Social Security Experience Panel - advocacy standards: visual summary

Findings from research among Social Security Experience Panel members on the subject of advocacy standards.

Social Security Experience Panels: Advocacy Standards


To prepare for this change, the Scottish Government set up the Social Security Experience Panels.

2400+ people with experience of benefits = Social Security Experience Panels

Experience Panel members all have experience of claiming at least one of the benefits being devolved to Scotland.

The Scottish Government is working with Experience Panel members to design Scotland’s new social security system.

About the research

This report gives the findings of the research on Advocacy Standards.

  • 1 phone interview
  • 10 focus groups
  • The research took place in 2019
  • The research explored:
    • How advocacy services should run
    • How advocacy organisations should perform
    • Where and how people would like information about advocacy
  • 30+ participants took part
  • 8 locations

Advocacy Standards

The Scottish Government have written some standards for advocates and advocacy organisations. These standards set out what organisations should do and how they should perform. The vast majority of panel members agreed with all of the draft standards.

The standards were split into five themes:

  • People-centred
  • Quality of service
  • Training and experience
  • An independent service
  • Accountability

More information on the draft standards can be found here:

Theme 1: People-centred

Throughout focus groups and the interview, participants told us what a people-centered advoacy service meant to them.

Participants told us that this means putting people first.

Many participants told us it is about treating everyone as an individual. They told us that people have different needs and that advocacy services should be designed around an individual’s needs.

To recognise the needs of a person, many said that advocates must be understanding. Participants said it is important that an advocate understands an individual and how their condition or disability might affect them.

"It’s important that the advocate really knows the person and looks into their condition"

Participants also told us that a people-centered advocacy service means people should be treated with dignity and respect. Some also told us that both the advocate and the client must be treated this way.

Theme 2: Training

In focus groups, participants spoke about the importance of having a high level of training for staff.

Participants told us that it is important that advocates are well trained. They also told us advocates must be trained to understand the social security system.

Some participants told us that currently, the quality of advocacy services can depend on many different factors. They told us it is important to make sure everyone recieves the same training and follow the same rules.

Participants also told us it is important that advocates regularly take part in training and update their skills. One participant said it might be helpful to have refresher courses for advocates.

In focus groups, participants also talked about the need for a service for advocates, to help them get advice and support.

Some participants suggested that advocates should take part in human rights training.

Theme 3: Accountability

Participants told us that they should be able to give feedback on how they think an advocate or advocacy service is performing.

"Capturing good feedback helps build up [a] better service"

Many participants told us that it is important that they have somewhere to go to complain if they are unhappy with an advocate or advocacy service.

"A complaint isn’t necessarily a bad thing and it can improve the service and help it learn from mistakes"

Participants told us that complaints should be taken seriously and responded to quickly.

Some participants suggested that advocacy services should be regularly reviewed to make sure they are performing well.One participant told us it is important that advocacy services are reviewed to make sure that public money is being spent properly.

In focus groups, some suggested that there should be a place for advocates to go if they have any worries or concerns.

Making advocacy accessible

We asked participants how we could make the standards are easy for people to read and understand.

Participants told us that the standards should be written in plain English and avoid using jargon.

"Use plain English and avoid acronyms"

Some suggested that a basic, easy to understand version of the standards should be given as standard.

"better to have a version that is easy for everyone to read, they might not want to feel different and ask for easy read version"

Participants told us it is important to have standards available in different formats. These included braille, a video format with British Sign Language and advocacy information translated into different languages.

We asked participants where they would go to find out more information about advocacy services:

  • Online
  • Social Security Scotland
  • Citizens Advice Bureau
  • DWP

Some participants talked about how it can be difficult to find information online. They said that information should be clear and easy to find.

"DWP website has lots of info to wade through before you get to what you are looking for"

Participants told us they would like leaflets and posters in a range of diffent places. Ideas included:

  • Community groups
  • Doctors surgeries
  • Citizen’s advice buildings
  • Social Security Scotland buildings
  • DWP buildings
  • Libraries

Everyone that comes into contact with Social Security Scotland should be handed short format leaflet about what’s available.

Panel members told us that they don’t think there is enough information available on advocacy at the moment.

Some suggested that all clients of Social Security Scotland should be provided with a leaflet on advocacy services.

Participants also said that it should be made clear that advocacy is a free service.

What’s Next?

The Scottish Government will continue to work with the Experience Panels in the development of Scotland’s new social security system. This will include further research on individual benefits in addition to cross-cutting work to assist in the development of Social Security Scotland.

The Scottish Government is consulting on draft advocacy standards. The consultation closes on 7 October. The consultation responses and this Experience Panel feedback will be reviewed to see what changes are needed before finalising the standards

How to access background or source data

The data collected for this social research publication

☒ may be made available on request, subject to consideration of legal and ethical factors. Please contact for further information.



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