Publication - Research and analysis

Social Security client and experience panels research: effects of the coronavirus pandemic on communication preferences

Published: 23 Aug 2021
From:
Director-General Communities
Directorate:
Social Security Directorate
Part of:
Coronavirus in Scotland
ISBN:
9781802012743

A report of findings from research with client and experience panels about communication preferences.

Social Security client and experience panels research: effects of the coronavirus pandemic on communication preferences
Meeting Social Security Scotland in person

Meeting Social Security Scotland in person

In the final section of the survey, respondents said if they might ever consider meeting Social Security Scotland in person to get support with benefits (Table 8.1). This could be at a location in their community or town such as a library or third sector organisation. In person could also mean a visit at home from Social Security Scotland staff.

Table 8.1: In the future, if it was possible to interact with Social Security Scotland in person, is this something you might ever be interested in? (n=477)
  %
Yes 78.8
No 21.2
Total 100

Over three quarters (79 per cent) of respondents said they could be interested in meeting Social Security Scotland in person in the future. Around one fifth (21 per cent) said they wouldn't be interested in engaging with Social Security Scotland in person.

There were some differences between respondents based on demographic characteristics. Results for different groups can be found in Table 8.2.

Table 8.2: Different preferences after the pandemic – demographic characteristics
  Proportion saying they would engage with Social Security Scotland in person(%)
Disability status
Long-term health condition or disability (n=316) 81.6
No Long-term health condition or disability (n=87) 69.0

Respondents with a long-term health condition or disability were more likely to say they would be interested in communicating in person. Among respondents with a condition or disability, 82 per cent said this is something they might consider. This is compared to around two thirds (69 per cent) of respondents who don't have a condition or disability.

Types of in-person interactions

Table 8.3 shows the proportion of survey respondents interested in different types of in person meetings.

Table 8.3: Which of these in-person interactions would you be interested in? (n=371)
  %
Either visiting a Social Security Scotland location or meeting an employee in my own home 56.3
I would meet with a Social Security Scotland employee in my own home. 21.6
I would visit a local Social Security Scotland location. (This could be in a local charitable organisation or public library). 22.1
Total 100

Over half (56 per cent) of respondents said they would consider visiting a Social Security Scotland location or arranging a meeting at home. Around one fifth (22 per cent) said they would consider a meeting at home. The same proportion (22 per cent) said they would visit a Social Security Scotland location in their area.

There were some differences between respondents based on demographic characteristics. Results for different groups can be found in Table 8.4.

Table 8.4: Meeting Social Security Scotland in person – demographic characteristics
  Proportion saying they would meet Social Security Scotland at home(%) Proportion saying they would visit a local Social Security Scotland location (%)
Gender
Women (n=208) 18.3 26.0
Men (n=100) 27.0 15.0
Caring status
Has caring responsibilities (n=163) 16.0 25.8
No caring responsibilities (n=144) 26.4 17.4
Geographic location
Urban (n=289) 20.4 21.8
Rural (n=59) 30.5 16.9

Over a quarter of women (26 per cent) said they would only consider visiting a Social Security Scotland location. Over a quarter of men (27 per cent) said they would only consider arranging a meeting at home.

Around a quarter (26 per cent) of those with caring responsibilities said they would visit a location. Around a quarter (26 per cent) of respondents who don't have caring responsibilities said they would consider meeting at home.

Around a third (31 per cent) of respondents living in a rural area said they would consider a meeting at home but not at a Social Security Scotland location. This was compared to 20 per cent of respondents in urban areas.

Meeting in person or at home

Some said that whilst they would be happy to meet in person at a location, they wouldn't be comfortable with someone visiting them at home. Participants said they preferred to keep meetings outside the private environment of home.

"Don't like idea of a home visit though – don't like the idea of having a stranger in the house." (interview participant)

"I would prefer to go to a location than to have someone in my home but I think both options are good because I know many people will want that, especially people with disabilities or that don't like crowds. But for me I'd prefer to go to a location to meet someone. It's more of a neutral environment, let's say, than in my home. It would make me a bit uncomfortable to have an adviser in my home." (interview participant)

Other participants said that they would prefer home visits as it removed the need to travel. Some participants said that travel and transport could be difficult due to health conditions. Others felt that home would provide a familiar, comfortable environment to discuss their situation.

"Yeah, definitely be interested in that [meeting in person], especially coming to my home…just not having the travel times to places." (interview participant)

"It's easier to speak to someone when you feel comfortable which in your own environment you are, opposed to an alien environment in a government office." (interview participant)

When meetings could take place

Some respondents said that it was important for in-person meetings to resume after the pandemic. They noted that restrictions during the pandemic had removed this choice. Some comments highlighted that in-person meetings would remain important for clients with limited access to the internet. One participant with no access to the internet at home emphasised that in-person meetings would be his preference after the pandemic.

"Face to face meetings WILL NEED to be part of communications with agencies in the future, simply because they allow a third party such as carers, family, case workers etc. to be in the meetings as well." (survey respondent)

"While I prefer online/phone/email contacts, I think a possibility to meet person face-to-face is incredibly important for older people or people who struggle with (or do not have) technology such as computers." (survey respondent)

"Great idea, would be ideal…If that was available, that would be Plan A." (interview participant)

Given the ongoing nature of the pandemic, respondents were asked when they would feel comfortable meeting Social Security Scotland in person.

Table 8.5: When do you think you would feel comfortable interacting with Social Security Scotland in person? (n=376)
  %
When COVID-19 is no longer a serious risk to public health and all restrictions are lifted. 67.0
When the local protection level (Tier) where I live allows me to meet people from at least one other household indoors. 19.9
While COVID-19 restrictions are in place, regardless of which local protection level (Tier) is in operation where I live. 11.2
Other 1.9
Total 100

The majority (67 per cent) said they would only feel comfortable once all restrictions related to the pandemic had been lifted. One in five (20 per cent) said they would consider in-person interactions when the restrictions in their local area allowed people from different households to mix indoors. Around one in ten (11 per cent) respondents said they would be happy to meet in person while restrictions remain in place.

Some respondents said that they wouldn't feel comfortable meeting Social Security Scotland in person while the risk of COVID-19 remained high. Some respondents said would they would feel comfortable interacting with Social Security Scotland in person when case numbers were low. Others mentioned they would feel comfortable after 26 April 2021. During the research period, announcements from the Scottish Government said that restrictions on journeys in mainland Scotland would be lifted on this date. Restrictions would also be eased for meeting people from other households outdoors and indoors.[8]

"Due to COVID-19 restrictions it is more difficult for me to get out and I do not want to put myself in danger of picking up COVID-19 from visiting offices and speaking face to face in a building." (survey participant)

"When COVID-19 infections are very low in my area and many people have been vaccinated." (survey respondent)

"I heard yesterday that the restrictions in Scotland are being lifted from the 26th of April. I would wait probably until, kind of, June or July, before I felt really comfortable going to face-to-face meetings." (interview participant)

Many participants said that they would only feel comfortable arranging a home visit once restrictions had been eased and guidelines allowed indoor meetings between households. Some mentioned that they would only be comfortable once the number of COVID-19 cases was low. Others said they would want all restrictions to be lifted before they would take part in a home visit. Some interview participants said that they would feel comfortable after they had received their vaccination.

"I would want the COVID-19 pandemic to be over and things to have returned to as close to normal as they can." (survey respondent)

"After I have been vaccinated, I think." (interview participant)

Purposes for meeting in person

Figure 8 shows the proportion of survey respondents who said they would prefer in-person meetings for different purposes after the pandemic.

Figure 8: Preference for in-person meetings for different purposes after the pandemic (n=approx. 484)

Bar chart showing preference for in-person meetings for different purposes after the pandemic. Total number approximately 484. Description of chart in text.

After the pandemic, around a fifth (18 per cent) of respondents said they would prefer to challenge a decision about an application in person. Around one in ten said they would prefer in-person communication for getting advice (11 per cent), making an application (13 per cent) or for something urgent (11 per cent).

Respondents said why they would want to get in touch with Social Security Scotland in person for a range of purposes. Some said that meeting in person was a useful way to discuss complex issues or explain detailed personal circumstances. An interview participant said sharing documents or evidence with Social Security Scotland would be easier in person. Another participant said that in-person meetings were helpful if there was a problem to report and resolve.

"I think for certain instances that [meeting in person] would be useful. If that was available to me, it's not something I would use regularly but for something like a new claim or a very complex situation, I think sometimes sitting in front of someone with papers and discussing it, it can go faster than on the phone." (interview participant)

"I think I will continue to use the online and telephone. Phoning about the state of my application. But if it was more complicated I would go in person." (interview participant)

"It's sometimes easier to speak to someone face to face. I've only had one problem once, it was a payment issue, it would be great to have a personal contact in that kind of situation. If you are person to person, can tell that person that you have not received the payment." (interview participant)

Some respondents said that they felt reassured talking in person. Respondents said that when they talk with someone in person, they felt understood and that their issues were taken seriously.

One interview participant said she would only consider meeting in person if it was urgent. This participant appreciated the opportunity to connect with someone in person during difficult times. This was echoed by some comments from survey respondents who said that in person meetings were an important option for clients experiencing a crisis in circumstances. Another participant said that they would prefer meeting in person as it would allow them to get extra support.

"I honestly think you can't beat the personal touch and the feeling that your query or claim will actually be dealt with…If you actually see someone face to face I feel you have better chance of getting things done there and then and there is a record of what it is you are there for." (survey respondent)

"I think face to face, either in person or online is the best way to do things, one can see reactions and gauge whether what you are saying is being understood. It is also easier than filling in hard to understand forms which these days look like a copy of war and peace in their thickness. I always find face to face more reassuring." (survey respondent)

"Yes, definitely face to face. English is my second language and it's easier face to face they can show me clearly [what to do]." (interview participant)

Some interview participants with experience of disability benefits said in-person meetings were the best way to carry out health assessments.

"I think whoever I was talking to [in person] would see how my disability was now affecting me and how it has progressed. This isn't so easy to explain in a telephone call." (survey respondent)

"The only thing that I will change will be face-to-face interview because when I applied to PIP [Personal Independence Payment], I had a meeting over the phone rather than face-to-face interview ." (interview participant)

One interview participant said that visiting a location would be a helpful way for clients who don't have internet access to complete online forms. Another participant also highlighted that WiFi should be available for clients to use at Social Security Scotland locations.

"Not everybody's got access to certain stuff, it would be good to have an office where you could go in to use a computer if you haven't got a mobile." (interview participant)

Information before visiting a location

Survey respondents said how they would like Social Security Scotland to tell them about what to expect before visiting a local location (Table 8.6).

Table 8.6: How should Social Security Scotland tell you about what to expect for a visit to a local location? (n=287)
  %
Letter 41.5
Email 39.7
SMS / Text message 8.4
Telephone call 8.0
Other 2.4
Total 100

Most survey respondents said they would want to receive a letter (42 per cent) or email (40 per cent) before visiting a Social Security Scotland location. Some respondents said they would prefer a text message (8 per cent) or a phone call (8 per cent).

In discussing the types of information that they would expect to receive before a visit, some respondents and participant used the term 'interview'. Some who have experience of disability benefits may have thought about meeting in person for a health assessment, as carried out by the DWP. Some who have experience of Universal Credit may have thought about experiences of visiting JobCentres.

For both meetings in and outside the home, most respondents said they would want information to include the time and date of the appointment. This was the key information also mentioned by interview participants. An outline of what would be discussed was also a popular suggestion. Many respondents said they would also want to know if identification or other documentation was required. Some respondents said that an estimate of how long the meeting might take would be helpful.

"The meeting time, place, agenda and any documents/evidence I may require." (survey respondent)

"Date, time, how long and what information I would require to have." (respondent)

Many respondents said they would like to see some information about who they would meet during their visit. This included the name, gender, and job title of the staff member who would conduct the meeting. Other suggestions included direct contact details and a photograph. A number of interview participants mentioned that staff should bring identification when visiting a client at home.

"The name and gender of the person." (survey respondent)

"Name of the person I'm meeting with as this alone can reduce anxiety levels slightly. A small photo of the person I'm meeting with on the letter." (survey respondent)

"I would expect them to carry some kind of identification security wise that would be a big thing for me because you are just wary of letting people into your house now." (interview participant)

Some respondents and interview participants said they would want to know if they could bring someone to support them during their visit to a location. There were also a couple of comments related to childcare and if bringing children would be permitted.

"Do you have to be alone or can you bring someone with you to support you and help you understand things and to support you emotionally or mentally?" (interview participant)

"If it would be possible if I could bring a friend with me to support me during appointments in a Social Security Scotland location. I would want to know in advance, I don't want to be embarrassed and bring someone and I'm not allowed. I would like it to be clear cut what I am allowed to do." (survey respondent)

"If there is childcare available or if there is a playroom in the location where I could view my child while I sat and attended the meeting." (survey respondent)

A number of respondents and interview participants said they would want to receive information about COVID-19 safety precautions to help them prepare for a visit to a location. Some comments mentioned information on cleaning protocols and physical distancing arrangements. Some specifically said that they would want to know whether they were expected to wear a face covering.

"Naturally I would want to know what restrictions were in place. What distance would we be apart? Has the meeting place been cleansed? And is it cleansed after each meeting. I would need to know what face protection was in [place]. I would need to know if I was in a safe environment." (survey participant)

"Reassurance that location is COVID-19 safe, what to expect from me ([for example] wear a mask, wait outside or enter when instructed)." (survey respondent)

"I would want information sent out about that before I visited on what I could expect when I was there…I would want to know what the social distancing was and like, was there hand sanitisers and if they were going to be wearing masks and all that kind of stuff." (interview participant)

Travel information was also suggested by many respondents. This included information about public transport links and the availability of car and bicycle parking. Some respondents said specific information about disabled parking would be helpful. A couple of respondents mentioned information about pick-up and drop-off points.

"A map with public transport information." (survey respondent)

"Is there parking around? What's the best way to get there by public transport? If it's local to where I live it's fine but if it's further out I might not be familiar with the area. So maybe travel guides and if it's easily accessible by bus or something like that." (interview participant)

"It would be helpful to have information about nearest Blue Badge Parking spaces and how near they are to the venue." (survey respondent)

Some respondents said that information about the building itself would be helpful. This included information about accessibility for example whether there are stairs, the availability of lifts and toilet facilities. Some respondents mentioned information about the environment in the location such as temperature, noise and lighting. Other comments said a guide to the general layout of the building would be beneficial.

"What accessibility is available, wheelchair ramp, electric doors, feedback loop, quiet area etc." (survey respondent)

"I'd need detailed information (possibly even a walkthrough video, those are great) about the building, walking distances, lifts, ramps, toilets, noise levels, [and] light levels." (survey respondent)

"Exact layout, so I know where to go in a building." (survey respondent)

"As an autistic person it would be extremely helpful to have a visual guide to the building with photos of the entrance and where I am to wait, and a photo of the security badge I'm to look out for. This helps me to reduce my anxiety when accessing new places." (survey respondent)


Contact

Email: SocialSecurityExperience@gov.scot