Social Security Charter Review: research findings

This report sets out findings from research carried out to review the Scottish Social Security Charter, “Our Charter”.

1. Executive summary

This report sets out the research undertaken to review the Scottish Social Security Charter, “Our Charter”, and the Charter Measurement Framework. The Charter was created in 2018 and the framework was created the following year. The Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 requires the Charter to be reviewed every five years. The review took place during 2023 and was facilitated by researchers and officials from the Scottish Government and Social Security Scotland.

Research approach

Scoping activity identified strengths and weaknesses of the Charter and the framework. Key strengths were the co-design process used to design the documents and a positive influence on organisational culture in Social Security Scotland. Concerns were about the implementation of the Charter commitments and a mis-match between measures in the framework and how Social Security Scotland delivers in practice.

It was a priority to deliver a review which met the legislative requirements set out in the Act. Overall, the review reflected on the existing Charter and highlighted areas for improvement and change, rather than attempting to start from scratch. Given the key strength of the original co-design approach, it was important that research activity followed a similar methodology. Although not part of the formal legislative requirements, the research also considered the Charter Measurement Framework. This ensured consistency and maintained the close link with the Charter.

Research methodology

A co-design approach was taken to carry out the research and put people with experience of the Scottish social security system at the heart of the process. The review also included input from government officials, the Scottish Commission on Social Security, and research with staff from Social Security Scotland, and partner organisations. Research activities are outlined below.

  • A group of around 35 officials in relevant areas across Social Security Scotland and the Social Security Directorate within the Scottish Government were asked for regular input throughout the research process.
  • Five online focus groups were held with 26 staff from Social Security Scotland.
  • Seven partner organisations took part in the research; five organisations responded to a survey and two took part in an interview.
  • Over 850 Client Panels members took part in a survey about their views and priorities for the Charter.
  • Five online workshops were held with a core group of client participants, the ‘core client group’. Over the course of workshops, 16 participants took part in at least one session.
  • A review of existing evidence was carried out to identify the known needs of clients from seldom heard groups.
  • Interviews were carried out with 18 clients from seldom heard groups.
  • Analysts and policy officials reviewed and updated the framework measures.

Proposed changes to the Charter

Following an iterative approach, research findings were analysed throughout the research process and used to build and develop proposed changes to the Charter with the core group of client participants. By the end of the last workshop, the core client group had agreed a final set of proposed revisions.

Findings showed that the Charter continued to reflect values which align with the priorities of clients, staff, and partner organisations. All original commitments have been retained in some form in the proposed new version.

The original four sections have been retained but there is some suggested movement of commitments between sections compared to the original Charter. The wording of the sub-headings has been updated to make it clear who is responsible for delivering the commitments under each theme. These introductory lines have also been used in proposed new sub-sections to give more detail about how each sub-section relates to the overall theme of the section. The core client group agreed these structural changes improved the flow of the Charter and made it clearer what each section was focussed on.

Clients who took part in the research said the language used in the Charter should be specific and avoid vague, unclear statements. Language has been updated to use more active words in the present tense. The words and phrases used to describe Social Security Scotland processes have also been updated to align with agency language. For example, the word ‘assessments’ has been replaced with ‘consultations’. Advice from Social Security Scotland communications colleagues was used to ensure the changes reflect the tone and ‘voice’ clients are familiar with from Social Security Scotland.

Changes to the wording of commitments, and the introduction of new commitments, reflects the priorities described by clients, staff and partner organisations. Changes were agreed by the core client group at the final workshop.

A key priority was to provide clients with more information on what they can expect from the social security system. New commitments have been proposed which outline the application journey.

Accountability was also a recurring theme across the research findings and is reflected in the proposed changes. Clients, staff and partner organisations all said it was vital that the Scottish Government and Social Security Scotland could be held to account for delivering the Charter commitments. Changes have been included to provide more information about how performance and feedback are used to make improvements. Changes also include making it clearer how clients can raise issues if their rights aren’t met and provide views about their experience.

Issues related to the theme of communication were another priority for clients, staff and partner organisations. Some revisions have been proposed to make it clearer how clients’ communication needs are supported.

A final example of where changes have been made to reflect priorities identified from the research relates to information about support for clients. This includes support to engage with Social Security Scotland as well as links with other forms of support that may help clients.

Communicating the Charter

There was mixed feedback about the awareness of the Charter and the framework. Among staff participants, familiarity varied although most remembered taking part in training about the Charter when they first started at Social Security Scotland. A third (33%) of client survey respondents said they were familiar with the Charter.

Overall, feedback was positive about the way the Charter is written. Partner organisations said it was clear and about the right length. On the types of documents client survey respondents would read about the Charter, over half (57%) said they would likely read a visual summary and just under half (48%) said a document of up to 5 pages of writing.

Additional information

There was overall support for the addition of ‘useful information’ relevant to the Charter.

The core client group agreed a list of terms and phrases used in the proposed Charter where it would be helpful to see further information to help explain what they mean in practice. For example, ‘Health and Social Care Practitioner’ and ‘Social Security Independent Advocacy Service’. There was a suggestion to include visual information about key processes such as the consultation, re-determination and appeals processes. Across the research, clients who took part reiterated the need for better links between organisations who provide support. The core client group also agreed a list of links which they thought would be useful to include in the Charter. For example, to benefit checkers and how to get in touch with Social Security Scotland.

Charter Measurement Framework

Within Social Security Scotland, the Charter Measurement and Client Panels team lead on producing the annual framework publication. This team provided an overview of each measure in the first three sections of the framework and their reflections on issues which have affected reporting. Scottish Government policy officials provided input on potential changes to section four of the framework. A number of areas for potential improvement were identified. The findings from discussions with staff were used to develop a set of criteria for reviewing and updating the framework. These criteria were discussed by the core client group at workshop four with broad support for the approach.

It is important that the measures in the framework are updated to reflect changes to the Charter. Proposed changes also include removing duplication, better alignment with existing management information, and reducing burden on research participants and staff.

What’s next

The findings in this report and the proposed revised Charter have been shared with officials across the Scottish Government and Social Security Scotland. The introductory text and design of the Charter document will be updated by Social Security Scotland. Proposed changes to the Charter will be laid to the Scottish Parliament in early 2024. Updates to the Charter Measurement Framework will be finalised once the revised Charter has been agreed.



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