Publication - Research and analysis

Social Security Experience Panels: change of circumstances and debt repayment - report

Published: 20 Jul 2020

This report summarises the results from 10 focus groups and an online survey with Experience Panel members. The research explored how contact about changes of circumstances should work for clients of Social Security Scotland, along with how debt should be repaid.

29 page PDF

581.5 kB

29 page PDF

581.5 kB

Contents
Social Security Experience Panels: change of circumstances and debt repayment - report
Contacting clients about changes of circumstances

29 page PDF

581.5 kB

Contacting clients about changes of circumstances

Sometimes a client can experience a change in their circumstances. They might change address. They might change their bank details. Or else, their personal circumstances can change. For example, their care or mobility needs could change (which could affect how much of a benefit they are entitled to).

Clients of Social Security Scotland are responsible for providing updates if they experience a change of circumstances. This makes sure that they can be contacted and are paid the right amount.

We asked a series of questions about how contact around changes of circumstances should work.

How often to ask about changes

We asked survey respondents how often Social Security Scotland should be asking someone if their circumstances have changed. Half of respondents (50 per cent) said Social Security Scotland should ask about changes of circumstances once a year, and less than one-fifth of respondents (19 per cent) said every six months. Less than one-tenth of respondents (9 per cent) said that people should be contacted every three months, and only 4 per cent thought that Social Security Scotland should make contact about changes of circumstances every month.

Table 1: How often should Social Security Scotland ask someone if their circumstances have changed? (n=392)

%

Every month

4

Every three months

9

Every six months

19

Once a year

50

Other

18

Total

100

Among those who answered 'other' (18 per cent), a large proportion of respondents felt that the frequency of contact about changes of circumstances should not be the same for all clients. These respondents felt that clients with long-term conditions which are unlikely to improve should not be contacted about changes of circumstances as regularly as clients with shorter-term conditions.

Several respondents, who believed that the frequency of contact should depend on an individual's situation, also suggested that agreements about review dates could be made between Social Security Scotland and clients. These respondents thought it would be beneficial for a client to have a say about when they are contacted.

These respondents also thought that agreeing review dates would make any contact about changes of circumstances feel less of an unpleasant intrusion when it came along.

"A review date should be set in collaboration with the client and worker at the time of being placed onto a particular type of payment. As each individual is the most likely to know if things are long term and each worker will be aware of how long it might be for them to be sure that a person is still in the same circumstances.

In the case of someone with a condition that will not change they could still have changes of circumstances and a long-term review should be discussed and agreed to inform of any particular changes."

Several respondents who answered 'other' felt that Social Security Scotland should not ask clients whether their circumstances had changed at all. Several felt that the responsibility should be on the client to inform Social Security Scotland of any change, and that if the authorities contacted clients too regularly then there was a risk of breaking down levels of trust.

A few respondents who answered 'other' suggested that the intervals should be further apart than a year. Several respondents suggested intervals of every two years, every three years, and every five years.

Separate reminders

When asking about whether respondents would want a separate reminder to prompt them about reporting changes of circumstances, survey respondents were divided. Two-fifths of respondents (40 per cent) indicated that they would want to have a separate reminder. However, almost three-fifths of respondents (59 per cent) said that they would not want to receive a separate reminder asking them about any changes in circumstances.

Table 2: Would you want a separate reminder on updating Social Security Scotland about a change in circumstances over and above it being mentioned in letters from them? (n=391)

%

Yes

40

No

59

Total

100

Respondents who wanted a separate reminder about changes of circumstances, were then asked how often they would want that reminder. Of those, over a third (36 per cent) said that they would want that reminder once a year, compared to just under a third (31 per cent) who felt a separate reminder should come every six months. Over a fifth (21 per cent) wanted a separate reminder every three months, compared to one tenth (12 per cent) who wanted to that reminder once every two years

Table 3: How often would you want this reminder? (n=166)

%

Every three months

21

Every six months

31

Once a year

36

Once every two years

12

Total

100

Overall, of those respondents who indicated that they wanted separate reminders, a large majority (88 per cent) were in favour of separate reminders at least once a year or at more regular intervals.

Following that, those who wanted separate reminders about changes of circumstances were then asked about how they would like to receive these reminders. Over half (51 per cent) said they would prefer a letter. Over a third (35 per cent) said that they would prefer an email. Over a tenth (14 per cent) indicated that a text message would be their preferred option.

Table 4: How would you want this reminder? (n=156)

%

By text

14

By email

35

By letter

51

Total

100

How to communicate information

During focus group sessions, we asked participants for more detailed views on how information about changes of circumstances should be communicated by Social Security Scotland.

In response, there was general agreement among participants that information to clients about changes of circumstances needed to be clear and simple to understand. Several participants suggested that in the past it had not be clear what they needed to report and this had confused them. Others suggested that a clear list of circumstances, or else some examples to provide guidance of when to notify, would be helpful to clear up some of the uncertainty.

"A precise list and instructions would be helpful. Plain English. No uncertainty. So people know exactly what is required of them."

"I would like to see information about change of circumstances much more detailed than it is now. When I was a carer for my mum she was claiming Attendance Allowance. Benefits were new to us as a family, and we didn't understand what changes we had to report."

A few participants felt it would be helpful if information explained the different types of changes of circumstances more clearly. They suggested that forms and information materials could divide up types of changes of circumstances into categories. This would help to clarify what different circumstances could mean, and also reduce the stress that comes from not knowing the implications of certain types of information.

"You could split up the changes in circumstances into categories. One type of category could be health-related, which is more severe because that could affect your benefits directly. But others categories could be things such as change of address etc."

Tone of contact

Focus group participants also felt that it was important that Social Security Scotland considered the tone that it used when approaching clients about changes of circumstances.

Generally, participants described how providing information about a change of circumstances made them fearful about the possibility of having to go for a reassessment. They felt that Social Security Scotland needed to understand that reporting changes was stressful for clients. It was therefore important to manage client's expectations about how reporting different types of changes could impact on their claim.

Some participants spoke about getting the tone of regular contact about changes of circumstances right. They felt that any contact about changes of circumstances should be personal and considerate.

"You could offer a service to ring clients every 6 weeks to have a friendly chat about their circumstances. This would take the onus off the person and put it onto the agency. Although, it is so important that this would be a friendly ring just to just check in, and ask whether everything is ok. This would reinforce the friendly, caring approach of the organisation."

But in whichever way contact was made, some participants felt that information and communication about changes of circumstances needed do more to offer reassurance to clients. Once reassurance was offered, this would encourage a client to report changes.

"A case manager could give a courtesy call, to see how you are, if everything is OK. It would be important to say that Social Security Scotland was not trying to trip people up. They have a general interest in human wellbeing. If this was to happen, you would have to make sure that it was a caring call."


Contact

Email: Socialsecurityexperience@gov.scot