The Scotland Act 2016 gave the Scottish Government new powers which included responsibility over administering certain benefits such as disability benefits. Social Security Scotland was established in order to do this, and one of the fundamental tenets of the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 is the provision of social security as a human right.
The Scottish Government's Devolved Disability Benefits Evaluation Strategy (PDF, 582.6kB) outlines our approach to evaluating the impact of policy commitments regarding the delivery of disability benefits. These benefits include:
- Child Disability Payment (CDP), which replaces Disability Living Allowance for children administered by the UK Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and was rolled out across Scotland in November 2021, following a pilot that started on 26 July 2021.
- Adult Disability Payment (ADP), which replaces Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Working Age Disability Living Allowance administered by DWP, and was rolled out across Scotland in August 2022, following a pilot that started on 21 March 2022.
- Pension Age Disability Payment, which will replace Attendance Allowance in the future.
Policy impact evaluations involve the systematic assessment of a government policy's design, implementation, and outcomes. In the context of social security, this involves understanding how a benefit is being implemented and what effects it has had, for whom, and why, as well as whether its implementation and delivery are in line with the policy and meet the policy intent.
Supporting Information Policy
Individuals can apply to receive disability benefits such as ADP or CDP by completing an application asking them about their situation, condition or disability, including how it impacts them and their ability to move around. It also asks them what support they need and any medication, equipment, or treatment they need in relation to their condition, disability, or needs.
Supporting information can be provided with an individual's application or review form, or after an individual has submitted their application or review form. It is information that describes how an individual's situation, condition, or disability affects them and what support they need. Supporting information can therefore be instrumental in helping staff make decisions over entitlement to an award.
There are two main types of supporting information:
- Supporting information from a professional. This is supporting information from someone who, in their professional capacity, is familiar with the impact of the individual's condition and/or their treatment, care, or needs. This could include people who work in health or social care, education, or any other professional who is involved in the individual's treatment or care.
- Supporting information from an individual's wider support network. This can give insight into the impact the condition or disability has on the individual on a daily basis. This can include, amongst others, family, partner, friends and unpaid carers (the mygov website provides a more detailed list of supporting information examples).
The evaluation of supporting information forms an integral part of the Devolved Disability Benefits Evaluation Strategy (PDF, 582.6kB) to evaluate the policy impact of the devolution of disability benefits. Policy commitments for the supporting information process are:
- Clear and accessible guidance is provided on what supporting information is most useful. This includes internal guidance for Social Security Scotland staff and external guidance for applicants, individuals currently receiving benefits, and individuals providing supporting information.
- Case Managers (Social Security Scotland staff) work collaboratively with individuals to identify the most useful supporting information.
- Case Managers can gather supporting information on the individual's behalf.
- Supporting information only needs to broadly support the application or review, rather than confirm every detail the individual has given in their application or review form.
- Case Managers have discretion to make an award in the absence of supporting information.
- Generally, only one piece of supporting information is sought from a professional per application.
- Supporting information both from professionals and the individual's wider support network is accepted.
- Different types of supporting information are given equal consideration.
This evaluation is based on qualitative research that was commissioned and undertaken by Ipsos Scotland. Fieldwork took place between September 2022 and January 2023 and involved interviews or focus groups with ADP and CDP applicants, Social Security Scotland staff and third sector staff. The evaluation also draws on a survey run undertaken by Social Security Scotland that was sent to all CDP and ADP applicants who had a decision on their application between September and December 2022.
To support continuous improvement, key findings have been shared throughout the evaluation project. Overarching themes identified through data analysis are presented below.
Key findings across themes
Theme 1: The supporting information experience
The way in which Social Security Scotland staff spoke about their role, interact with applicants, and understand supporting information, suggested that the values of dignity, fairness, and respect are embeddedin their approach.
Interview and survey data showed that successful applicants believed their experiences were in line with dignity, fairness, and respect and that the right decision had been made first time. This was evident from how staff treated them, their comparative experience with the DWP, and their belief that supporting information was a key part to fair decision-making. However, being successful in their application and agreeing with the determination made were clearly contributing factors.
Indeed, unsuccessful interviewed applicants were less likely to think their supporting information had been considered fairly and that the right decision had been made first time. Unsuccessful survey respondents were also less likely to feel that they had been treated with dignity, fairness, and respect. Furthermore, survey respondents who disagreed with the decision made on their application were less likely to agree they had been treated fairly and respectfully throughout the application process.
These differences were also evident in how applicants felt about the transparency of decision-making. Successful interviewed applicants highlighted that it was clear from decision letters the reasons why they were provided with an award. However, unsuccessful survey respondents were more likely than successful survey respondents to disagree that the reason for their application being unsuccessful was clear.
It should also be noted that staff's unconscious bias towards supporting information from professionals, and in particular GPs, may impact on the supporting information process. However, the client survey results indicate that there were no differences on success rates between those who supplied only a confirmation of diagnosis as supporting information and those who supplied only information from another person who knows them/ their child.
In interviews, some applicants said that one of the key purposes of supporting information was to allow Social Security Scotland staff to make a fair decision on their application. However, there were mixed views on the concept of equal consideration of different types of supporting information: there were those who felt it would support fair decision-making and those who felt strongly that supporting information from family and friends should be given less weight.
Theme 2: A trust-based approach is applied to supporting information and individuals trust in the application process and wider Social Security Scotland
Social Security Scotland staff spoke positively about starting from a position of trust. However, staff also reported challenges in balancing a trust-based approach with feeling fully confident that the supporting information available is sufficient for them to make a decision.
Successful applicants tended to feel a trust-based approach had been applied to the collection and use of their supporting information. They reported that Social Security Scotland did not question any aspects of the application and did not ask for any further information. They also said their overall approach was sympathetic and understanding. They also contrasted their experience favourably with applying for benefits administered by DWP, noting the feeling of being trusted as a key difference.
However, unsuccessful applicants in interviews were less certain whether a trust-based approach had been taken, highlighting that application outcome will impact on feelings of trust towards Social Security Scotland.
Overall, successful applicants reported being more willing to apply for benefits delivered by Social Security Scotland in the future and 80% of all survey respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they could trust Social Security Scotland with significant variation depending on the outcome of the application.
Theme 3: Individuals feel less stress and/or anxiety about the supporting information and application process
Interview and survey data indicated that individuals who are able to provide supporting information with their application are likely to feel less worried about the process. Misunderstandings about the supporting information process (discussed in the subsequent theme) are likely to negatively impact on overall experiences.
Overall, there was evidence that individuals found the supporting information process simple and straightforward. Interviewed applicants reflected positively on the online systems available for uploading supporting information and the ability of Social Security Scotland to gather supporting information on their behalf, which they thought would speed up this process. However, the main source of applicant dissatisfaction was the length of time it took for Social Security Scotland to obtain supporting information on their behalf.
Some applicants with previous experience of applying for benefits through DWP indicated that the application process with Social Security Scotland was less difficult and stressful, and said that they felt more confident applying for future Social Security Scotland benefits. Unsuccessful applicants were less positive about the application process.
All applicants typically expected the process of applying for disability benefits to be stressful but the findings show that having a positive experience of the supporting information and application process can challenge these expectations.
Theme 4: Knowledge and understanding of supporting information
Individuals do not fully know how to access supporting information guidance and support. Understandably, the guidance on the application form is the most utilised form of guidance, however, there is a lot less awareness of the other forms of guidance available (e.g., that on my MyGov, Social Security Scotland, and the Scottish Government websites).
Overall mixed views regarding the clarity of the guidance provided suggest the need for guidance, especially that on the application form, to be reviewed with the aim to further clarify as well as to signpost to other guidance.
The most utilised form of support for the supporting information process is that from friends and family followed by Social Security Scotland. However, awareness of support offered by Social Security Scotland and other organisations was mixed.
There was mixed evidence around whether individuals understandwhat supporting information is most useful. A number of misconceptions about supporting information were highlighted, for example, applicants not knowing that supporting information could be from their wider support network and not understanding that one piece of supporting information from a professional may be sufficient. Furthermore, individuals tended to put more weight on supporting information from professionals and, specifically, GPs.
On a similar note, the quality of the supporting information provided was mixed. Indeed, over half of survey respondents were recontacted after submitting their application to ask for further information or to clarify something. Case managers provided context to this, explaining that many applications arrive without supporting information, individuals sometimes provide contradictory or partial information as well as partial or blurry photos of documents. Other staff who support applicants also commented on the lack of awareness individuals have about different types of supporting information.
Nonetheless, evidence suggests that the majority of determinations are being made without the need for a consultation (only available for Adult Disability Payment), highlighting the importance of supporting information to the decision-making process.
Theme 5: Ease of individuals supplying their own supporting information and going through the application process
As discussed in Theme 3, individuals like the idea of case managers being able to gather supporting information for them and, indeed, the main reason they ask them to do so is they think that this will speed up the decision-making process. Contrarily, this process of gathering information on an individual's behalf was cited by staff as the main cause of lengthy processing times. This highlights the importance of individuals supplying supporting information themselves, where possible.
Highlighting the importance of supplying supporting information more generally, evidence suggests that those who submit supporting information with their application are more likely to obtain an award.
However, some difficulties and barriers to supplying supporting information were identified, highlighting areas for improvement to facilitate the process of individuals supplying their own supporting information. A lack of understanding about and access to supporting information were key barriers. So too were having a disability or specific condition that makes the completion of tasks more difficult.
The evidence also highlighted differences between groups in the experience of supplying supporting information. Having access to and the skills required to submit supporting information seem to be key facilitators in enabling individuals to supply supporting information.
In relation to the application process more generally, survey respondents seemed content with the clarity of the process and the eligibility criteria as well as the content and relevancy of the application. There was less satisfaction around how long the application form took to complete, highlighting areas for action.
Key recommendations for policy and practice
Key recommendations identified from the cross-cutting themes
- Ensure decision letters are as transparent as possible in communicating the reasons for the decision made.
- Further staff training on the usefulness of different types of supporting information from professionals as well as the wider support network.
- Better communication of the concept of equal consideration (formerly equal weight) to individuals.
- Clarification that staff will establish importance of different pieces of supporting information on a case-by-case basis, depending on the relevance of the pieces at hand.
- Take steps to increase staff confidence in making decisions without all aspects of the application being 'confirmed' by supporting information.
- Further clarify supporting information guidance on the application form.
- Raise awareness of other types of guidance available and ensure these are in line with that provided on the application form.
- Raise awareness of the different types of support available and how to access these.
- Raise individuals' awareness of the different types of supporting information and what might be most useful in different situations/circumstances.
- Encourage individuals to check that supporting information is in line with information on application form.
- Showcase examples of "good quality" supporting information to individuals to increase understanding.
- Raise awareness of the benefits of individuals supplying supporting information themselves and incorporate this in external messaging.
- However, continue to implement and raise awareness of the policy of gathering supporting information on individuals' behalf for those who are not able to supply supporting information themselves.
Additional key recommendations identified from policy commitments and anticipated outcomes
- Ensure support organisations are sufficiently trained and kept up to date on current policy on supporting information.
- Increase accessibility to Social Security Scotland staff to offer support to individuals when they need it.
- Better communication of the policy message that supporting information only needs to broadly support application or review.
- Staff training to help them process cases with varying amounts and types of supporting information.
- Awareness-raising on the policy that mostly, one piece of supporting information is sought from a professional for both individuals and staff.
- Clear communications to individuals and staff that a professional does not necessarily mean a GP.
- Clarification and support so individuals are empowered to request supporting information from not just medical professionals but also their wider support network if they feel that it captures the impact of their condition or disability on their every-day life.
There is a problem
Thanks for your feedback