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
Contacting Social Security Scotland during the pandemic

Contacting Social Security Scotland during the pandemic

Survey respondents were asked if they had been in touch with Social Security Scotland during the pandemic (Table 2.1).

Table 2.1: Have you had an interaction with Social Security Scotland since the 1st of March 2020? (n=483)
No 47.4
Yes 42.7
I'm not sure 9.9
Total 100

Around 40 per cent of respondents reported having contact with Social Security Scotland during the pandemic. Some respondents may have reported contact with DWP when answering this question. No checks were made to confirm if respondents had made contact with Social Security Scotland during the period.

Respondents who had an interaction were asked if it had been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic (Table 2.2). This could have been either positively or negatively.

Table 2.2: Did the COVID-19 pandemic impact your interaction with Social Security Scotland? (n=205)
No impact 58.5
Yes, it had a minor impact 17.1
Yes, it had a big impact 16.6
I'm not sure 7.8
Total 100

Over half (59 per cent) said there had been no effect. Around one third said the pandemic had affected their interaction. An equal number (17 per cent) described this as a minor or big impact. There were no big differences between those who said the pandemic had affected their interaction based on demographic characteristics.

Comments on this revealed some confusion about contact with DWP and Social Security Scotland. This feedback has been omitted from analysis. Some respondents who specifically mentioned Social Security Scotland left positive feedback about their interactions during the pandemic. Feedback praised staff attitudes, the options for getting in touch and the overall time taken to apply and receive a decision.

"I have always been able to contact Social Security Scotland through web chat or telephone and speak to an adviser very quickly. This has been before and during the COVID-19 outbreak. Customer service always great." (survey respondent)

"The person I spoke to about Funeral Support Payment appeared patient, kind and understanding." (survey respondent)

"For setting up a Young Carer Grant for my daughter online...that was during the pandemic. The initial contact done instantly, the letter was out maybe a couple of days later and then the actual end result was I think was maybe within a week or week and a half, that's an excellent turnaround." (interview participant)

Some participants said it was normal for them to have infrequent contact with Social Security Scotland. They said communication had continued as expected during the pandemic. One participant noted that she had waited longer than usual to hear back after making an application.

"Not a lot has changed for me since the pandemic, I've still had my letters confirming the Carer's Allowance Supplement I got in December and again in the previous June…I still had my letters for that. I applied for the Pregnancy and Baby payment I did that online…I had the letter through the door to confirm that was going to be paid and the same for Best Start Foods…I haven't had issues applying or getting feedback. It's been a bit longer, like pre-pandemic you heard quite quickly I felt, you had a letter quite promptly…it has been a bit longer which to be fair considering the circumstances we're under, certainly doesn't bother me." (interview participant)

Experiences of contact during the pandemic

Survey respondents who said they had contact with Social Security Scotland were asked to reflect on their experience. Table 2.3 shows that the majority (83 per cent) said they were happy with their interaction.

Table 2.3: Was there anything you were unhappy with about this interaction? (n=206)
No 82.5
Yes 17.5
Total 100

Around one fifth (18 percent) said there was something they were unhappy about. There were no substantial differences between those who reported being unhappy based on demographic characteristics.

Respondents who said they were unhappy were asked if they considered making a complaint (Table 2.4).

Table 2.4: Did you consider making a complaint? (n=35)
No 54.3
Yes, but I did not make a complaint 34.3
Yes, I did make a complaint 11.4
Total 100

A little less than half (46 per cent) of respondents who said they were unhappy following their interaction considered making a complaint.

Respondents who considered but did not make a complaint were asked why they did not pursue this. All except one of these respondents were Experience Panel members who may have had a range of organisations in mind. Based on previous experience with other organisations, some said they felt it was not worth their while to make a complaint. These respondents felt action wouldn't be taken to address the issue. Some respondents felt this was made more likely given the effects of the pandemic and the pressures on public services.

"They don't get addressed in normal circumstances so had no chance of being addressed in current times." (survey respondent)

"People too busy with what is going on with COVID-19." (survey respondent)

Three interview participants discussed being unhappy with an aspect of their interaction. One participant who made a complaint said the pandemic made the process of talking to staff on the phone more difficult. The participant said repeated calls were needed to resolve the issue and thought this was because staff were working from home. This participant also said they had struggled to find information or get help with the process.

"My daughter was meant to get paid the Carer's Allowance Supplement but because they put large print it has an English address on it and it was ten phone calls to Social Security Scotland to get it sorted. Each department didn't know about it but rather than transferring you, you'd have to hang up and re-try again so it was a bit of a nightmare.

It would have helped for both UK [Department of Work and Pensions] and Social Security Scotland to have a link so that I didn't have to make ten phone calls. Because they were working from home, then you'd have to phone back to get the answer to that, it was horrendous.

It was a software issue that if you're partially sighted it doesn't pick up your Scottish address it picks up the English large print address, so [my daughter] wasn't getting the money she was entitled to. Eventually one person sorted it and she got it back dated for a year and a half." (interview participant with experience of Carer's Allowance Supplement)

Another interview participant said they had been unsure about the amount they had received following an application for Funeral Support Payment. At the time, they said they felt relieved when the payment arrived. Given their personal circumstances, the participant said they didn't make a complaint but may have pursued this if the timing had been different.

"I calculated the Funeral Support Payment I received, and I should have got more help. I wasn't angry but relieved when I got the help." (interview participant with experience of Funeral Support Payment)

One interview participant said they had experienced delays in receiving information about Young Carer Grant. The participant explained that this had been frustrating but was unsure about how to raise the problem with Social Security Scotland.

"Lack of communication. I first applied for the Young Carer Grant in November 2020 and I received confirmation but the next communication I got was January 2021 and it was to advise me I could apply for the thing I already had applied for. At this moment I am still waiting for them to tell me when or if I need to send in any more documents." (survey respondent and interview participant with experience of Young Carer Grant)

Improving interactions during the pandemic

Survey respondents were asked what Social Security Scotland could do to improve interactions with them during the COVID-19 pandemic. Where it was clear that feedback referred to contact with DWP, this was removed from the analysis.

A number of respondents said there were no other measures Social Security Scotland could implement during the pandemic. There was a recognition that the pandemic had given rise to unprecedented challenges. Some respondents felt that the agency had done its best to adapt.

"I think they were helpful considering what was unfolding to each and every one of us." (survey respondent with experience of Carer's Allowance Supplement and Funeral Support Payment)

Other survey respondents thought improvements could be made by offering a wider range of online communication methods. These comments included calls for email, online chat and video call options.

"I find it really difficult to write with a pen, but can manage a keyboard. I got a little bit of internet connection but did not have access to a printer, so being able to write to them online might have helped." (survey respondent)