Social Security Experience Panels: benefit take-up – report

This report covers findings from research with Social Security Experience Panels members about their experiences of accessing the benefit system.

This document is part of a collection

Finding out about benefits

Participants were asked how they normally found information about the benefits system and specific benefits that they might be entitled to. 

Firstly, it should be noted that many participants felt there was no 'hard and fast rule' to find out about benefits that they might be entitled to. Many described a long process of gathering different types of information from various sources. This process of gathering information to get the best sense of what benefits are available was different for different participants. For some, they would find information using online searches and advice provided by local charities. For others, they relied on learning about the benefits system through word of mouth and personal connections. 

"I don't think there's any hard and fast rule. Word of mouth works best but unless you have a specific question, sometimes people don't get benefits they're entitled to."


Many spoke about having multiple ways of finding information, but how the internet was their primary source. Some described how they found information through official government websites. Several said that they would start with official government websites and then use search engines to move onto other online sources of information. 

"It's searching on the internet mostly. I start with the Government websites, then if it doesn't give enough information, I go on the Citizen's Advice website."

"I usually head to the government websites to see what is officially being said. Then I go to independently run websites to see if they have an opinion." 

Others said that they had found official websites confusing in the past. These participants said that they used search engines to seek out online forums run by charities such as Turn2Us, Citizen's Advice, or other welfare rights groups.  Several said that if they found helpful advice, they would share it with those in their social network. 

"There's an online search engine call Turn2us and they have an amazing thing. If you think you are entitled to any benefits, you can search and it will tell you what you should be getting. I find this very useful!"

"A lot of people take information that they find from the internet to their friends. Like for me, I'll share information that I find about benefits on Facebook."

Others generally described how they used online searches as a safe starting point to learn of others' experiences and make a decision whether to proceed further in an application.

"The internet is the primary thing for me. A lot of what I do is running searches and finding random message forums to see what others are saying."

"I like talking to people who have mainly been through this before. Online word of mouth, through the forums."

A number of participants also suggested that there were limitations to searching the internet. They felt that often internet searches left them wanting to speak to someone for clarifications.

"For me it's online, when I found out about the website benefits and work, that's the best place to find out about ESA or PIP. Only thing is that you're not speaking to an actual person but there's loads of information to offer you."


Many also said that they found out information about the benefits system through making contact with specific organisations. These organisations included:

  • The UK and Scottish Governments
  • The JobCentre
  • Citizen's Advice Bureau
  • Welfare Rights
  • SAMH 
  • Child Poverty Action
  • Money Advice Service

Others had found out about benefits through health practitioners and public sector workers that were based where they lived. Several said that specialist organisations or advocacy groups, who were experts on a specific disability or health condition, were particularly helpful. 

"I've used so many sources of information. Third Sector, charities, the Council, the NHS, community psychiatric nurses, GPs. Health visitors and practice nurses sometimes pass on information too."

"Probably the Child Brain Injury Trust were most approachable for me. This was because we all understood each other. It's very difficult to explain my son's condition in applications."

"The introduction to SAMH helped me quite a lot with forms."

"I was working at university at the time I needed to apply for benefits, and I was really lucky to find an advocacy group that helped me out."

Personal connections and word of mouth

Some spoke about finding out information about the benefits system through conversations with people they knew. Several described how they had learnt about specific benefits through people that they happened to be surrounded by. Several felt that the support from their friends or family was the only reason they were able to access what they were entitled to.  

"It's often talking to other people with previous experience." 

"For a lot of people who have issues, it's better to have a face to face conversation" 

"But information is not always advertised, so you have to find it yourself by word of mouth or just by meeting people." 


Several participants talked about how they had discovered information through media advertising. This included adverts in local and national newspapers, on television, on social media, and in the streets.

"I've found out things through adverts on newspapers, television, even social media."

"Bus stops is another place. You know the big panels at bus stops, they all have scan codes that take you onto more information."



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