Experience panels: complaints, re-determination and appeals

This report summarises the results of two surveys and seven focus groups on the feedback and complaints process for Social Security Scotland.

This document is part of a collection


Most focus group participants had a good understanding of the DWP processes for making a complaint or challenging a decision about a benefit application, and many had experience of using these systems with the DWP. However, some felt that people could sometimes get confused and be unsure whether they have challenged a decision, or simply made a complaint.

Challenging a benefit decision

Most participants said that they would currently use the DWP website, Citizens Advice Scotland or local Welfare Rights Office, to get information about how to challenge a decision about their benefits. Many said that there is currently a lack of clarity in the process for mandatory reconsiderations and appeals, in particular around the rights that you have at each stage, and what you can expect in terms of timescales and support. Some felt that the timescales for challenging a decision are too short, and that it then takes too long to hear any updates once you have submitted a mandatory reconsideration or appeal.

When considering how the system should work for Social Security Scotland, people felt that it was important to have a range of ways they could receive updates about their re-determination or appeal, for example by letter, email or phone. This was often dependent on their specific needs, for example where they live or their disability or health conditions. Most people felt that they would want an update on their re-determination or appeal at least every two weeks.

Participants highlighted a number of issues they felt existed within the DWP's mandatory reconsideration process. Many felt that this process is currently an unnecessary barrier to going to tribunal. Others felt that whilst it could be a useful step, there is not enough information available about how to provide additional information to make the most of this process.

For Social Security Scotland, many respondents highlighted the importance of ensuring that decisions are communicated clearly, with explanations of how the decision had been come to. Participants also highlighted the importance of having support through the re-determinations and appeals process.

Some participants highlighted the financial impact of having to challenge a decision in the current system – in particular if you need to wait for a long time for a decision to be overturned.

Participants also highlighted the importance of helpful, respectful and empathetic staff for the new Scottish social security system.

Feedback and complaints

Most participants said that they would contact DWP or Citizens Advice Scotland to get information about how to give feedback or make a complaint in relation to a benefit they had applied for or received.

For the new Scottish social security system, participants wanted a range of options in terms of how to provide feedback or make a complaint – in particular via email, online, by post or over telephone.

Participants highlighted the value of providing different types of feedback, including positive feedback, and many said that they would be likely to give positive feedback if they had a good experience. However, some participants said that it shouldn't be necessary to give positive feedback for staff doing their jobs.

Most participants said that they would make a complaint if they were unhappy with the service they received. Most said they would complain to a manager or dedicated feedback team. Others, however, emphasised the importance of having independent agencies who could deal with complaints to allow for outside scrutiny and transparency.

Participants said that it was important to get updates about their complaint at every stage, and also to have clear information about how to get in touch to check on the progress of their complaint.

There were a number of barriers that participants identified in regards to making a complaint in the current system. In particular, participants highlighted a lack of clarity around who to make a complaint to, how to do that, and how it would be dealt with. Others had previously had a poor experience when making a complaint, or said that they would be concerned about how a complaint might affect their benefits or future applications.

Participants highlighted that clear processes and timescales, and easy to access information about how to provide feedback or make a complaint would improve this process.

Participants also described the importance of listening to feedback and providing genuine, tailored responses rather than automated messages. Appropriate responses could include a resolution to the issue, compensation, or simply an apology. Some felt that it would be helpful for Social Security Scotland to monitor and publish the type of feedback it receives, and how it is responding.


Email: Catherine Henry

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