Social Security Experience Panel: Scottish Welfare Fund experiences

This report outlines the Social Security Experience Panel Members views expressed in a survey about their experiences of the Scottish Welfare Fund.

What could be improved about the Scottish Welfare Fund

Overall negative experiences

A number of respondents said that there wasn’t anything positive about their experience of applying for Scottish Welfare Fund. This included some who disagreed with the decision made about their application or felt that the criteria applied were unfair.

Nothing [worked well] I failed to get the grant despite being disabled.

I didn't receive any money despite having no floor coverings etc.

Some felt that the system was unfair, and that certain people were more likely to get help than others.

It is useless and only helps those who get all the help going anyway.

As I said, I didn't get the money, I basically had to go into debt and do without as I didn't know about foodbanks at the time either, it didn't help my depression.

I do not think the fund is accessible to anyone who does not have a social worker, working on their behalf if you do not know THE SYSTEM then you are not a priority.

Information available

Respondents felt that there was a lack of clear information about how to apply for the fund, what it can cover, who is eligible, or the reasons for decisions once they are made.

The information given was incomplete, incorrect and contradictory. It would have helped if this wasn't the case. Also the criteria [are] being interpreted differently by different council areas.

I didn't realise that the council would buy my carpets and that I had no say in the matter. So, I ordered carpets and then got told I had no right to do that and that my application would be marked as withdrawn as I had negated it. I had no idea what to do next and a friend lent me money.

Nobody seemed willing to tell you about the scheme , it was only through pure luck as i was trying to find out where the nearest foodbank was that a friend told me about the scheme.

Some respondents spoke about challenges with the system itself, in particular not being able to use certain application channels, delays in getting through on the phone, or finding the system as a whole overly complicated or burdensome.

Being told I had to make a phone[call], the woman on the phone making me feel uncomfortable, being given a tiny amount of money, having to go to my local shop to get the money. It was all horrible.

Less questions that I felt were personally intrusive. I appreciate that these are public funds and care must be taken to avoid fraudulent applications, but I felt having to provide bank statements and other screen shots a bit OTT. I can only speak for myself but I was £500 overdrawn at the bank, I found having to make an application for a crisis grant to be a humiliating experience. I would not put myself through that unless I had no other option.

Others described a sense of stigma around applying for the Scottish Welfare Fund. In particular feeling that the process was “degrading”.

Felt too much like begging. Looked at the council website and could not find my way into it. So I just went without.

Processing time

Whilst some respondents said that the process and payment time was quick, others felt that it was too slow or that it should be possible for some applications to be “fast tracked”, and for payments to be issued “within hours not days”.

The length of time it took to process was almost a month. Living with a child for 23 days without a fridge, cooker or any furniture was really difficult.

Lack of consistency in how the fund is managed

Others suggested that they felt the information and guidance available was inconsistent across different Local Authority areas, or that they had found it difficult to find out about what support was available to them.

It actually seemed 'too easy' and could be abused since it did not appear to be monitored. I am aware that some people have relied on it on a number of occasions that might not necessarily be genuine. I imagine it will be difficult to strike the right balance between accessibility and monitoring.

Different information from different local authorities

Others felt that that there is a challenge in striking the balance between accessibility and guarding against perceived misuse of the fund.

Staff behaviour

A number of respondents also described facing behaviour from staff that they felt to be rude, unhelpful, or lacking in empathy or understanding.

The attitude of the people dealing with the application, they very much looked for reasons to deny the help instead of give it. I was at one point accused that it was my fault for not having enough money, as I decided to pay my rent. I could have not paid rent and would have had enough money for food apparently. Also working between different departments didn't work well at all.

Speaking to someone who had a little empathy would have been nicer. Every time I have applied, I have had to speak to someone who hasn't treated me with much care despite being in a difficult situation.

Some respondents said that the staff member hadn’t provided them with information that they would have found helpful, for example the reason for a decision or how to appeal.

Others described finding their interaction with staff to be stigmatising, for example when assumptions were made about them, feeling that they were being blamed for their situation

Don't speak to people as though they are scroungers.

Someone from [my] Council arriv[ed] at my door going from room to room checking if I was telling the truth that I lacked the items that I listed on my community care grant application form. It made me feel like a criminal.

Accessibility issues

There were also a number of accessibility issues highlighted – this included people with mental health conditions finding the application process overly stressful or distressing, and not being able to have the support of a care worker or advocate. Other issues included exclusions on equipment that is required to meet the needs of certain disabilities or health conditions, and a feeling that the language used in documents associated with the fund (for example forms and decision letters) was too complex and difficult to understand – in particular the need for plain English for people with a disability or health condition that impacts on their ability to read and write.

The form could have included a list of exclusions to getting any help e.g. if you have an accessible kitchen they do NOT provide any suitable white goods to fit it so you are left without any cooker.

Lack of flexibility

Some felt that the amount that they were awarded was not enough, or that there was not enough consideration for individual circumstances.

Greater flexibility in level of payment, for example an award for 2 weeks seems counter-productive when faced with several weeks delay in universal credit payment

I was having to throw out mattresses due to a mite infestation - they were king size and I could only receive singles so that meant I would have had to get rid of my beds as well, and they were wood and metal so did not need thrown out and they matched my bedroom furniture.

A number of participants spoke about a lack of flexibility in how the fund was administered – in particular not being able to account for individual needs. For example one respondent described having severe anxiety about allowing strangers into their home, so being unable to access the fund because they wouldn’t allow someone in to inspect their property.

A particular issue was raised relating to the need for support during the time waiting for Universal Credit payments to start. Respondents spoke about needing to go into debt to survive during this period because they had not been able to get support in other ways.

[I] don't understand the policy of forcing applicants to take 'Govt Debt' in the form of a Universal Credit Advance. If the Scottish Welfare Fund supported me at £32 per week for 5 weeks till 1st UC payment, that would have been £160 in total. I don't think that's a huge amount of money. Now I'll be struggling financially each month for the next year or so paying back the £500 advance. I really don't know how I will manage this and already have to make choices of eat or heat. I'm just grateful that I don't have any children.

How the fund is paid

A number of respondents described concerns about Community Care Grants being often paid as goods and services rather than as cash payments. These concerns related to the quality of the goods received, a lack of choice, or a feeling that they could have got a better deal through a cash payment – for example by shopping at a charity shop.

Giving the customers the actual money instead of goods they supply as you can find things much, much cheaper and you can shop around more.

The quality of the goods received is not always the best so it’s really a false economy



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