Equality, Poverty and Social Security: Research Findings No. 41/2019: Social Security Experience Panels: Help us design a way to keep Social Security Scotland staff and clients safe
The Scottish Government are becoming responsible for some of the benefits currently delivered by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). As part of work to prepare for this change, the Scottish Government set up the Social Security Experience Panels.
Over 2,400 people from across Scotland have joined the Experience Panels. They all have recent experience of the benefits that are coming to Scotland.
The Scottish Government is working with Experience Panel members to create Scotland’s new social security system.
About the research
This report details the findings of respondents to help design the processes for keeping Social Security staff and clients safe.
293 survey responses
The research took place in July 2019
The research explored:
- Situations that cause frustration and anger between staff and clients
- How staff can respond when clients may be displaying unacceptable actions
- Communication about the process and sharing data with other organisations
Participants were between 16 – 79 years old
27% Man or boy
71% Woman or girl
80% lived in an urban location
20% lived in a rural location
Participants took part in 28 out of 32 local authority areas
Most survey participants had a disability or long term health condition, including:
- chronic pain
- severe hearing impairments
- severe visual impairments
- other kinds of long term health conditi
Situations that cause frustration or anger when interacting with organisations
This report outlines the views of people who responded to this survey. These may not be shared by all who receive benefits that will be delivered by Social Security Scotland.
We asked what situations can result in feelings of frustration or anger when interacting with an organisation like Social Security Scotland.
These were the most common responses from respondents:
- Lack of understanding of the client’s situation.
- Not listening to what the client is saying.
- Lack of consideration of client’s time.
- Inaccessibility of venues.
How to reduce feelings of frustration or anger between clients and organisations like Social Security Scotland
Respondents were asked what Social Security Scotland should put into place to help reduce feelings of frustrations or anger.
One of the most common responses was that Social Security Scotland should always provide information to their clients as to what will happen at their appointments.
“Ensure that people are fully aware of what is going to happen at appointments”
Another popular response was that it was crucial for staff to be trained to know how to interact with clients.
“Training Programmes to make aware the different situations people are having with their condition”
Respondents felt that Social Security Scotland should focus on the clients’ specific needs and ask them how to make the interview less stressful.
“It may be during an interview the claimant is becoming frustrated because their literacy skills might not be good so using images or PowerPoint slides, explaining a process or giving them the time and opportunity to take notes”
Respondents felt that providing a positive atmosphere within Social Security Scotland would reduce feelings of frustration.
“Have someone welcome individuals and checking in on individuals as they are waiting to enquire if they are ok”
How Social Security Scotland can help clients with a health condition
Respondents were asked how Social Security Scotland can help reduce anger or frustration if it’s due to a health condition.
Most of respondents felt that staff should be trained on the different conditions.
“Information about the condition should be given to the staff”
Respondents felt that flagging individual’s needs to staff would help clients feel comfortable in Social Security Scotland spaces. This would allow the clients to tell Social Security Scotland, in their own words, their condition, and tell staff how to make their experience easier.
“By allowing the client to state they have issues prior to the interview”
“Perhaps something on my system that highlighted to any member of staff my poor concentration and memory and need for short simple questions”
Nearly all (95 per cent) of the respondents said they would want Social Security Scotland to store their accessibility needs or disability to make interactions easier.
A few respondents (3 per cent) were not sure if they would want the organisation to store the information.
One per cent of respondents did not want Social Security Scotland to store any information.
Staff response to unacceptable actions
Respondents were asked how they thought staff should respond to situations where clients may be displaying unacceptable actions.
They were asked about situations occurring in an office environment, over the phone, and during home visits.
In an office environment, respondents felt that clients should be given a safe space where they can calm down.
“Let the person have some time to calm down in a quiet area”
Most of the respondents felt that staff should be paired up and should be trained in knowing how to handle any difficult situation.
“Each office should have two people working together who are trained in techniques to calm an angry person”
Over the phone, most of the respondents had said staff should end the call when faced with unacceptable action but should always call back.
“There should be a cooling off period allowed before the call is made again, perhaps 2 hours later”
The majority of respondents felt that during these situations, staff should still talk to clients respectfully and patiently.
When visiting a client in their house, most of the respondents said that staff should go in pairs and to leave when faced with unacceptable actions, but always arrange another appointment.
“With kindness and patience. Have the time to find out what is wrong”
“Maybe visit in twos and the client could have a trusted carer in attendance”
“Advise you need to leave and will reschedule for a more appropriate time when they are not feeling so distressed”
Respondents were asked what Social Security Scotland should do when a client has displayed unacceptable actions.
The most popular response was for two staff members to be present during face to face interactions (80 per cent).
This was followed by only allowing contact through third parties (70 per cent).
Almost nine in ten respondents (89 per cent) felt that it is important to alert staff before they interact with clients who had previously displayed unacceptable actions.
We asked respondents to provide further comments why they felt it was important to alert staff. Respondents talked about staff needing to be aware of potential issues, and be able to respond in the right way.
“It would be easier to anticipate potential problems and try to avoid them. Also you need to know if you should not see the client alone”
“It’s important staff are aware before visiting that a situation may escalate. But approaching clients with kindness and patience, and giving them opportunity to improve their behaviour is important”
A small number of respondents (4 per cent) felt that staff should not be informed, while 6 per cent weren’t sure if they should be informed about individuals who previously displayed unacceptable actions.
“This may cause interviewer to expect violent behaviour and behave in a more defensive manner”
“Of course measures should be taken to keep everyone safe, but I also feel that having certain information available before dealing with a new agent could make them prejudice towards the client”
Communication about the process
Respondents were asked how Social Security Scotland should communicate their decisions to those who displayed unacceptable actions.
Almost nine in ten respondents (88 per cent) wanted it through post
More than four in ten respondents (44 per cent) would want it through email
Social Security Scotland will offer the right of review of any decision on unacceptable actions at any time.
A review will include looking at what led to the original decision being taken and what contact has been made since, as well as any impact on the client.
Respondents were asked what sort of information people should be told about the decision, before deciding whether to ask for a review. Answers included:
Sharing data with other organisations
Almost half of the respondents (46 per cent) would feel very comfortable/comfortable about Social Security Scotland sharing information about unacceptable actions with other organisations such as the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) or local authorities.
The majority of respondents (between 78 per cent and 83 per cent) told us they were comfortable or very comfortable with the policy on unacceptable actions being advertised on:
- Citizen’s Advice Bureau
- GP Clinics
The least popular was GP clinics with one in ten (10 per cent) saying they would feel uncomfortable with this.
This research is being used to inform the ongoing development and design of unacceptable actions policy. As part of this it will also will be used to help develop staff to ensure they are capable, aware and responsive to the complex needs of individuals.
The Scottish Government will continue to work with the Experience Panels in the development of Scotland’s new social security system.