Social Security Experience Panels: annual report 2022

Fifth annual report from the Social Security Experience Panels programme, covering the key activities and outputs from 2022.

2022: The research

This chapter will outline the wide range of topics covered by our research programme with panel members in 2022. It will also give some examples of our findings and how they are being used to make decisions.

Published reports

We report on our findings through full research reports and visual summaries, which are shorter and designed to be as accessible as possible. These are sent to panel members as soon as they are published so they can see what they have said and how we have used the findings.

In 2022 we published 4 full reports and 7 visual summaries. Full reports and accompanying visual summaries were published on:

  • Scottish Carer's Assistance
  • Motability
  • Low Income Winter Heating Assistance (now known as Winter Heating Payment)
  • Seldom Heard research programme: Mobile Populations

Having published the full reports in 2021, visual summaries were published on:

We now have over 130 reports and visual summaries on the research we have done with Experience Panel members and seldom heard communities. These can all be found on our publications page.

An overview of the reports that we have published this year is provided below.

Scottish Carer's Assistance: findings overview

Scottish Carer's Assistance was one of our biggest research topics this year. Findings will feed into the design of the new Scottish Carer's Assistance when it is first introduced, and plans on how the benefit could be improved in the future. The research took place from March to July 2022. It involved a survey completed by 242 panel members and follow-up interviews with 16 participants.

The research was designed to understand panel members' views on a range of proposals related to how Scottish Carer's Assistance should work when it is first introduced, extra payments for carers in Scotland, and further changes to be made to Scottish Carer's Assistance in the future.

During the research, we explained to participants that some changes to how carer benefits work in Scotland could be made when Scottish Carer's Assistance is first introduced. However, to ensure the safe and secure transfer of people's benefits when moving from the DWP system to Social Security Scotland, some further changes would not be possible until later – once all existing clients have moved across to Social Security Scotland.

In response to the proposals on how Scottish Carer's Assistance should work when it's first introduced, participants told us that information about benefit entitlement and sources of support needs to be streamlined across agencies and services. Participants were also asked about proposals to set payment amounts at £0 in certain circumstances, rather than stopping an award completely – with the intention being that it would be easier for a payment to be restarted. Examples given were any week where a carer earns too much money to be entitled to the benefit, or if a cared for person's disability benefit were stopped or suspended. Overall, there was support for these proposals – comments, concerns and suggestions given are detailed in the full report on our publications page.

Panel members were also asked about extra payments for carers – including when Carer's Allowance Supplement should be paid, and proposals for a new Carer's Additional Person Payment for carers who care for more than one disabled person. Participants were asked about the proposed eligibility criteria for these and were broadly supportive.

Participants were also asked about proposals for future changes to Scottish Carer's Assistance. Some key findings are:

  • There was a positive consensus between interview participants on the proposal to remove education restrictions, to allow carers in full-time education to be eligible for Scottish Carer's Assistance.
  • Just over four fifths of respondents (81 per cent) agreed with the change to allow carers to add together the hours spent caring for two people in order to reach the 35 hours per week requirement to get Scottish Carer's Assistance.
  • The vast majority of survey respondents agreed with the proposal to pay Scottish Carer's Assistance for 12 weeks after the death of a cared for person (90 per cent) or when a cared for person goes into hospital or residential care (91 per cent). The majority of respondents (82 per cent) also agreed with the idea of making payments for some weeks after a carer earns over the earnings limit.
  • 90 per cent agreed with the proposal to increase the earnings limit for Scottish Carer's Assistance to a level linked to the formula of 16 hours times the hourly rate for the Real Living Wage.
  • 89 per cent of survey respondents said that a potential future payment for long-term carers should be considered further.

We will be continuing with research on this topic in 2023, with user research to help design and test elements of the new system, and research with seldom heard carers.

Motability: findings overview

This report sets out the future development of Social Security Scotland's Accessible Vehicles and Equipment (AVE) scheme. The AVE scheme is better known as "Motability". This is the name of the charity that runs the service for Social Security Scotland and DWP. The goal of the research was to identify panel members with experience of the current scheme and to hear about their overall experiences of using this service.

Respondents were asked about their experiences of the AVE scheme. Almost nine in ten (89 per cent) described their experience as "very good" or "good". Many respondents described their communications with the service very positively, finding it quick and easy to access the help and support needed.

Many respondents felt that there was a good range of vehicles and equipment on offer. However, some felt that once their specific requirements were taken into consideration, the options available to them were much more limited and not always affordable for them. Many also raised the associated costs of accessing the scheme, specifically the advanced payments required for some vehicles and the cost of adaptations. The findings are available in full on our publications page.

Low Income Winter Heating Assistance: findings overview

From February to March 2022, Experience Panel members took part in research on Low Income Winter Heating Assistance (now known as Winter Heating Payment), the Scottish Government's replacement for the DWP's Cold Weather Payment for clients living in Scotland. We asked panel members their views on the key policy options for this new benefit. In total, 288 members chose to complete a survey exploring this topic.

87 per cent agreed that a new benefit replacing Cold Weather Payment is a good way to help towards winter heating costs for people on low incomes. 90 per cent agreed with the plan to remove the need for a 'cold spell', a component of the eligibility for Cold Weather Payment, in order for people to receive the new benefit.

55 per cent agreed the new benefit should be a one-off, annual payment each winter. 81 per cent said they thought the eligibility criteria for the new benefit is clear.

Research with Seldom Heard Groups

The Social Security Experience Panels are made up of a highly diverse group of volunteers. This is incredibly valuable for gathering a wide range of perspectives, both in terms of people's different experiences of the UK government system, and for understanding a range of needs in relation to the design of the Scottish government system. However, we are aware that there are some experiences and communities which are not well represented on the Experience Panels. We have sought to address these gaps through a supplementary programme of research: the Seldom Heard Voices project.

Our programme of seldom heard research has four strands:

  • Mobile populations: Gypsy/Traveller populations, temporary EU migrants, refugees.
  • Care Experienced and Carers: Care experienced people, foster and kinship carers, young parents, single parents.
  • Vulnerable groups: people who have offended, people with experience of homelessness, veterans.
  • End of life: people with terminal illnesses, bereaved families

Reports detailing the findings from research with these groups are available on our publications page.

Spotlight On: Mobile populations

This report shares the findings from the research with Mobile Populations strand of our Seldom Heard project. The group is divided into the following sub-groups: Gypsy/Travellers, refugees and seasonal migrant workers. The research found that mobile populations faced some common barriers when engaging with the benefit system.

These included finding the system difficult to understand, prescriptive application forms, and long waiting times during benefit application processes. They also reported feeling stigmatised and discriminated against by staff. Participants stressed that the benefit system needs to be compassionate, and highlighted how third sector organisations contributed to positive experiences with the benefit system. They also noted that they need various communication methods to suit their individual circumstances. Many said that they preferred to access support face-to-face as it will ensure they are given the correct information and means that they would receive help to complete forms.

In 2023 we will complete the final analysis of research with these groups. This will focus on the second phase of the research which took place during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the pandemic there were additional challenges to engaging with participants, and much of the second wave of this research had to be carried out remotely.

Research conducted in 2022 but due for publication in 2023

In 2022 panel members were also asked about their views on a number of topics relating to how Social Security Scotland can work better. This research was part of the work feeding into the consultation on "Enhanced Administration and Compensation Recovery" and covered topics relating to redeterminations, appeals, COVID-19 special measures and measures relating to low-value fraud.

This research asked panel members about proposals relating to some of the choices available to clients during the redeterminations and appeals processes. For example, whether a client should have the option to withdraw a redetermination request once it has been submitted. We also asked panel members about whether it was the right time to end some of the special measures that had been in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We also held interviews and focus groups with panel members as part of the groundwork the Scottish Government is doing to prepare for an independent review of Adult Disability Payment next year – one year after the benefit was launched. The purpose of the independent review is to consider how the eligibility criteria for Adult Disability Payment is being applied, including what works well and what could potentially be improved. We spoke to panel members to gather views and ideas on things that the independent review should look at. This work will continue in 2023.

User Research and testing

User Research is a particular type of research designed to engage with people who will use the Scottish government benefits system, to help design and test how it works. The idea is that by engaging with users throughout the design process, the new system will be designed in such a way that people will find it easy to use and it will meet their needs.

Our user researchers work hard to ensure that they are hearing from a wide range of perspectives throughout this work. They seek out opportunities to hear from people who may face particular barriers within the benefits system or whose experience might be a bit different to others using the system. The Experience Panels is usually the first group that they look to for this research, but they also speak to others, for example people that they have contacted through charities or community groups. This year we have arranged over 150 sessions between Experience Panels members and user researchers.

This year, our user research teams covered a wide range of topics relating to the design of new benefits, systems and processes for Social Security Scotland. Topics included:

  • Motability
  • Case Transfer from DWP to Social Security Scotland
  • Online applications
  • Bereavement services
  • Support for applications
  • The review process
  • Scottish Carer's Assistance
  • Adult Disability Payment
  • Letters to clients
  • Online information for clients
  • Phone services
  • Storing client's personal information
  • Life-long health conditions

With User Research, their learning from each session is immediately built into the design process. This keeps the design of the Scottish government benefits system and processes constantly moving forwards. However, it means that the findings are analysed differently from the rest of the Experience Panels research, and we therefore don't usually publish the findings from these sessions as we would for other research. We do, however, try to include an overview of some of the things that we have learnt in the Experience Panels newsletters.

More user research sessions will take place over 2023.



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