Review of the Scottish Welfare Fund Interim Scheme

The review explores how well the interim arrangements of the Scottish Welfare Fund (SWF) have worked, from the perspectives of applicants to the SWF and the third sector organisations supporting them. It also provides recommendations for the remainder of the interim period and for the permanent arrangements.

8 Reviews

8.1 The study has sought perspectives on the review process both from third sector support organisations and applicants themselves. It presents applicants' experiences with being informed about the right to a review and their reasons for seeking (or not seeking) a review. The final section of the chapter presents the experiences of 11 applicants who have asked for a review.

Third sector perspectives on reviews

8.2 Most organisations have seen very few reviews so far, with some not having experience of any. With regards to what may be driving low numbers of reviews on the applicants' side, front-line respondents from one organisation felt that clients seemed to be accepting decisions, taking them 'as gospel'. Another organisation felt that clients who were in a dire situation might have been happy even with the smallest award and therefore not willing to seek a review. This has been confirmed in applicant interviews (see below).

8.3 A policy manager from an organisation supporting older people felt that their clients may not have a drive/energy to go through a review. Also, some older people do not like asking for help in the first place, and have an aversion to disagreeing with a 'no' answer even more.

8.4 Respondents spoke of a number of factors that contribute to the low number of reviews from their perspective. Some advisors said that it is their priority to "get the client's income stream going again" (front-line respondent), which means that appealing sanctions is a better use of their time than appealing SWF. Even if the review is successful, an SWF grant would only provide short-term relief from hardship.

8.5 A major concern for support organisations was that they did not receive copies of decision letters. This made it more difficult to initiate the review process. Similarly, if the decision was communicated to the client by telephone only, it was difficult to request a review. It was commonly felt that decisions have to be in writing.

8.6 The lack of information about the grounds for refusal means that there was a lack of information on which to make the grounds for the review of the decision. Similarly, it was difficult to request a review in situations where a partial grant was awarded but the decision did not specify what has not been granted.

8.7 Both front-line and policy respondents expressed a major concern over cases where the client tried to apply by phone but was discouraged or told that he or she was ineligible. In such cases there was no decision letter and therefore no possibility to file for a review.

8.8 Several front-line respondents emphasised that reviews are useful to them because they provide case law.

8.9 A number of front-line and policy respondents felt that first tier reviews are not independent enough. Specifically, it was said that some clients are 'known' to different departments of the local authority, which may put them in a disadvantage.

8.10 It has been suggested by a policy manager that two local authorities could 'swap' first tier review cases to make the process more independent. One front-line respondent said that second-tier reviews can take up to six weeks, "creating a lot of hardship".

How the right to seek a review is communicated to applicants

8.11 One in five letters notifying the applicant of a negative or partial decision did not mention the right to seek a review. Where the right to seek a review was communicated, applicants thought that it was conveyed in a clear way.

Decision letters should mention the applicant's right to seek a review. The Scottish Government could suggest a suitable template.

8.12 Prior to receiving the letter, some applicants were also told about their right to seek a review when they were notified about the decision by phone. It appears to the study team that notifying applicants about this right when the decision is first communicated by phone seems to be particularly relevant for Crisis Grants applicants, who may be in a position where starting the review process immediately is crucial. Waiting a few working days for the decision letter to arrive may jeopardise the point of reviewing the case and may cause severe hardship that could have been avoided.

Crisis Grant applicants who receive a negative or 'partially successful' decision should be notified about their right to seek a review not only in the decision letter but also when the decision is first communicated by phone.

The notification should be conveyed in a clear way, stating the reason for rejecting a full award and steps that the applicant needs to take to put the review in motion. The notification should also mention advocacy services and support groups if they exist in the locality.

Reasons for not seeking a review

8.13 As mentioned above, those who did not receive decision letters or whose decision letters did not mention the right to a review tended to lack the awareness of the possibility of asking for a review.

8.14 Where decision letters informed applicants of a rejected application because they 'did not meet the criteria' or 'did not qualify', applicants did not seek a review because they were left in the dark as to what criteria they had not met. It seems clear to the research team that decision letters should provide enough detail about the justification for the decision to allow the applicant to seek a review, and know what decisions they are seeking to challenge. For example, decision letters could state: 'you did not qualify because you have been sanctioned'; 'your application has been rejected because in our view you are not in severe need'; 'your application has been rejected because the Fund has been exhausted for this month'. Furthermore, decision letters should make it clear to the applicant whether the criterion in question is a non-negotiable one or one over which the decision-maker had a discretion.

Decision letters should provide enough detail about the justification for the decision to practically allow the applicant to seek a review.

8.15 Several of those who received a partial award - particularly those in high need - did not consider asking for a review as they felt relieved that they received anything:

Just the situation, it's me and the four kids and I was grateful for anything that helps me fill the house. (Community Care Grant, depression, lone parent)

When you're in dire straits and scraping the bottom of the barrel so to speak… I did, I was thankful for everything I got, to be fair. It sounds as if I'm moaning a wee bit now, but at the time I was, I was really thankful for what I got. (...) I suppose it's better than nothing, isn't it? (Community Care Grant, domestic violence, depression/anxiety, lone parent)

8.16 Of importance in this context is the fact that a number of partial grant beneficiaries in our study thought that if they asked for a review and lost it, they could lose the award altogether. Asking for a review was therefore considered to be a risky move:

Looking back now, aye, I probably should have [asked for a review]. But as it stood at that point in time, I thought, "What was the point, because I need this stuff right now. If I challenge it then I'll maybe get nothing". (…) I didn't want to be left again with two wee ones with absolutely heehaw, so to speak. (Community Care Grant, partial award)

In cases where the award is partial, the decision letter should clearly state that the applicant cannot lose the original award if his or her review is unsuccessful.

8.17 Another common reason behind not asking for a review was that the decision was justified via a reference to a fixed rule adopted by the local authority, for example the 'maximum three Crisis Grants per year' rule or the 'maximum amount of money per day' rule.

Well what they said was it was... The government says the minimum amount for anybody, any person other than where there is a child, the living costs is £6.70 per day. So I understood that. I understood that was the reason why. So no, I would say, you've got to work with what they say. It's not like it's going to be any different if you fight with them or argue with them. (Crisis Grant)

Well, they're just going by government legislation. They're just sticking to their rules. If they were to make up their own rules... (Crisis Grant)

8.18 While some justifications referred to rules which are not flexible (e.g. the maximum amount that a person can be awarded for living expenses, see point 8.4 of the current Guidance), others referred to rules on which SWF staff are allowed to exercise discretion (e.g. maximum three Crisis Grants per year, see point 6.11 of the Guidance). Importantly, the interviews revealed that in such situations applicants were not aware of the discretionary powers in the hands of SWF decision-makers.

In situations where a discretionary criterion has been applied by the decision-maker, the decision letter should clearly state that the decision-maker did not consider the applicant to be in circumstances exceptional enough to justify applying discretion. It should then state that the applicant can seek a review if he or she believes that the circumstances were exceptional.

8.19 A few Crisis Grant respondents stated that they did not seek a review because they anticipated it to be a stressful or emotionally-draining process:

I would have challenged the decision but I was just not, at the time though, it was a very, very stressful time. (…) I just wasn't up to the hassle of going through with it. (Crisis Grant)

I have to say at the time, I was in no fit state. My frame of mind, it was ridiculous, it was totally just gone. You know what I mean? I had just been through a bit of a rough deal. I just didn't want any more drama. (Community Care Grant)

8.20 As for other reasons for not seeking a review, a few respondents wrongly believed that they had to repay the Crisis Grant, which discouraged them from seeking a review.

8.21 Likewise, a few respondents did not seek a review because they had their benefit delays resolved soon after receiving the negative Crisis Grant decision:

I didn't [challenge the decision], no; because it was just after that that I found out I was going to get my benefits, so there was no point. (Crisis Grant)

8.22 In some cases it was obvious that applicants had anticipated the decision to be negative, and therefore were less inclined to ask for the decision to be reviewed:

I did not appeal… I never really thought I would get anything because I know it's a lot of people who need help and I never thought I would qualify for that. (Community Care Grant)

I didn't [ask for a review]. I just thought, no, it's not worth it, I'll not get it. (Community Care Grant)

8.23 One foreign applicant's English seemed to be a barrier in him understanding the review process.

Reasons for seeking a review and experiences of the review process

8.24 11 respondents in our sample have gone through the review process. Where applicants were supported by an advocate and filed for a review, it was the advocate's idea to do so.

8.25 In one case where the original application was missing some relevant information, the applicant was instructed in detail by the SWF decision-maker what to write in the review letter.

8.26 There were also two cases of applicants challenging the decision by phoning up the decision-makers. They were not aware that those attempts did not actually count as reviews.

He [decision-maker] phoned me back and offered me X amount of money. I said, "No way, that won't even give me a couple of days in my house." He was very nice and asked how much I would need. I said to him, "I would need £50 for the gas and I'd need £20 for the electricity, to keep me going for a week anyway". He said, "Okay then, I'll see what I can do. " And he did, he phoned me back and said, "Okay, you can have that". (Crisis Grant)

I phoned them but the girls said that no, they had made the decision and that was it. (Community Care Grant)


8.27 While 11 applicants participated in a review process, the majority of unsuccessful or partially successful respondents did not ask for a review, mainly because they were not aware of that right; did not know the precise grounds on which their application was rejected; felt grateful for a partial award or were worried about jeopardising it; felt the review would not be successful; or had resolved their need.

8.28 In all review cases where the applicants were supported by an advocate, it was the advocates who suggested seeking a review.

8.29 The third sector representatives felt that they should receive notification of the decision to enable them to support clients in seeking a review. Some also felt that first tier reviews are not independent enough.


Email: Franca MacLeod

Back to top