteer and carers organisations specifically felt that there was a need for more funding for Citizens Advice Bureaux.
Quality and standards
14.32 Some respondents talked about the need to drive improvements around the standard and quality of advice provision. Most indicated that they believed that the Scottish National Standards for Information and Advice Providers were positive, and were already driving improvement through peer review, audit and continuous improvement. Most felt that, in the future, advice providers should be required to meet these Scottish National Standards, perhaps with a short lead in time. A few respondents who provided summary responses to the consultation talked of the good work of the Scottish Legal Aid Board in supporting advice sector projects to ensure high quality advice provision, and called for continued funding to enable this to continue.
"…the National Standards should be a stipulation of any organisation applying for funding, to ensure the funder that quality services are being provided."
Equality of access
14.33 Some respondents emphasised the importance of equality of access to advice services. These respondents highlighted that some individuals may have particular needs, or experience particular situations which require specialist support. Respondents mentioned the needs of disabled people, people with mental health issues, people with learning difficulties, people with poor health, older people, single parents, women experiencing domestic abuse and people living in rural areas.
14.34 A few highlighted the particular barriers faced by multiple disadvantage, for example, disabled people living in a rural area, in terms of accessing advice. A few indicated the particular barriers that disabled people may experience in terms of physical access to advice services, isolation and communication barriers.
14.35 Some felt that there was a need for specialist training and special advisors on equality and the experiences of key groups of individuals, while others felt that there was a need for separate, tailored specialist advice services for people with particular experiences or characteristics.
"Separate advice services will be needed for particular groups who have very particular needs because of their situation such as single parents, people with learning disabilities, mental health issues etc. - with specialist advisers trained in the issues faced by those particular groups that require understanding of how to support claimants effectively."
One Parent Families Scotland
"A central aim of the new Scottish social security system must be to ensure that those who require to do so are able to access advice and assistance. This is very much in line with the pledge in the ministerial foreword that no one should fall through the gaps."
Money Advice Scotland
14.36 The Joseph Rowntree Foundation highlighted the benefits of both bringing together and co-locating a range of services related to income and work, and embedding advice and support into services that people in poverty already use - such as GP surgeries, social housing providers, community organisations and Jobcentres.
14.37 Respondents also mentioned:
- the need for training;
- a desire to see a right to advice embedded in legislation;
- the need to raise awareness of the new system; and
- the need to advise on both Scottish and UK benefits.
14.38 The Scottish Government set out its proposals for advocacy in Part 3 of the consultation document.
Question - Do you think that Independent Advocacy services should be available to help people successfully claim appropriate benefits? Please explain why.
|Table 14.1 Do you think that Independent Advocacy services should be available to help people successfully claim appropriate benefits?|
|All respondents answering||168||97%||6||3%||174|
Note: A full breakdown of responses by respondent group is included in Annex 2 (available to download separately as part of this publication).
14.39 A total of 174 respondents answered the closed part of the question. The majority of respondents (97%) said that independent advocacy services should be available to help people successfully claim appropriate benefits. There was overall support from across respondent groups.
14.40 Further explanation was provided by 153 respondents (111 organisations and 42 individuals). Almost all of those who commented had said 'yes', that independent advocacy services should be available to help people claim benefits.
14.41 The main themes emerging were:
- that additional support should be available for those who need it;
- the independent advocacy would help ensure impartiality;
- that advocacy and advice services needed to work jointly; and
- that independent advocacy could result in resource savings.
Additional support for those who need it
14.42 A large number of those supporting independent advocacy felt that it was required in order to provide additional support through the social security system, for those who need it most. Many felt that this would help to address inequalities and barriers experienced by service users, particularly the most vulnerable in society. Respondents specifically mentioned the needs of disabled people, people with learning or mental health difficulties, people with terminal illnesses, minority ethnic communities and women who experience domestic abuse.
"Very complicated system so many people can't do it alone."
14.43 Respondents felt that advocacy helped to:
- give people a voice, empower them and build control over their lives;
- support people who may not be able to do things themselves;
- enable people to make informed decisions;
- encourage people to apply for social security benefits; and
- act as a barrier to inappropriate conduct and record any failings or inaccuracies in the process.
14.44 A few respondents expressed support for, or expressed ideas very similar to, the response from the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland (The ALLIANCE) to this question.
"We believe that independent advocacy:Provides an enhanced level of support for people during assessment processes.Goes some way to empowering people in an inherently unequal situation.Acts as a barrier to inappropriate conduct by assessors.Enables a witness to inaccurate recording of findings in such processes."
Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland (The ALLIANCE)
14.45 A few felt that independent advocacy would fit well with Principle 4 of the proposed new social security system, of 'putting the user experience first'. Some indicated that without independent advocacy, some individuals faced poorer service provision and outcomes, which could exacerbate disadvantage in relation to poverty and inequality.
14.46 Some indicated that independent advocacy should be a right, set out within legislation.
14.47 Some felt that independent advocacy was important because it ensured independence and impartiality. For example, respondents felt that independent support through advocacy could:
- help people know the right questions to ask;
- make people aware of their rights;
- help people believe that the process is fair;
- provide objective advice which is clearly separate from the decision makers, and is not emotionally involved;
- reduce anxiety and apprehension;
- provide reassurance, trust and support; and
- help people manage conflicting priorities.
"Disabled people tell us that they need and want independent support, not linked to their housing, social work or health related services. They need someone who is on their side, with no 'hidden agenda'."
Glasgow Disability Alliance
14.48 Some talked about the importance of connections, links and joint working between advocacy and advice organisations. Some respondents felt that while advocacy was different from advice, it was connected and complemented advice services. These respondents highlighted the need for joint working between advice and advocacy organisations, with good referral pathways. A few highlighted the need for wider policy and practice connections, for example, with the Adult Carer Support Plan, with GP practices and with community hubs.
"The Scottish Government should therefore look at the opportunities for partnership between advice and advocacy, rather than looking at advocacy services as a completely separate service."
Citizens Advice Scotland
"Advocacy services aid and complement Advice Services, and we support the continued funding of Advocacy Services. We particularly welcome the Scottish Government's view that they are different but supportive of one another."
Rights Advice Scotland
14.49 A few highlighted the role that independent advocacy could have in saving resources through early intervention. These respondents highlighted that advocacy could avoid problems within the system, reduce the need for appeals and tribunals, ease the workload of social security staff, and result in reduced reliance on emergency or crisis support such as foodbanks.
"Getting good early advice may therefore solve or even prevent multiple problems, and generate economic value to individuals, their creditors, local and national government, and the wider economy."
One Parent Families Scotland
Reasons for answering 'no'
14.50 The few respondents who said 'no' and provided comments were mainly individuals, and gave various reasons:
- the new social security system should already be operating on a basis of entitlement;
- it could encourage people to become benefit dependent; and
- local Welfare Rights Officers in health and social care settings should perform this role.
Question - What next steps would you recommend that would help the Scottish Government better understand the likely impact of the transfer of the devolved benefits on Independent Advocacy services?
14.51 In total, 99 respondents answered this question (68 organisations and 31 individuals). Respondents largely reiterated points they had raised within the earlier, more general, question about impact on publicly funded advice.
14.52 The main themes emerging were:
- many talked about ensuring dialogue and on-going discussion with independent advocacy services and service users about the changes;
- many talked about the need to have a wider contextual understanding of independent advocacy services in Scotland, their services, demand and capacity;
- some talked about the importance of funding for independent advocacy services;
- some talked about other actions such as providing training, involving smaller organisations as well as large providers, specialist advocacy support for ethnic minorities, connecting advocacy with JobCentres, introducing change gradually and monitoring impact regularly; and
- some gave responses which did not relate directly to the question or were not substantive.
Email: Trish Brady-Campbell