Disability benefits evaluation - case transfer: qualitative research - annex A

Qualitative research supporting the findings from the evaluation of the case transfer process in the context of the devolution of disability benefits.

7. Conclusions

This final chapter summarises the findings, including areas for consideration and/or improvement, in relation to the five research questions:

  • What is working well and what needs to be improved with regard to case transfers?
  • What differences in experience can be drawn from clients transferring from different benefits?
  • What are the key differences clients are experiencing in the assessment processes compared to that with the DWP and how do they feel about these differences?
  • Has the case transfer process been executed in line with policy principles?
  • What short, medium, and longer-term impacts did the case transfer experience have on clients?

There is considerable overlap between the findings on the first research question and the last two questions. To minimise repetition, the section on the first question – what is working well and what needs to be improved – is more detailed, while the sections on the last two questions are set out in tabular summary form.

Question 1: What is working well and what needs to be improved with regard to case transfers?

What is working well?

There is a great deal that is working well with the case transfer and review process. In particular, the more person-centred aspects are working well and clients generally felt that they had been treated with dignity, fairness and respect.

Crucially, the most important case transfer principle – that clients continue to receive the correct payments at the correct time – was upheld among those interviewed for this research.

Those transferring from DLAC to CDP and from PIP to ADP generally found the case transfer process straightforward. PIP clients also tended to say that the review process was easier than they had expected it to be (discussed further at Question 2 below). PIP and DLA clients who had been through the review process were relieved at not having to have a face-to-face DWP reassessment (note that no DLAC clients had gone through a review at the time of interview).

Clients were very positive about their interactions with Social Security Scotland staff who were consistently described as “friendly”, “helpful”, “respectful” and “compassionate”. Those who had sought assistance with review forms from Case Managers or Local Delivery Staff had found them very helpful. Overall, clients felt they had been treated with dignity, fairness and respect – and better than they had been treated by the DWP.

These positive experiences generally led to a feeling of trust in Social Security Scotland and, in turn, a willingness to report a change of circumstances in the future. However, there were clients who would still be wary of reporting a change. This was because of anxiety that it may lead to a reduction or a loss of the award and/or because they had found the review process lengthy and emotionally exhausting (whether conducted by Social Security Scotland or the DWP).

Clients tended to say that they were happy that their benefit was now being administered by Social Security Scotland. Those who weren’t actively positive about it were neutral rather than negative.

What needs to be improved?

The biggest issue related to the length of time it took to complete the whole process (transfer plus review). This largely affected DLA clients who had reported a change of circumstances and is discussed at Question 2 below. Reducing this time would have the biggest impact on clients transferring from DLA. It should be noted that the timescale for PIP-ADP case transfer, where a change of circumstances was reported, was reduced to 4-8 weeks from September 2023 (shortly after this research took place).

Other problems mostly related to specific issues with the processes or with communications.


For those transferring because they had reported a change in circumstances, the length of the review form (88 pages for those transferring from DLA) was a problem. Clients found it onerous and tiring to fill in and they frequently reported that it took them two or three sittings to complete it. This was a particular issue for those whose condition/disability or medication made it difficult to concentrate for long periods. The fact that the form was not available to complete online and had to be completed on paper was a problem for those whose condition/disability made writing by hand difficult.

Recommendation: Consideration should be given to shortening the form where at all possible and making it available to complete online.

Although clients indicated that it was easier to get through to Social Security Scotland on the phone than the DWP, they typically reported call waiting times of at least 20-40 minutes get through. Long call waiting times caused particular issues for clients whose ability to make calls/wait on the line is affected by their condition or treatment (for example, where it is dependent on their medication cycle), and for those who have limited time during the working day. Clients felt it would be helpful if the call holding system provided clients with an indication of the queue length and likely wait times. Staff suggested that client waiting time could be improved if there were separate phone numbers for specific departments rather than everyone having to use the general enquiries line. Long waits were also reported for the webchat option.

Recommendation: Consider separate phone numbers for different departments and give an indication of the likely wait times/place in the queue.

There were reports of clients being sent the wrong review forms to complete. Similarly, confusion was caused for staff (and time wasted for clients) with the forms sent out for scheduled reviews. Clients were sent a declaration form on which they could tick a box to say there was ‘no change’ to their condition and, at the same time, a review form to complete if there had been a change. Some clients ticked the box to say ‘no change’ on the declaration form but also completed the review form. This was an issue raised by staff. We did not explore it with clients but can speculate that they did this because they thought they should complete all forms that they were sent.

Recommendations: Ensure staff are clear which forms should be used in different circumstances. For scheduled reviews, consider only sending a review form after the client has indicated on the declaration form there has been a change in their circumstances. Alternatively, make it clear next to the ‘no change’ box that there is no need to complete the review form if that box is ticked.

There were cases where clients experienced problems with other benefits or support. They reported receiving letters from the DWP saying that their Carer’s Allowance had stopped, or was going to stop, because they were no longer in receipt of DLAC. The clients we spoke to were able to sort out the issue by contacting the DWP but the issue caused them unnecessary stress.

Recommendation: Contact the DWP to check that they are aware of this issue and have something in place to avoid these letters being sent to people who have transferred to CDP.

Other clients reported issues with Motability leases and Blue Badges. The issue with Motability leases was a requirement that an individual had more than a year remaining on their award before they could renew their lease or take out a new one. This caused problems where the client was waiting to hear the outcome of their review (and exacerbated by any delays in this). The Blue Badge issue was that a Local Authority did not approve an application because it looked as if the client’s entitlement had ended when the DWP stopped paying DLAC.

Staff also talked about Social Security Scotland transfer letters not being accepted by Motability providers or Local Authorities as evidence of someone being in receipt of disability benefits.

Recommendation: Raise this issue with Motability providers and local authorities.

Some operational issues were raised by staff. Staff acknowledged that the Case Transfer exercise was a very sizeable undertaking and that some teething problems were inevitable. They also acknowledged that some early problems had been solved and others were being addressed. However, they identified a number of areas for improvement which they felt would, ultimately, improve the client experience. The most important related to:

  • The backlog of cases. Staff said that early process issues and delays in obtaining supporting information had contributed to the backlog.
  • Initial training. Staff agreed that their initial training was too generic and did not focus enough on the case transfer aspects of the role. They felt that more training should be delivered by Learning and Development and that there was currently too much reliance on ‘consolidators’ (more experienced staff training newer staff).
  • The Client Advisor role. Staff felt that Client Advisors had insufficient training and guidance on how to answer queries relating to case transfers and reviews. There was also a view that calls should be directed to different departments rather than Client Advisors having to answer all calls including calls about other benefits.

Recommendations: There is clearly not one simple solution to the backlog of cases and overall processing times. Improvements to training and guidance and support for Client Advisors to enable them to answer more queries (thus avoiding Case Managers having to deal with them) and improvements to the training and guidance for Case Managers themselves, should help.

We also recommend that the Scottish Government and Social Security Scotland work with GPs, the NHS, and Local Authorities to find ways to ensure that supporting information requests are responded to more quickly. We recognise that these organisations face considerable pressures and making progress on this will not be straightforward.


While some aspects of communication were working well (for example, the introduction letter at the start of the case transfer process and telephone interactions with staff), the following aspects could be improved:

  • More clarity on timescales and progress updates. Clients often reported at least some anxiety about the process and some experienced a great deal. This was particularly the case with the review element which always held the possibility of a reduction in the award or loss of the award. Worries were exacerbated by not knowing how long they were going to have wait.

Recommendations: During the transfer element, clients suggested that a letter part-way through, confirming that the transfer was in hand and that they did not need to do anything, would have been reassuring.

  • Providing an indication of likely timescales at the start of the review process and providing regular progress updates would help ease concerns – at least for some. Clients suggested an online tracker (akin to those provided by delivery companies) to let individuals see the progress of their applications. Given that calls to check progress and/or ask when they could expect the outcome were the main reasons given for contacting Social Security Scotland, proactive updates should considerably reduce the number of calls.
  • More clarity for clients on aspects of the process. Interviews with clients revealed a lack of understanding about the process where they had reported a change of circumstances. In particular, DLA clients did not always understand from the outset that their case needed to be transferred before the review process could begin. There was also a lack of understanding about how the backdating of payments would work. Staff also noted that clients were confused about these issues.

Recommendation: Provide clearer guidance for clients on the process for dealing with unscheduled reviews. This could be done in a letter and on the Social Security Scotland website. Consideration should also be given to whether providing guidance for clients on how back payments will be calculated would be helpful – or whether this might cause more confusion.

Question 2: What differences in experience can be drawn from clients transferring from different benefits?

Clients transferring from DLAC

The case transfer element was typically straightforward for clients transferring from DLAC although parents had a few concerns and some anxiety in cases where it took longer than expected. None of the DLAC clients we spoke to had undergone a review following their case transfer.

As discussed above, there were cases where clients received letters from the DWP saying that their Carer’s Allowance had stopped, or was going to stop, because they were no longer in receipt of DLAC.

Clients transferring from PIP and DLA

The PIP clients we spoke to were happier with their experience of case transfer and review than the DLA clients. This seemed largely related to fact that they had more experiences of the DWP review process than DLA clients – rather than anything about the processes.

The main issue for DLA clients was the length of time the whole process took (transfer and review). Most of the DLA clients we spoke to had transferred because they had reported a change in circumstances. They had generally done this because their condition had worsened and they thought that they should get a higher award. They saw the process as starting from the time they first notified the DWP of the change and ending with the outcome given by Social Security Scotland. For them, the transfer element was a delay of 13-17 weeks before their review process could start. Among DLA clients who had received a review outcome, the overall timescales for both elements ranged from six months to a year. They tended to experience a considerable amount of stress and anxiety during this time period. This was, in part, because they had been on indefinite awards or had not had a review in many years (if ever). There was a sense of them feeling forgotten about by the DWP and that they had previously kept their heads down to avoid being transferred to PIP.

Staff felt that DLA clients needed more reassurance than PIP clients. They put this down to them having been on that benefit for many years and not being used to changes to it.

For PIP clients (including those who were due a review and those who had reported a change of circumstances) the timescales for the review appeared to be either in line with their expectations or quicker than expected. Their relief about the review process being so much easier than they had expected (based on their experiences or expectations of a DWP review) may have overcome concerns about the waiting time that they might otherwise have had.

Question 3: What are the key differences clients are experiencing in the assessment processes compared to that with the DWP and how do they feel about these differences?

Although some clients were apprehensive in advance of the review process, there was also a sense of hope that the experience would be better with Social Security Scotland than it had been with the DWP. This was borne out. The key differences were the way they were treated by staff and the lack of face-to-face assessments.

Clients said the review process was easier than they thought it would be, with Social Security Scotland staff widely viewed as helpful, friendly and reassuring. They felt that they were listened to and not judged. All this was in contrast to their experiences with the DWP.

There was a strong sense of relief among clients that face-to-face assessments would rarely be required. This was an aspect of the DWP reviews that they described as “harrowing” and “daunting”.

Overall, there was a perception among that Social Security Scotland is an easier agency to deal with than the DWP and that they take a more person-centred approach.

Question 4: Has the case transfer process been executed in line with policy principles?

Broadly speaking, the case transfer process has been executed in line with policy principles. This includes the most important principle: correct payment made at the correct time. However, there are some commitments which have only partially been met and where there is scope for improvement.

Policy commitment: Correct payment made at the correct time

Has this been met?


No clients reported that their disability benefit payment was disrupted during the transfer or the review process.

However, there were reports of impacts on other benefits and support, including Carer’s Allowance, being stopped or threatened to be stopped by the DWP.

Policy commitment: No re-applications

Has this been met?


Clients were relieved that this would not be required as part of the transfer to Social Security Scotland.

Policy commitment: No face-to-face DWP reassessments

Has this been met?


No clients reported having a face-to-face DWP reassessment.

Policy commitment: Complete as soon as possible while maintaining “safe and secure”

Has this been met?

At least partially.

The transfer was seen as “safe and secure” in the sense of the correct payments being made at the correct time. Some clients felt it had taken too long, however, we cannot comment on whether the process could have been completed more quickly without jeopardising the “safe and secure” element.

Policy commitment: Clear communications with individuals

Has this been met?


Letters from Social Security Scotland were generally felt to be clear, although clients’ accounts indicated mixed levels of understanding of the transfer process, particularly around change of circumstances.

Clients were positive about their telephone or face-to-face interactions with staff.

Communication between the DWP and Social Security Scotland and clients was not always viewed as clear and consistent.

A lack of updates on the progress of their review increased clients’ worry and stress about the outcome.

Policy commitment: Reviews, where required, are right first time

Has this been met?

It was not within the remit of this research to comment on whether decisions were right first time or not.

However, we can comment on client perceptions of the decision. Those who received an outcome that met or exceeded their expectations felt the decision was right. Those who did not receive an outcome they had hoped for felt disappointed; while some acknowledged that the decision was fair, others did not think that their circumstances had not been fully considered.

Policy commitment: Reviews, where required, are undertaken in line with relevant policy commitments (e.g. decisions will be person-centred, reviews will be light-touch and, as far as possible, minimise stress)[7]

Has this been met?


Clients described the review process as easier than they thought it would be and, in particular, were relieved about the lack of a face-to-face assessment.

Social Security Scotland staff were widely viewed as helpful, friendly and reassuring. Social Security Scotland was overall considered to be person-centred in its decision-making, as clients generally felt their individual circumstances had been taken into account.

However, clients still felt worried about the process and this was heightened where there were issues (e.g. lack of clarity around timescales, uncertainty over backdating payments, and communication). In some cases, clients experienced issues with other benefits and support during the review process. This further exacerbated feelings of stress and anxiety.

The following review process policy commitments were not covered as part of this research:

  • All awards should be made on a rolling basis, with no set date for an award ending.
  • Review dates will be set at a date that takes account of the likelihood of that person's needs changing.
  • Moving into work will not be regarded as a change of circumstance.
  • Social Security Scotland will give a reason to individuals where their award is reviewed earlier than the date set.
  • Social Security Scotland will publish the numbers of cases where awards are reviewed earlier than the date set at initial decision.
  • In cases where there is no likelihood of improvement there will be at least five years between Light-Touch reviews.
  • Awards will have a maximum period of 10 years between Light-Touch Reviews.

Question 5: What short, medium, and longer-term impacts did the case transfer experience have on clients?

Positively, most of the intended outcomes set out in the logic model have been achieved. Where they have not been fully achieved, they have at least been partially achieved.

Impacts Achieved?

Individuals understand what is happening and when

Individuals understand what they need to do (when appropriate) or are reassured that they don’t need to do anything

Partially – while some clients felt the information provided was clear in setting out the steps for case transfer and reviews, others did not think it was clear. This prompted them to contact Social Security Scotland to clarify next steps and what they would (or would not) need to do.
Individuals feel throughout that the transfer is safe and secure (i.e. the right amount is paid on time) Yes – no clients experienced a disruption to their payment.
Individuals know who to contact for help and support Yes – clients reported that they got in touch with Social Security Scotland or relied on existing support networks (e.g. carers or welfare support officers).
Individuals do not feel undue stress/anxiety about the transfer and review elements of the process Partially – while the experience was smoother and easier than some expected, for others there were issues which caused stress and anxiety.
Experience of the process is in line with dignity, fairness, and respect Generally yes, but with some exceptions.
Individuals have a positive experience of the review process Generally yes, although some clients encountered issues.
Individuals develop a positive relationship with Social Security Scotland Yes – although some remained neutral about Social Security Scotland following the transfer/review processes.
Individuals understand what happens next Individuals experience reduced stress and/or anxiety about the prospect of future reviews or assessments Yes. Although some anxiety about future assessments remained, this was due to a general worry about payments being stopped after a review and not because of the transfer of benefit payments to Social Security Scotland.
Individuals feel that decision-making is fair and transparent In most cases, yes.
Individuals feel treated with dignity, fairness and respect by Social Security Scotland Generally yes (except for exceptional cases where clients who were disappointed with the review outcome felt their individual circumstances had not been considered).
Individuals trust in Social Security Scotland Yes, broadly, although some clients were tentative about this until they had more experience.
There are open and effective communications between individuals and Social Security Scotland Partially – although some clients were satisfied with the nature of the communication with Social Security Scotland, some communication issues were highlighted.
Public services treat people with dignity and respect Yes – clients generally felt that they have so far been treated better by Social Security Scotland than they had been by the DWP previously.
Individuals understand their responsibilities and feel more comfortable about reporting a change in circumstances Yes – clients generally said they would know how to report a change in circumstances in future and would feel comfortable doing so. However this was not universal.
There is reduced stigma around illness and disability Not covered by this research.
The right decision is made first time by Social Security Scotland Not covered by this research.


Email: socialresearch@gov.scot

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