The vast majority of focus group participants said that they would want Social Security Scotland to tell them about the decision on a disability benefit application by letter.
Some participants said that they would be content with finding out the decision on an application by other means such as email or text because they offer a more immediate response. However most said they would still also like a follow up letter. The least popular method of finding out the outcome of a benefit application was by telephone.
Many participants said that the option to pick a preference for how Social Security Scotland communicates with them from the outset was important.
All participants said that they would like to find out about the decision on a benefit application the same way regardless of the outcome, whether successful or unsuccessful.
Survey respondents suggested a number of ways that Social Security Scotland can help clients understand decisions which are made on benefit applications. The most common response was that the decision should be explained in clear, simple language and using an easy to understand format. Many respondents also suggested that Social Security Scotland should provide detailed and transparent reasons for the decision, the criteria and the evidence used.
Out with the main themes above, a few respondents suggested that the following from Social Security Scotland would help them understand a decision taken on their benefit application:
- Clear communication through all stages of the application, not just the decision outcome;
- A named person within Social Security to contact for follow-up;
- A copy of the face to face assessment report;
- Information about the decision making process;
- Information about who made the decision;
- Information about the appeals process; and
- Next steps, and timescales.
Almost all focus group participants said that they thought that Social Security Scotland sending a detailed explanation of why they made a decision in a report sent alongside the decision letter was a good idea. Participants said they would find the following information useful in the letter and report:
- Summary of the evidence used;
- Summary of the criteria, where the applicant has and has not met it;
- Qualifications of the decision maker;
- Next steps – the details of the award, including the amount and timescales for payment and review;
- Next steps – the right to appeal and the appeal process; and
- Contact details for Social Security Scotland to discuss the decision, ask a query or follow up.
Like survey respondents, most focus group participants said that both the letter and report should be short and written in plain English.
Nearly all survey respondents said that they would like to receive a copy of their face to face assessment report, regardless of whether their application was successful or unsuccessful. Over nine in ten respondents (93 per cent) would like to receive a copy of the report with the decision letter if they were awarded the benefit. This was slightly lower than the percentage of respondents who would like to receive a copy of the report if they were not awarded the benefit (97 percent), or if they were awarded the benefit but on a lower level of award than they were expecting (96 per cent).
Similarly, most focus group participants said that they would want to receive a copy of their face to face assessment report, regardless of whether their application was successful or unsuccessful. Some participants felt that it could be made an option for people to request the report, or have the option of opting in or opting out to receive it at the application stage.
Over nine in ten survey respondents said that they would want to receive information on the benefit criteria once Social Security Scotland has made their decision (94 per cent). Around six in ten respondents preferred post (62 per cent) and one third preferred email (33 per cent) to receive this. Five per cent of respondents preferred 'another way' of receiving this information.
In contrast to survey respondents, most focus group participants said that they felt that the benefit criteria document would be more relevant at the application stage.
Over one third of survey respondents (36 per cent) said they would like Social Security Scotland to contact them one month beforehand to tell them if a benefit award was being reviewed. Around one quarter of respondents would like about two months' notice (23 per cent) and three months' notice (24 per cent). The least popular options were one to three weeks beforehand (12 per cent) and longer than three months (six per cent).
Over eight in ten survey respondents said they would like to receive a notification that their benefit award is ending by post (83 per cent), whilst four in ten said they would like the notification by email (41 per cent). The least popular options for a notification that a benefit award is ending were text message (14 per cent) and phone call (10 per cent).
Focus group participants held mixed views on whether they would like Social Security Scotland to contact them to tell them that a benefit award will be reviewed. Many participants said that they would rather not be told because they felt this would cause them to worry, whilst others felt that it was crucial that they be notified of a review.
Over one third of survey respondents said that Social Security Scotland should give about one months' notice (36 per cent) or about two months' notice (35 per cent) if a review found a client was no longer eligible for a benefit, or the amount they were getting was going to change. One quarter of respondents would like more than two months' notice (25 per cent). Only five per cent of respondents said Social Security Scotland should give less than one months' notice (between one to three weeks). The most common response amongst focus group participants was a 'couple of months.' The longest notice period suggested was four months, and the minimum period was one month.
If Social Security Scotland is communicating a change or end of award to a client, most survey respondents and focus group participants said they would want a detailed explanation of why the benefit award is changing and the information used to make the decision. Other information respondents said they would find useful was similar to what was requested for the initial decision letter: next steps and timescales, the right to appeal, and signposting to support and advocacy organisations that can help.
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