Social security experience panels - About Your Benefits and You: qualitative research findings

Analysis of focus group responses within ‘About Your Benefits and You’, the first piece of research carried out with the Social Security Experience Panel.

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Chapter 2: What Works Well


This chapter considers responses relating to the open-ended survey question “in your experience of the current benefits system, what worked well?” as well as discussions on this topic that took place in focus groups across Scotland. It looks at these responses under the main themes which emerged across respondents. These themes are:

  • Financial Support
  • Applications
  • Assessments
  • Advice and Support
  • Staff Behaviour
  • Timescales
  • Receipt of Payments
  • Nothing worked well

Key points

Survey respondents and focus group participants highlighted some key things that contributed to a positive experience with the current benefit system.

Friendly, Helpful and Knowledgable Staff

The most commenly reported factor contributing to good experiences of the current system was where staff were polite and friendly. The manner of DWP staff members and assessors was often noted when participants spoke about having a positive experience. In particular, it was important to respondents when staff showed empathy and understanding. It was also noted when it was clear that staff, particularly assessment staff, had knowledge of their condition.

Benefits Providing Support and Independence

In general, the support offered by benefit payments was recognised by respondents as offering support to live independently and manage their condition.

Simple, Clear and Timely Processes

Where people had felt that the process was straightforward, for example a simple application form, this was viewed as a positive experience. Similarly, respondents spoke of good experiences where things were done quicky.

Flexible Approaches

People also spoke positively when the system met their needs. For example, flexibility around having assessments at home or not at all contributed to positive experiences.

Overall Negative Experiences

It is important to note, however, that a large number of survey respondents and focus group participants were not able to give any examples of where things worked well in their experience. Chapter 3 provides an overview of the main areas of the current benefit system that Experience Panels members felt could be improved.

Financial Support

My MP helped at the Reconsideration stage and my Mobility assessment was increased thus allowing me to retain the mobility car as without this I would have been totally housebound. (Survey Respondent).

A number of survey and focus group respondents talked about the support the benefit system gave them and how it had supported them when they needed it. For example, people with experience of disability benefits spoke about times when they were unable to work or when disability benefits helped them to cope with their health condition. This included helping to pay for aides and therapies to help manage their condition and to continue to live a more active lifestyle, for example helping to meet transport costs like taxis, road tax or paying for mobility vehicles.


When application processes have worked well, this was when applications were simple to complete. Respondents described a “simple” application as being one that is “clear and specific” or “clear and easy to understand”.

It was easy to apply for Carers Allowance online, the application was rather straightforward and processed quickly. (Survey Respondent).

However, some respondents suggested that the simplicity of the application process depends on the benefit that you are applying for. The automatic payments for Winter Fuel Allowance were highlighted by some respondents as a system that worked well. Others highlighted Carers Allowance as an application process which they found simpler to complete.

Once awarded benefits all was well, however application and wait for first payment was arduous. (Survey Respondent).

A number of respondents highlighted the importance of receiving payments quickly once an application is submitted.

[My adult son] has a long-term life long condition. He has been on benefits for many years and the application process was straight forward. Recent forms are lengthy and demanding to fill in. (Survey Respondent).

However, some respondents suggested that recently forms have got longer and more complicated.

A number of respondents suggested that where forms were longer or more complicated, they required support from a friend, family member, or support service in order to complete the application. This is discussed further in Chapter 3.

The system does not support those that can't do things for themselves. I am the appointee for my son; if he had to complete the PIP application process by himself he would not have claimed it. In fact it took months of persuasion before I could actually apply for him. Consideration needs to be given for people who have severe anxiety, learning disabilities and that find the whole process of claiming benefits too intimidating. (Survey Respondent).


My disability is a combined hearing loss and sight loss. Both of these aspects can be objectively measured by machines, creating an audiogram for my hearing and a visual field plot for my eyesight. This means that there should be no need for a face-to-face assessment, as the assessment will not yield any extra information. (Survey Respondent).

A few respondents from both the survey and focus groups described positive experiences of face-to-face assessments for disability benefits. This included some who were not required to go to an assessment, or only were required to attend once.

I am glad to report that my DLA application was processed sensibly on that basis. No face-to-face assessment was required. The correct level of benefit was granted based on the information within my form and the medical data collected from my doctors by the DWP. The entire process, from posting the completed form to receiving the award letter, took place in three weeks flat. (Survey Respondent).

Fortnightly payments, being reassessed on paper without gruelling face to face assessment, being called up by DWP every 6-12 months to find out if anything had changed. (Survey Respondent).

A number of respondents also described having a positive experience during the face-to-face assessment. Factors that contributed to a positive experience included:

  • The time and location of the assessment being convenient (for example at home or at a venue local to them).
  • The assessment being carried out by someone who was friendly or helpful.
  • The assessment being carried out by someone who the respondent felt was knowledgeable about their condition.
  • The decision and subsequent payments being made quickly.

Able to detail responses on paper, adding extra information, over a period of time i.e. time to think about response. Able to rearrange face to face interview when unable to make original due to illness. Sympathetic and listening interviewer on day of assessment -was very anxious but she helped me relax. Now awaiting outcome of assessment. (Survey Respondent).

Assessment appointment came quickly. Payments started quite quickly. Nurse who did assessment was experienced and understood my condition. (Survey Respondent).

Advice and Support

A number of respondents highlighted the importance of support and advice services in going through the application and assessment processes. In particular, some respondents expressed concern for how they, their family member, or others in a similar position would have managed to access benefits without the support they received.

I got support from my family when filling out the forms if I didn't have that support I don't know if I would be able to fill it in. I think it should be more easy read for people to understand. (Survey Respondent).

Support from MacMillan cancer financial worker supported me throughout - don't think I would have received anything without her help. (Survey Respondent).

Had better experiences with help organisations since moving to Scotland. (Focus Group Participant).

Focus group participants discussed that when information or advice is available, it can be valuable. However, accessing this support can be a challenge.

Survey respondents described accessing support in applying for benefits from a number of sources. This included friends or family members providing practical support, local authority welfare rights services, and support from advocacy or third sector organisations. Some respondents had been signposted to support services by the DWP.

The only thing that I found worked well was the support and advice from the Welfare Rights Team and [local] council. Without their advice (and the assistance of a friend) I would probably not have applied or received the benefits I get. (Survey Respondent).

They seemed to take my Consultant's report seriously. I was offered support by the DWP as they categorised me as a vulnerable claimant due to my mental health. (Survey Respondent).

The advocates who helped me through the system were incredible. [Third sector support service] helped me with the form. I would not have been able to fill it in using the language and terminology required [in] benefit application forms without their help. This is not because I struggle with describing or understanding things - it is specifically because benefit forms, and the entire system, seem to be set up in such a way that you need to say exactly the right things in exactly the right way to be considered valid. (Survey Respondent).

Some felt that certain language or terminology was needed in order to meet the criteria for some benefits, and that support from advice and support agencies was needed to help applicants use the correct language.

Staff behaviour

I found what has worked well was the staff I have spoke with on the phone have been very helpful and took the time to understand and listen to me and they have also taken the time to help me understand things. I also had a person out to the house to help sort some paper work out and he was also very helpful and if I didn't understand something he was able to explain it in a way I understood it. (Survey Respondent).

A number of respondents described their experience of interacting with DWP staff members in positive terms. This included describing staff as “helpful”, “kind”, “well-informed”, “reassuring”, “sympathetic”, “polite”, “efficient”, “pleasant”, “understanding”, “caring”, “patient” and “compassionate”.

Had positive experience when applying for Scottish Welfare Fund – very active and helpful phone line staff. Noted that it varied depending on which call centre employee you talked to. (Focus Group Participant).

Respondents described the positive impact that a helpful member of staff can make on their ability to navigate the application process, and noted that this can vary depending on the call centre employee.

Some respondents described staff signposting them towards other services or benefits.

The discretionary payment was small, but I was delighted to hear that the Scottish Government was offering this. Again a massive help and was recommended to me by a member of staff. I was also directed to the Social Welfare Fund who helped me through an extremely difficult time. (Survey Respondent).

The assessor who came to assess my son for his PIP understood his condition and helped him through the assessment by her attitude - she stood out amongst everyone else I have had to deal with. (Survey Respondent).

A number of respondents highlighted the importance of staff having good knowledge or understanding of how a disability or health condition might affect an applicant.

Being able to communicate face to face with a person who actually wanted to help me was a welcome bonus. (Survey Respondent).

However, there were a number of respondents who described less positive experiences of interacting with staff members, including staff being unhelpful, uninformed or rude. This will be discussed further in Chapter 3.


A few respondents described positive experiences where applications, assessments and payments were processed quickly and efficiently. This included, for example, sending out application forms quickly. However, many described the process as taking a long time. The challenges with timescales will discussed further in Chapter 3.

When the decision to award was finally made things moved quickly, it just took a long time to get there (Survey Respondent).

Receipt of payments

Some respondents described the receipt of payments as something that works well in the current system, including that payments are made on time.

Benefits seemed to be paid on time correctly overall quite fair and accurate (Survey Respondent).

Others commented that regular payments, being made on time, are important in allowing recipients to budget. Flexibility in how regularly payments could be made was also highlighted as an advantage to some respondents.

The application process was easy and money was backdated to when I became a carer. (Survey Respondent).

Some respondents also commented that it works well that payments are backdated to the date of application, or to include periods where recipients weren’t paid. Others commented that once their award had been confirmed the payment was made quickly.

Respondents who felt there were no elements that worked well

However, alongside these positive comments a large number of respondents commented that there was “nothing” that worked well in their experience of the current social security system or described only negative experiences in response to this question. Many of those respondents raised systematic issues around the application and award process, delays in application processes, and cultural issues around how service users are treated by the system or staff. This will be discussed at length in Chapter 3.

Nothing works well with the current system it is long winded unsympathetic and almost an us against them type culture. (Survey Respondent).

Nothing works well, time delays and barriers are there at all points. (Survey Respondent).

A number of respondents also commented on barriers they faced within the system, including lengthy and complicated processes, challenges getting through on the phone and finding the process stressful or emotionally difficult.

Some respondents described failures in the system including paperwork getting lost and incorrect information being provided. In particular, a number of respondents spoke about the PIP application and assessment process as being a poor experience, including describing it as “humiliating” and “degrading”.

Nothing it's shambolic - left hand does know what right hand is up too. PIP assessment is a joke. (Survey Respondent).


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