Social Security Experience Panels - ethnic minorities: report

This report is on research with ethnic minority groups about their past experiences of social security and the barriers that exist to them in accessing support. It provides information about the steps Social Security Scotland is taking to help overcome these barriers.

This document is part of a collection

Application and appeals processes 

Lack of clarity about how the system worked was a general problem that was mentioned by a number of participants.

Application processes

Some described feeling helpless when they had tried to go through the application process for specific benefits. It was felt that, in the past, it had been hard to understand the requirements on application forms (e.g. what information or evidence to include). Participants also said that it had been difficult to understand the eligibility criteria on application forms. 

There was also concern that there had been no support to check if applicants needed extra support working through the process. A number of participants said that the complexity of forms made it hard to trust the system and persist with an application. Several described doubting themselves, and giving up midway through an application. 

"The forms are hard to understand."

"The current system did not work for me. The information was too complicated. I didn’t know my eligibility and didn’t see anywhere where I could go to get help. Nobody checked if I needed extra help to engage. And after a while, I just didn’t trust the system. So gave up. Others I know have been the same."

"Only got through the forms by chance, coming into contact with people that know about the benefits system and helping you fill them out."

There was also a view that the reasoning behind decisions taken on applications had not been clear in the past. One participant described applying for a benefit, providing documents, but being unsuccessful in their application. This participant described not knowing why their application had been rejected. 

"I know there is some help available, but not enough and it is difficult to understand the information. When my husband was ill it was then I started to find out about more things that were available. I had lots of information to send with my application form – hospital letters, GP letters – but I didn’t receive the benefit. I don’t know why."

Others described wishing that they had other options that would have helped them engage in the past. These participants said that they had either struggled to find any support (through an interpreter or organisation), or had not felt comfortable to ask what was available for them. 

"I was never offered alternative ways to engage, and never asked. I thought I would be refused any language assistance if I asked. But anything would have been helpful."

Decision-making and appeals

Several said that they were also unsure about how processes for reconsiderations and appeals worked. One participant who spoke in Bengali described the process of discovering that their application had been rejected and not knowing what their options were thereafter. They said that it wasn’t clear to them that they could ask for a reconsideration and follow through to an appeal tribunal. They described not feeling comfortable pursuing the matter any further.

"When my application was rejected, I just accepted that I was not going to get it. I did not know that I could have appealed that decision. There is a lack of information, and it is difficult to understand."

Another participant who spoke in Hindi shared a similar experience. 

"I applied, didn’t get the benefit, and it wasn’t clear to me what had happened, so I couldn’t go back to them and ask why I was rejected. So I left it."

Several said that they had encountered problems using the system once they had successfully applied and started claiming a benefit. They said that they had found contact with authorities continuously difficult. 

"If I miss an appointment, or don’t provide a document the department needs, I receive a call saying ‘I need to review your benefit.’ But all talking is done in English. Don’t know how to answer. Communication means both ways."



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