Information

Social Security Experience Panels: applications and access to support

This report outlines the Social Security Experience Panel members’ views expressed in a survey about what information about application progress Social Security Scotland should give and how Social Security Scotland should link them to other support.

This document is part of a collection


Accessing information and support about other services

Finding out what support might be available

More than three in five (62 per cent) survey respondents said that they would currently look for information on what benefits and support might be available on the Department for Work and Pensions website. Half (49 per cent) said that they would use an internet search engine, and two in five (40 per cent) said that they would use the Citizens Advice Scotland website. Almost two in five (38 per cent) also said that they would use an advice service like Citizens Advice Scotland by phone, email or in person.

Table 2 illustrates where respondents would currently go to get information on what benefits and other support might be available to them.

Table 2 (n=220)

Where would you currently look to get information on what benefits and other support might be available?

The Department for Work and Pensions website

62%

Through an internet search engine

49%

Citizens Advice Scotland website

40%

Using an advice service like Citizens Advice Scotland by phone, email or in person

38%

From your local authority, social work or housing association

33%

Through my local Welfare Rights Office by phone, email or in person

32%

From friends or family

32%

From a healthcare professional

23%

From my local carers' centre

22%

From another charity

21%

Another way

18%

Among those who said they would look for information “another way”, this included advocacy services or support workers. Some also suggest local services like libraries, schools and supermarket information boards.

Focus group participants were asked about how they currently access information about the type of support that might be available to them.

A number of participants cited online sources, including using a search engine or the DWP’s website.

“[I would use] the DWP website but it’s quite complicated - you’ve got to find out yourself what’s specific to you. I find they don’t tell you what you’re entitled to - you’ve got to go and find out yourself. They tell you “you may or may not be entitled to something”- it takes a long time because you’ve got to speak to someone to ask what to apply for, then you’ve got to apply, it takes a long time.” Focus Group Participant

Other online sources of information mentioned included websites which specialise in benefits advice – some of which require registration fees to join.

Respondents also spoke about the support on offer through Citizen’s Advice Scotland and other similar support services. Many felt that the support on offer was valuable, but some also suggested that these services are overstretched, or that the frontline volunteers do not always have enough knowledge to be able to resolve issues, and are therefore unable to offer the level of services needed by some clients.

“I’ve found Citizen’s Advice, although can be very helpful, they are sometimes limited because the person is not trained up on everything. So you can go there and you need to go back and back again as they have to seek advice for somebody higher up.” Focus
Group Participant

“Well traditional route is CAB, and they’re generally on top of what’s happening but they’re swamped.” Focus Group Participant

A number of respondents spoke about the information and support available through local councils, including through Welfare Advice services. Some had found these services very comprehensive. Others said that the service was more limited, or that they had been simply told to look online.

Other sources of support included health service providers, carers services and third sector organisations, particularly those who specialise in certain health conditions. Some respondents raised concerns that these types of third sector services are facing cuts to their funding which is impacting on the availability of good quality support and advice.

A number of respondents also spoke about getting support or advice from family and friends, and highlighted this as a valuable source of information on what might be available. Some were concerned that this creates system where people being informed about their eligibility is based on “luck” of knowing someone who can help them.

Some participants also suggested that proactive advertising of the type of support that might be available would be useful.

“Leaflets in libraries, health centres, public interest places – being considerate of accessibility. Make sure clear advertising is on TV and radio. There’s nothing wrong with telling people that help exists via national press.” Focus Group Participant

Access to other types of support outside of Social Security Scotland

More than nine in ten (93 per cent) survey respondents said that they would want Social Security Scotland to tell them if there were other benefits or types of support that might be available to them from another organisation (n=226). Almost one in ten (8 per cent) respondents said that they might want to be told or that it would depend on the type of support.

Respondents were most likely to want to hear information about other types of benefits or financial support that they might be able to apply for. More than nine in ten (94 per cent) respondents said that they would want Social Security Scotland to tell them about other benefits that might be relevant to them delivered by DWP or local authorities. Almost three quarters (73 per cent) of respondents would want to hear about other types of financial help that they might be able to apply for (e.g. grants). However, they were less likely to want to hear about money and advice services – a third would want to hear about debt advice services (33 per cent) and credit unions (34 per cent).

Table 3 illustrates the types of services that respondents would want to hear about from Social Security Scotland.

Table 3 (n=227)

Which of the following other services would you want to hear about from Social Security Scotland if we thought they might be relevant to you? (tick all that apply)

Other benefits, delivered by DWP or local authorities

94%

Other types of financial help that you might be able to apply for (e.g. grants)

73%

A blue badge

64%

Home energy support (for help with hearing, electricity and gas)

64%

Advocacy services

56%

Counselling services

47%

Other money advice services

45%

Credit unions

34%

Debt advice

33%

Something else (please write in)

20%

Among those who said “other money advice services”, suggestions included having comprehensive advice about their entitlements, advice about crisis or budgeting loans, advice about transport and advice about medical support or services.

Those who suggested “something else” spoke about wanting advice on travel assistance, support for claiming or completing applications, care or housing services, or holistic advice about everything they may be entitled to.

Many focus group participants felt that they would want information to be provided about all relevant support that could be valuable to them.

Others, however, were more unsure about information being provided about financial or debt advice, or felt that it should only be provided on request. This was due to concern about potential stigma, or the perception that applying for a benefit might imply you weren’t capable of managing your own finances.

“If someone asks but not generally - the idea that you can’t handle your money because you’re disabled doesn’t sit well with me.” Focus Group Participant

“If staff got the sense that client was at a crisis point, they may then ask some sensitive questions around whether they need help immediately, and can signpost them to other
places, but not something that happens as standard.” Focus Group Participant

Some felt that it could be useful to provide this sort of information, but that it should be done very sensitively without assumptions.

“There’s nothing wrong with offering. It’s just a service to offer - it’s not wrong to assume people might have difficulties with mortgage payments after they have lost their job for example.” Focus Group Participant

“Signposting to debt and poverty advice would be really helpful. You have to be wary of being seen to be making judgement on people… say ‘we’re not making a judgment
here’, make info available universally… there if you might need it.” Focus Group Participant

Some respondents spoke about the need for more holistic support, beyond simply advice relating to benefits or income. This included advice on where they could get support relevant to their health condition, domestic abuse or counselling services. Others suggested that support or advice relating to work, housing and transport would be valuable.

“I want to hear what financial help is available to close relatives who want or need to be with a patient who is admitted to a hospital to die. Fares, accommodation, subsistence
is required for several days by rural folk. Otherwise their relative dies alone - which is common but shouldn't be!” Survey Respondent

“Any help or support for those with mental health problems, e.g. depression” Survey Respondent

“If there is a peer support network available that would be good. It is often better for someone who is in the exact same position i.e. a blow knee amputee speaking to someone else who has an amputation and has been through the process. A peer supporter can often sign post to the right agency and this is often less daunting than a "social security" person.” Survey Respondent

How to support people to access other types of support

Two thirds (66 per cent) of respondents said that if Social Security Scotland thought that advice or support from another organisation might be relevant to them, they would want to be given the contact details for that organisation. Half (49 per cent) would want to be supported to contact that organisation, and more than two in five (45 per cent) said that they would want Social Security Scotland to share their details with that organisation so that they can be contacted directly.

Table 4 (n=222)

If Social Security Scotland thought that advice or support from another organisation might be relevant to you, how would you want us to help you access that support?

Give me the contact details for that organisation

66%

Support me to contact that organisation

49%

Share my details with that organisation so that they can contact me directly and let me know

45%

In another way

5%

Among those who said that they would want help to access that support “another way”, this included people who said they would not want their details to be shared, who would want the support to be directed through their appointee or support worker, or by providing the information publicly such as through a website or leaflet.

A number of participants across both the survey and focus groups felt that it would be useful to simply provide information in a format that people could consider themselves. This was felt to be an advantage as it could equip them with the knowledge to make their own decisions about next steps, and remain in control of the process.

“I would like the information given to me, then leave it up to me to apply.” Focus Group Participant

Some felt that simply being given the information about everything that might be available would be enough, whereas others preferred a more targeted approach to signposting.

“It would be really helpful if there was a single webpage and leaflet (for those not online) that sets out all the benefits and support available to those with disabilities and long term illnesses. After 5 years I'm still randomly finding out about services and benefits. It's really hard to find out what someone is eligible for. I'm a carer and work myself in a bureaucratic job. If I struggle to suss what's available, I wonder how others less able manage. Particularly if they have no carer themselves. There's need to be a one stop for sign posting folk to the right places.” Survey Respondent

“My suggestion is if you wanted you could have a disability book like a baby book which would signpost all the consultants and when you go into hospital you would go “there you are” instead of saying it all again.” Focus Group Participant

“When you apply for one benefit then you should be informed immediately of any other benefits you might be entitled to and be given the relevant application forms to apply.” Survey Respondent

Others felt that a system through which they could be referred to other services, or supported to apply, could be valuable.

“Telling me that something exists, but leaving me completely unsupported in applying for or accessing applications for these things would only make matters worse. Having it
as 'you can apply for the blue badge, we can help you with that/here is the form/here are the people who can help you with that' means it would not just be another burden on me.” Survey Respondent

“Not sure I’d trust they’d be in touch. It’d be helpful to have someone to help with the first phone call as the amount of questions they ask you can be overwhelming.” Focus Group Participant

“Making people feel supported and not on their own - rather than “here’s the number”, staff could make the phone call for them.” Focus Group Participant

A key point raised by a number of participants, was that this type of referral should only be done with the client’s permission.

A number of participants suggested that Social Security Scotland could offer a “one stop shop” for information about the type of support available to people.

“Yes - one of the problems at the moment is that everything is in silos - once you are granted a benefit no one is saying “actually what else are you entitled to?” There should be a general benefit check offered” Focus Group Participant

“I think because you are starting from grassroots level, why can’t we have agency people turn up to that gives all the help you need, that they deal with it all. As opposed to having a scattered…” Focus Group Participant

When to provide information and advice

Half of survey respondents said that they would want to hear about other support that might be available when they first contact Social Security Scotland. More than a quarter said that they would want to hear about this once they had made an application.

Table 5 (n=220)

At what point would you want Social Security Scotland to tell you about other support that might be available?

When I first contact them

50%

Once I have made an application

27%

When I have a successful application for a benefit

14%

Another time

5%

Only if I request it

5%


Those who said they would want this information at another time suggested that they would want the information if they requested it, if they had an unsuccessful application or that they would want the information to be publicly available for them to look at, for example online or as a leaflet.

How information should be communicated

Almost three in five survey respondents said that they would want information about what other support might be relevant to them as an information leaflet (59 per cent) or as information pages online (56 per cent).

Around half of respondents said that they would want an interactive web form that asks for details and makes suggestions (50 per cent), or would want this information through a face-to-face conversation with a Social Security Scotland staff member (47 per cent). Table 6 outlines respondents’ preferred ways of getting this information.

Table 6 (n=222)

Which of the following ways would you want Social Security Scotland to give you information about what other support might be relevant to you

Information leaflets

59%

Information pages online

56%

An interactive web form that asks for your details and makes suggestions for you

50%

A face-to-face conversation with a staff member

47%

By phone

37%

Web chat

24%

In another way

9%

A number of respondents highlighted the importance of having a choice of communication methods for this information, or felt that it should be proactively offered during the application process.

“I am phobic with phones. Particularly unexpected calls. I am also not quite deaf I have a bad memory because of my disability. So a phone call is useless I'll forget what was said. I wouldn't be able to take notes now anyway.” Survey Respondent

“I would like to have a face-to-face conversation in which how my benefit/s were calculated and where I might get support if my total benefit was not going to cover my living costs” Survey Respondent

“I think it's important to keep the information concise, and in one letter/mail as far as possible. Some of us find it impossible to cope with the sheer amount of information/letters/printed words that are sent. This is even worse when more than one family member is involved.” Survey Respondent

Contact

Email: socialresearch@scotland.gsi.gov.uk

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