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.

3 Accessing the Scottish Welfare Fund

3.1 This chapter opens with a description of application routes used by applicants (applying independently versus applying with support), before moving onto the subject of application methods. Application methods are discussed firstly from the third sector perspective, and then from the applicants' perspective. The chapter subsequently moves onto two specific aspects of applying by phone: the costs of phoning the SWF, and call waiting times. Next, applicants and third sector's experiences of SWF staff are presented, including experiences of applicants belonging to equality groups. The chapter closes with a description of applicants' overall satisfaction with the application process.

Application routes

3.2 The vast majority of Crisis Grant applicants sampled from the dataset provided to the research team by the Scottish Government applied directly to SWF themselves. Only a minority used a third sector agency to access the SWF. They were generally confident about the approach, as they were commonly people who had used Crisis Loans from the DWP in the past.

3.3 About half of Community Care Grant applicants in the study sample received help from a support worker or third sector agency with applying to the SWF. Applicants viewed this support as important:

I probably could have [applied myself], aye. But, I guess, she delivered it better for me. (...) The next time I will probably do it straight through the CAB, it should probably be a lot quicker. (...) [Would recommend CAB] because I think you get to know [the outcome] a lot quicker. They could follow things up for you. You haven't always got the money to phone on your phone because it's 0845 numbers, it's too expensive. (Community Care Grant, under review following rejection)

I've problems concentrating and different things for filling it in, so the lady at the [name] Housing Association helped me. (Community Care Grant)

3.4 There were a number of cases where applicants had felt that their application had not been successful because they had applied themselves. In a few of cases, the applicant had undergone a review or were going to, with the help of an advisor.

To be honest with you, I wish I'd asked somebody for a bit of help now because I feel it was asking for major answers for things. I spoke to [name of advisor] and she said she would help me fill it out because you need to elaborate quite a lot on the form. But I wasn't aware of that, it didn't make it clear that you had to do that. (Community Care Grant, refused, under review)

I tried applying myself and I got turned down. If I had help it would have made it easier. (Community Care Grant)

Third sector perspectives on application methods

3.5 The interviews with the third sector revealed a low level of awareness of the ability to use paper forms among even some of the most experienced staff. A few respondents felt that application forms should be more freely available, particularly for those not able to use the telephone.

3.6 There was an on-going reluctance among front-line staff to apply online, which on some occasions had proven frustrating and slow and had led to 'crashes' and lost data.

3.7 Those working with clients by appointment tend to do so on an 'out-reach' basis and so it was easier for the advice worker to call while in the client's home where there may be no or poor-quality internet access.

Application methods used by applicants interviewed for this study

3.8 Community Care Grant applicants were fairly evenly split between those who had submitted applications by telephone and by postal forms, with fewer using online application and just a handful applying face-to-face. By contrast, the vast majority of those who had applied for a Crisis Grant had applied by telephone.

3.9 Most respondents were happy with the method that was available to them. There were, however, some exceptions. For instance, some people said they were embarrassed about talking on the phone.

It was just to phone, I think. I think that's how they do everything now; everything seems to be phoned away. (...) I think the paper [application form] I would have preferred. I was more embarrassed than anything else. (Community Care Grant, older person)

I think you can only do it over the phone, I'm not sure if you can do it online or not. I'm not so sure about that. (...) If they could do something online, like an application which you could do online, I think it would be better than showing your feelings over the phone. (Crisis Grant, depression/anxiety)

3.10 Another respondent preferred the telephone to face-to-face, for this reason.

No, I think because it was on the phone, I didn't [feel embarrassed]. I would have felt more embarrassed if it was face to face. (Community Care Grant + Crisis Grant)

3.11 Positive aspects of the telephone option were that it was faster, easier and you could be certain that your information had got to the intended place.

I'd rather do things with phone because mobility is restricted. If I can't get out the house, doing by phone would be easiest for myself, anyway, personally. (Crisis Grant, mobility issues)

I'd rather do it over the phone because then I know that all my information that I gave is safe and it's going to go in my folder and all that or maybe into a computer. It's all safe and that. Just in case I did it by post and it gets lost in the post. (Crisis Grant)

3.12 Few applicants had used the online application process, although there were some who preferred it.

I was of the understanding I could phone up, but it was my housing officer that said you would probably be as well just doing it online, because they're supposed to have a quicker decision online or something like that. I wasn't really... I was just more focused on getting the application in to get my house started because I'd moved into it straightaway and I was sleeping like a wee hobo for a while. (Community Care Grant)

3.13 However, online application was not a method that everyone was comfortable with:

There was a choice. You could apply online or you could apply either by going down to the council, face to face or you could phone. But because I'm not very good with computers I was quite happy just to phone. (Crisis Grant)

Well, aye you can [apply online], but I'm not computer literate is the word they use. (Community Care Grant, used phone)

3.14 Just one person had applied in person, at a local authority office, and no-one interviewed had received a home visit. Home visits were discussed by one respondent as the ideal but something that would not be possible.

The phone is fine. But sometimes, obviously you can't get somebody to come to your house and help you out, you know what I mean, to show you. (Crisis Grant)

3.15 Another applicant thought that in some circumstances it would be useful for SWF staff to come with a home visit to see the extent of the applicant's need with their own eyes.

3.16 Those who applied by post or completed a form generally found this straightforward, though some respondents did say they had difficulties with the form. In particular, a few respondents felt that they might not have answered the form in enough detail, or interpreted the questions correctly.

…Its forms and some of the questions, I can't remember exactly but I remember thinking, "What do they mean by that?" (Community Care Grant)

Obviously, I didn't write down the proper things because if the welfare rights officer had been there, I probably would have got better help. (...) But just me, myself, just answering basic to the questions, I've obviously not answered enough to fit the criteria. (Community Care Grant, refused)

A choice of application methods is useful to applicants and it is important that applicants are aware of the options.

More guidance on the level of detail/type of information required in self-completion applications might be useful.

Third sector perspectives on costs

3.17 While some local authorities offered a call back service, where this option was not available the cost of calling the SWF may have posed a barrier to clients accessing the SWF service directly. Third sector respondents suggested that the telephone calls have generally taken 15-20 minutes and most clients were mobile-only households who might struggle to have enough telephone credit to call the SWF or their application may be 'cut off' if their credit runs out.

3.18 The cost of phoning the SWF tended to be cheaper than the DWP (a local area code rather than an 0845 number in most cases) but third sector staff felt that it was unlikely that clients facing a crisis would have the money for even a local telephone call.

Applicant views on costs

3.19 Well over half of the applicants applied to the SWF by phone. There was a variation by local authority, with some local authorities providing a 'Freephone' number, others calling applicants back and others having to pay for the call themselves.

3.20 Views on costs also depended on the applicant's circumstances also, with some having a contract/tariff on the mobile phone that enabled free local calls, for instance. Overall, three out of five applicants for whom it was relevant said that the cost of the call was a concern to them, with the remainder having a cheaper/low cost mobile phone plan or using a local authority/other advocacy organisation's phone.

I didn't realise at the time, it ended up costing about £14. (Crisis Grant + Community Care Grant)

Well, I must admit, I phoned up a few times. That was the reason why I went to the Citizen's Advice because I couldn't afford to use my mobile every time to phone then because they keep me waiting, holding, holding, holding. (...) Before there used to be a Freephone number. It's not a Freephone number now, its 0845 so it costs money. If you phone from a mobile, I don't know how much it is a minute. (Crisis Grant, multiple applications)

I had to pay for the telephone call myself. (...) it was okay because some local telephone numbers, my phone's free call. (Crisis Grant)

3.21 There was little discussion of face-to-face applications. One respondent highlighted the cost of going into an office:

It's a lot quicker [by phone], as I said, because before if you had to go into the office, and then you would need to wait for a decision. It might not be that day and then you would have to go back and forward. (…) If it's costing you bus fares, I might not have the money. I might not be able to afford it. (Crisis Grant)

Local authorities might consider offering a Freephone or local number or call-backs to applicants. Local authorities would need to consider the associated costs.

Applicant experiences of call waiting times

3.22 The majority of calls were answered quickly, with one in five telephone applicants having longer call waiting times (in excess of 20 minutes).

It was quite easy, aye. I got through quite easily. (Community Care Grant)

It took a while. (...) It was about 45 minutes to get through. (Crisis Grant)

3.23 A few respondents recognised that there were 'peak' times to avoid calling, if possible.

It would sort of depend on what day it was. Like, if it was Monday or Thursday, those were probably the days where it's quicker to get through. Any other day it can take quite long to get through. (Crisis Grant, multiple applications)

3.24 Front-line staff raised the possible future unintended consequence of any marketing/awareness raising campaign being to further stretch the already very busy call-handling staff.

Local authorities might wish to monitor their call waiting times and consider where extra staff might be needed to cover peak times.

Analysis of efficiency might also be useful - e.g. looking at calls generated by missing information/other issues and whether interview protocols can be amended to improve efficiency.

Experiences with SWF staff

3.25 Most front-line third sector representatives found SWF staff to be pleasant, helpful, efficient and thorough. The call process seemed quite 'stream-lined' and applications by advocates by telephone have tended to go well.

3.26 Advocates were able to deal with the SWF application on behalf of a client once the client had completed a security check and given authority to advocate. Once this had been granted, the advisor dealt with any follow-up stage without the need for the applicant to be present. This meant that staff could call SWF to find out the outcome. This process was generally viewed to work well by advisors.

3.27 In one local authority, it was the decision-maker taking calls, which made decision-making more direct and presumably faster, but might have had an impact on call volumes, through relying on fewer staff.

3.28 Overall, applicants themselves were also very positive about the experiences they had talking to the staff administering the SWF scheme. Two-thirds of Community Care Grant applicants and almost three-quarters of Crisis Grant applicants were positive about the staff they spoke to. Staff were generally described as helpful, pleasant, understanding, professional, well-mannered and 'genuine'. Even those whose outcome was refused were generally positive about the staff.

They're brilliant and they explain everything to you. Even if they don't grant you it then they give you advice where to go. (Community Care Grant, refused)

Some of the questions are hard to answer to, because your feelings, the situation you're in. I've always had the same woman when I phone, and she always says, how are you? They're nice. She knows my circumstances. I can't help it, I'm an emotional guy. I'm the worst out of the whole family. The situation I'm in at the moment, it's hard to answer some of the questions. (Crisis Grant, depression/anxiety)

They were very helpful and very friendly. I do really understand the pressures they were under with the amount of applications that they do get through. But, when you were telephoning them or whatever for information, they were totally forthcoming with it. (Community Care Grant)

3.29 The applicants to the Community Care Grant scheme were more negative than Crisis Grant applicants. The negative comments were more commonly from those in receipt of partial awards. The small number of people who were left with a more negative impression felt that staff were 'rude', 'cheeky', 'mechanical', dismissive and not sensitive to their needs, or felt they were made to feel uncomfortable.

As if I was lying. I'm not a drug addict, I'm not an alcoholic. I felt as if I was getting discriminated a wee bit because I was phoning up for a grant. (Community Care Grant)

But again, I found it very, very dismissive. (…) when I had to go in and ask, I found it very judgemental. (Community Care Grant)


3.30 There were a few examples provided by third sector respondents of people having trouble accessing the service due to having language or communication difficulties. A call handler cut off one disabled client a couple of times. He had a pronounced speech defect after experiencing a stroke. Afterwards, the respondent arranged a speakerphone call and advocated on the client's behalf.

3.31 There were two similar cases where advisors had been unable to complete the security details and advocate on the client's behalf, relating to profound deafness in one case and speech difficulties in another case. In both these instances, no solution (e.g. an office/home visit) was offered and the application did not go ahead. In neither of these cases did the advocate make a formal complaint but it may be that they could have sought a review of the decision not to allow advocacy by telephone because of the inability to complete the security checks.

3.32 Third sector advocates identified older people and disabled people as key groups where the option of home visits was relevant. This was particularly when someone cannot manage a phone call or a paper form - e.g. due to dementia. However, it was acknowledged by respondents that most people in these circumstances would be supported by a carer.

3.33 The example was given by one third sector agency of an applicant who didn't speak English who received good language support to enable her to access the service but this broke down at the delivery stage, when an English speaking delivery driver called to arrange delivery. This meant she missed the delivery time of the goods. An advocate for minority ethnic people had no knowledge of the availability of materials in community languages.

3.34 Applicants themselves were asked whether they felt that their needs were taken into account during the application process. Most of those in equality groups applied through the Community Care Grant route and most felt their needs were taken into account. The majority of Crisis Grant applicants also said this.

3.35 The cases where the respondent felt that their needs were not taken into account related to health issues. One woman with bowel incontinence was refused a Community Care Grant for bedding and night-wear.

I thought, I don't think this is right. I know things change and different criteria, if you don't fall into it you don't get things. I just thought, you know, I was so ill and I just thought, I'm not even going to say anything or fight it. I didn't have any fight left in me for anything, to be honest with you. (Community Care Grant, refused)

One respondent stated that SWF staff were not aware of their mental health issues because they did not come up in the application process:

I'm not sure we went that deep actually. I was just asking them for the money, just because I needed money pay the bills and to get food and toothpaste and little things like that, deodorant, soap and things. (Crisis Grant, mental health issues)

Another respondent who was bi-polar felt that SWF staff were unhelpful and showed a lack of understanding of mental health issues in their questioning:

It's quite easy to talk down to someone on the phone (…) More or less saying that if I was going to rip the system off or something, they say that I could get taken to court and everything. (Community Care Grant)

3.36 One pregnant woman also felt that her male interviewee lacked empathy with her situation, as a woman.

I was quite embarrassed because they're asking you what you're going to spend it on and everything. You think, maybe I want to buy things that I don't want to tell you, do you know what I mean? Especially when you're pregnant and things aren't very attractive. There's a guy down the phone demanding to know what you want to buy. (Crisis Grant)

3.37 A few older applicants felt that age should be taken into consideration more in decision-making.

When the houses went back up, I applied and anyway I got the two bedroomed house. I had nothing at all, no flooring or anything for the windows, no curtains or anything like that because nothing fitted. (...) I really think they should consider your age. I'm only getting the pension, they should try to help people, I think, anyway. (Community Care Grant, refused, older person)

3.38 One respondent was satisfied with the treatment that he had received from the SWF but had been advised by his social worker to ensure that he appealed for any negative decision as it was felt that his communication difficulties put him at a disadvantage.

I don't know we just don't have very good English as well, that's why they [Social Work] said every time to go and appeal and everything. (Community Care Grant, minority ethnic)

Local authorities should use on-going monitoring data to explore equality of access to the SWF.

Scottish Government could provide case-study examples from local authorities of effective engagement protocols from within SWF or from organisations representing disabled people and minority ethnic groups.

Overall satisfaction with the application process

3.39 Satisfaction levels with the application process were high overall across both Community Care Grant and Crisis Grant applicants, with the vast majority of both groups satisfied with the process.

I was completely satisfied. I was pleasantly surprised. I had no idea it would have been so soon. It made it so much easier because right away we were able to put things into action. (Community Care Grant, full award)

I think it's very useful 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 qualified for that. (Community Care Grant, partial award)

3.40 A few respondents had more mixed feelings about the application process.

I was sort of a bit of both [satisfied and dissatisfied]. I was satisfied with the way how they were treating the situation and I liked that they have all my information put down so they know what my situation is like. But I'm kind of disappointed on how long it takes to get through and also how long it takes to go into effect. (Crisis Grant, refused and partial)

Satisfied, aye. Apart from the 2 day thing [Crisis Grant target waiting time], you know what I mean? I know, obviously, they've got applications; they need to go through so many and all that. But 2 days, it is a long time if you're sitting with no heating, electric, food or whatever, you know what I mean? I've obviously heard of people getting caught shoplifting and that for food just for something to eat and that because they couldn't get... You know what I mean? The application side of it seems pretty much straightforward and that. (Crisis Grant)

3.41 There were also a number of people dissatisfied by the outcome, which coloured their overall satisfaction. Some more negative views stemmed from a perceived lack of fairness or consistency:

When she actually said no to me, I felt I was a bit disappointed because I've heard of people getting things before. And they were in receipt of a lot more money than I was getting at the time, you know what I mean? (Community Care Grant, refused)

The thing that annoyed me most is that my [relative] applied for one the other day there. (...) So, he applied for it and got what he applied for, which is well more than me, because he gets £70 for two weeks and I get £40 for 10 days. (...) I'm not sure how they figure out what your entitlement is. (Crisis Grant, partial award)


3.42 Applicants and third sector organisations had typically applied for Community Care Grant and Crisis Grant by telephone, though paper-based Community Care Grant applications were more common in some local authorities and in prison. The application process itself was widely viewed as straightforward although some respondents raised issues about -

  • Waiting times to speak to staff by telephone
  • The cost of telephone calls
  • Not being able to understand paper-based questions or needing more guidance on what information to include
  • There only being one way to apply (although this was not often the case, in fact).

3.43 The vast majority of those who had applied by telephone said that the process had been explained well to them by SWF staff who were generally helpful, friendly and supportive. Those supported by advocacy organisations appreciated the specialist support they received.

3.44 Overall levels of satisfaction were high, with respondents particularly positive about the helpfulness of SWF staff, in general. A few applicants with mental or physical health issues felt these were not fully taken into account in their application.


Email: Franca MacLeod

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