Scottish Welfare Fund review: final report

A comprehensive review of the Scottish Welfare Fund.

5. Awareness and promotion of the Fund

Key points

  • Local authorities varied significantly in how they promoted the fund and how frequently they did so.
  • Promotion to other departments or partner organisations was generally viewed as effective by local authorities. Direct promotion to potential applicants was viewed as potentially more problematic in terms of prompting ineligible applications and potentially stimulating more demand than local authorities could meet given current resources.
  • Applicants became aware of the Fund through a variety of routes. Among applicants who were new to applying for support or benefits, there was a perception that they only found out about SWF by chance, through word of mouth from family and friends or online searches.
  • In the context of a cost of living crisis, it was suggested that there were likely to be more applicants falling into this group, and that there might need to be more activity to raise awareness of the Fund among them.

As discussed in chapter 3, lack of awareness of the Fund was identified by applicants interviewed for this review as a potential barrier to people accessing the help they need. The most recent statutory guidance on the Fund[51] noted that feedback from the Social Security Experience Panel suggested that potential Crisis Grant applicants did not always hear about the SWF when they needed it. The guidance states that SWF teams should ensure that other services which have contact with people in crisis have up to date information about the SWF with posters or leaflets to raise awareness and clear instructions on how to apply for a grant on local authority websites.

This chapter explores evidence on how local authorities promote the Fund and how potential applicants who might need it do become aware of it in practice. It draws primarily on findings from the review of existing evidence and qualitative interviews with local authorities, applicants and external stakeholders.

How do local authorities promote the Fund?

The local authority proformas and interviews with managers for this review indicated that both the level and type of promotion of the SWF varied significantly between local authorities. Local authorities fell into three main groups:

  • Those who said they did not actively promote the Fund at all. This was primarily attributed to the level of demand, with local authorities either saying that they did not think they needed to promote it (since they were already receiving many applications) or that they did not have the resource to promote it.
  • Those who promoted it to other council departments, third sector organisations or other partners (such as the Scottish Prison Service) but did not do any direct promotion to potential applicants. Managers mentioned running awareness raising events for colleagues and partners and updating partners on the Fund through existing networks and meetings. While the review was not able to identify any 'hard data' on the impact of promotion on the reach of the Fund, this type of promotion was generally viewed as effective by local authorities, with examples of perceived increases in referrals from other departments and organisations. However, there was a perception from local authority decision-makers that they perhaps did not do as much of this type of indirect promotion to partners as they used to, for a range of reasons, including time pressure and feeling awareness was high enough (in general or in the context of existing high demand).
  • Those who engaged in more direct promotion to potential applicants, for example, through social media or local media, promoting through schools, or using leaflets, bulletins, mailings, and posters. This direct promotion was generally conducted in combination with promoting through partners. There were also examples of local authorities actively highlighting SWF grants to those applying to other schemes (such as Discretionary Housing Payments, or Self-Isolation Support Grants (SISGs)).

Even among local authorities that reported doing more promotion, there was considerable variation in the frequencies and timings of promotion, with some reporting annual campaigns, some biannual, and others seasonal.

There was some reticence among local authority decision-makers about the effectiveness of more direct promotion through social media – for example, one local authority had tried promoting via Facebook, but felt this had led to an upsurge in ineligible applications and had missed its target audience.

There was also a degree of reticence among some local authorities around how much promotion of the SWF was appropriate, given it is a cash-limited scheme with specific criteria:

"Of course you don't want to miss people, but you don't want to raise hopes that there is something available that isn't. There is a fixed criteria. We've also got to be careful that we are able to cope with the demand we get."

(Local Authority manager 6)

This reflects Hilber and MacLeod's 2019 research on the SWF,[52] in which one local authority interviewee was reported as joking, "Don't tell anyone we're out there!". None of the nine local authorities they interviewed actively advertised the SWF to the public. Most suggested they had conducted a more active publicity campaign when the fund first started in 2013, but by the time of the research the most that was done was making presentations to advice and support agencies. Again, they reported that the lack of advertising was largely due to concern about lacking resources to deal with additional demand.

How do applicants become aware of the Fund?

Applicants interviewed for the review had become aware of the Fund through a variety of routes, including:

  • Word of mouth via family and friends
  • Via interactions with the DWP or Job Centre
  • Through advice agencies, like a Citizens Advice Bureau, who they had approached for advice about financial crisis
  • Through other professionals working for public and third sector organisations they were in contact with, including social workers, housing officers, council money advice teams, mental health nurses and others, and
  • Through their own research into what help might be available (typically via online search engines).

As discussed in chapter 5, there was a view among some applicants (echoed by wider stakeholders) that they had only found out about the Fund by chance – via word of mouth or 'googling' help. These applicants tended to be those who were newly in crisis or need (for example, those who had recently been made redundant or had become disabled) and had not previously needed to apply for state support or benefits.

"That kind of thing is not well advertised because I knew nothing about it and if it wasn't for her saying, I still wouldn't have known anything about it."

(Applicant 3, found out by word of mouth through family member)

In contrast, those who were more familiar with benefits and support had sometimes been aware of the SWF for years, in some cases since the DWP Social Fund scheme which preceded it. There was a perception among external stakeholders that there was a need for more general publicity of the Fund to ensure the former group do not miss out. This was particularly felt to be the case in the context of the current cost of living crisis, which they expected would lead to more people who have not needed help previously hitting financial crisis.



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