Publication - Research and analysis

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

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

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
Background and methodology

Background and methodology

This chapter provides background information about the project and outlines the methodology used during the research.


This research was the first Client Panels research activity and was jointly undertaken with the Experience Panels.

The Experience Panels were established in 2017 to help design a social security system that works for the people of Scotland. Members have experience of at least one of the benefits delivered by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that has or will come to Scotland.

Established in 2020, the Client Panels are made up of Social Security Scotland clients from across Scotland. Client Panels members share their experiences and opinions on how Social Security Scotland should and is working. Members involved in this project signed up to the Client Panels via the first Social Security Scotland Client Survey which ran in 2020. These Client Panel members have experience of at least one of:

  • Best Start Grant / Best Start Foods
  • Carer's Allowance Supplement
  • Funeral Support Payment
  • Young Carer Grant

As a joint project, participants came from both the Client and Experience Panels. This means that this report includes feedback from two groups. First, Client Panel members who have applied for and received one or more payments from Social Security Scotland. Second, Experience Panel members who have experience of disability and carer benefits that have yet to move to Social Security Scotland.

It is important to note, that the results presented in this report only represent the views of panel members who took part in the project. Results should not be interpreted as generalisable for Social Security Scotland's current or future client base as a whole.


Panel members were invited to take part in a survey and interview to explore four key themes:

  • Interactions during the pandemic: The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on interactions with Social Security Scotland since March 2020. This theme also explored anything the respondent was unhappy with and their experience of submitting supporting evidence.
  • Communication preferences: How the pandemic may have affected current and future communication preferences.
  • Video calls: Attitudes towards using video calls to talk to Social Security Scotland.
  • In-person interactions: Attitudes towards meeting Social Security Scotland in person, either in at a local location or at home.

Research took place in two stages between January and April 2021. Research comprised: a survey carried out between January and March and follow-up interviews which took place in March and April. Participation in all panels' research is optional. In total, 484 panel members completed the survey and 41 members took part in an interview with a researcher.

Table 1: Participation in the research
  No. of survey respondents No. of interview participants
Client Panels 64 (23 per cent response rate) 25
Experience Panels 420 (27 per cent response rate) 16
Total 484 41


All active Experience Panel members were invited to take part in the survey. In total, 420 Experience Panel members chose to complete the survey.[1] This represents a response rate of approximately 27 per cent.

In total, 64 Client Panel members chose to complete the survey, a response rate of 23 per cent. Client Panels members who had experience of receiving Carer's Allowance Supplement but no other Social Security Scotland benefits were not invited to take part in the project. Clients don't submit an application for Carer's Allowance Supplement so are likely to have limited interaction with Social Security Scotland compared to other clients.

Throughout the report, panel members who completed the survey are referred to as survey respondents.

Results shown in the report exclude any respondents who were either filtered out of the question or who left the response blank. Results presented in Figures or tables are intended to show proportions between different answer options. The number of respondents answering a question is shown in the title of the table as (n). Where results include a small number of blank responses, the number of respondents is shown as (n=approx.)

In open text questions which specifically asked about experiences with Social Security Scotland, some respondents instead described experiences with DWP. In these instances, where it was clear that feedback was about DWP and not Social Security Scotland, these comments were not included in analysis.

Quotations are taken from comments left by respondents in open-text questions and have the label (survey respondent). Edits to spelling and grammar were made as appropriate.

Where possible, information from the survey was matched to demographic information supplied previously by panel members. Linking was not possible where there was missing or unclear information. The following demographic information is included to give context to the findings from the survey.

Two thirds of survey respondents (66 per cent) identified as female. Almost half (47 per cent) were aged 45 to 59. Around 3 per cent of respondents were from a minority ethnic group. Most respondents (78 per cent) had a disability or long-term health condition. Over half of respondents (53 per cent) said they were a carer. Most survey respondents lived in an urban area (82 per cent). Survey respondents had experience of claiming or helping someone else to claim a wide range of benefits. The most common benefit claimed by Experience Panels survey respondents was Personal Independence Payment (76 per cent). Among Client Panels survey respondents, the most common benefit experience was of Best Start Grant/Foods (71 per cent). Further information and demographic information about survey respondents can be found at Annex A.

Potential differences based on characteristics were considered during analysis. The report identifies where there was a large difference between answers from different groups. For example, between respondents living in urban or rural areas. It isn't possible to test whether this reflects a difference between these groups beyond the survey respondents. This is because the survey was not completed by a representative sample of benefits recipients. It is also important to take caution comparing results between groups where the total number of responses is small.


At the end of the survey, respondents were asked if they would be interested in taking part in a follow-up interview. In total, 41 interviews were conducted. Throughout the report, panel members who took part in an interview are referred to as interview participants.

All interviews explored communication during the pandemic and likely future preferences. Based on their survey responses, participants were also asked relevant additional questions relating to one or more of the other key research themes.

Quotations from participants are used to illustrate the findings discussed in the report and have the label (interview participant). Edits to improve readability were made as appropriate.

More women participated in an interview than men. Over half of participants were aged between 45 and 79 (56 per cent). The majority of participants (85 per cent) identified as White. Just less than half of participants (44 per cent) had a disability or long-term health condition. Around one third (37 per cent) had caring responsibilities. Three quarters of participants (78 per cent) lived in an urban area. Among Experience Panels interview participants, the most common benefit experience was of Disability Living Allowance (71 per cent). Among Client Panels interview participants, the most common benefit experience was of Best Start Grant / Foods (60 per cent). Further information and demographic information about interview participants can be found at Annex B.

Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on fieldwork and findings

Interviews with participants were held over the phone or online using the WebEx video call tool.

Research took place between January and April 2021. The profile of the pandemic and the associated restrictions on day-to-day life changed during this time. The list below outlines some of the key events which took place during the research period:

  • January 2021: All of mainland Scotland was in level four lockdown. The vaccination programme began.
  • February 2021: Towards the end of the month, the Scottish Government announced plans for the re-opening of schools and easing of certain restrictions in March and April.
  • March 2021: On 17 March, the Scottish Government reported that 44 per cent of the adult population had received a first dose of the vaccine.[2] During March, various rules were relaxed such as: care home visiting resumed, schools returned and small groups could meet outdoors.
  • April 2021: The "stay at home" order was lifted. Further rules were relaxed including the re-opening of: hairdressers, garden centres, and homeware stores.

The research took place during this period of change and responses were likely shaped by the evolving nature of the pandemic. It is especially important to consider this in relation to the findings about future preferences. Attitudes and preferences may change as the pandemic continues to develop.

Charting preferences over time

To investigate preferred ways to get in touch over time, respondents were asked questions about before, during and after the pandemic. Survey respondents were asked to think about a time before the pandemic for example, December 2019. In this report, these responses are referred to as 'before the pandemic'.

For this research, 'during the pandemic' was considered to be the period starting from 1 March 2020. Respondents were asked about their experiences since this date. They were also asked to think about getting in touch with Social Security Scotland in 'the next two weeks'. Together, these responses are referred to as 'during the pandemic'.

Lastly, respondents were asked to think about making contact with Social Security Scotland 'once the pandemic was no longer a serious risk to public health'. Respondents could interpret for themselves when this might be and what restrictions on everyday life, if any, might look like. In this report, these responses are referred to as 'after the pandemic'.