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

Contacting Social Security Scotland by phone

Participants described a number of problems that they had experienced when they had tried to make contact with the benefit system by phone in the past. 

Difficulties making contact by phone

Many participants described their experience of struggling to engage with authorities in the UK by the phone. Some said that past experiences meant that they did not now feel comfortable using the phone to talk about important matters. Others described feel judged while talking to staff on the phone. Several talked about finding phone lines too formal. A few said that they didn’t want to be charged for their calls, so were reluctant to call for support or information. 

"Stop the dehumanising, administratively heavy process. You cannot get the name of the individual answering the phone – they are anonymous."

"I felt like staff at the other end of the phone don’t understand me. Eventually they send a form which is too long and it is too much hassle. This made continuing to live with what I’ve got just as preferable to engaging with the system."

Multi-lingual phone line

Some participants liked the idea of Social Security Scotland using interpreters to help clients communicate. These participants thought interpreters would help to break down language barriers for clients. They also thought that interpreters would encourage others to apply for what they were entitled to. 

"I can’t talk on the phone due to the language barrier."

"It’s difficult if the helpline is only offering English. That means the elderly  members of the community can’t follow the call instructions."

Several said that they would like Social Security Scotland to create something similar to the NHS Language Line. They said that they particularly liked the way that the Language Line connected a three-way call with an interpreter, so that the translation could be instant. 

"It would encourage people to call that number if they know they can speak the same language."

"I like the NHS Language Line service where the interpretation is immediate." 

These participants thought that having a specific helpline number for Social Security Scotland in different languages would help cater for those who were not confident with their English. It was thought this would give people with limited English an opportunity to call, ask questions, and speak for themselves. 

"If there was a Chinese hotline that would be great. Where you can call a number and hear mother language straight away. Then you can press 1, 2, 3. Would encourage people to call and seek help if they know they can speak to someone in the same language."

"Something accessible, where people can pick up the phone and have a telephone helpline with language options." 

A number of participants spoke about the importance of automated introduction messages. There was concern about introduction messages only being provided in English. Some suggested that Social Security Scotland could have a language helpline with an introduction message in the appropriate language or dialect, followed by either a dial through to a staff member, or else a way to leave a message and get a call-back if lines were busy.

"You could have bilingual introductions on calls – in both languages. If they can wait they can understand what they need to do."

"Having something accessible where I could pick up the phone and have someone to talk to. Someone who I could be comfortable talking to. Even if they called me back that would be fine."

A few also felt that having a multi-lingual helpline would help to provide a symbol of inclusion that would help to build trust with ethnic minorities in Scotland. It was also argued that trust also depended on language and interpretation services being advertised clearly. 



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