Social Security Experience Panels: meeting people's needs - report

Report on findings from research with Social Security Experience Panels members on how Social Security Scotland can support clients’ accessibility, disability and other needs.

How Social Security Scotland can support client needs

Information on adjustments

Survey respondents were asked where they would expect to see information about the different adjustments available from Social Security Scotland.  Examples of adjustments include: a British Sign Language or other language interpreter, a quiet room for meetings, or an Easy Read version of a document.  Most respondents (87 per cent) said they would want this information as part of an application and over half (69 per cent) said this information should be on the Social Security Scotland website.  Just less than half (46 per cent) said a leaflet at Social Security Scotland locations.  

Table 11: Where would you want information about the different adjustments Social Security Scotland could provide? (n=234)[7]
As part of an application form information sheet   86.8
Social Security Scotland's Website 68.8
Leaflet available in Social Security locations 46.2
Phone 24.8
Other 9.0

Other locations mentioned by participants are listed below:   

  • Advocacy services
  • Citizen Advice locations 
  • Carers centres
  • Community centres
  • GP surgeries
  • Libraries
  • Via Local Authorities

Subject Matter Experts

To support clients who have different needs e.g. addiction to drugs or alcohol, Social Security Scotland are putting in place Subject Matter Experts.  These staff will have extra training and experience and will support other staff members to ensure they know about additional support clients might need.

Almost all survey respondents (97 per cent) said it will be helpful or very helpful to have Subject Matter Experts in place.  

Table 12: How helpful do you think it would be to have subject matter experts in place who can support staff when they come across clients with these needs? (n=234)
Very helpful 78.2
Helpful 18.4
Unhelpful 3
Very unhelpful 0.4
Total 100

Providing information on additional support

Almost all survey respondents (97 per cent) who said they would disclose relevant information about additional needs said they agreed or strongly agreed that staff should provide extra information about services that could help a client. 

Table 13: Do you agree or disagree that staff should provide extra information about services that can help client's with their needs? (n=206)
Strongly agree 82.5
Agree 14.1
Neither agree or disagree 2.9
Disagree 0
Strongly disagree 0.5
Total 100

When asked how this should be done, respondents stressed that clients should be given information on the range of financial support they may be entitled to.  This included the range benefits administered by Social Security Scotland as well as financial support from other organisations such as DWP and local authorities. 

"Maybe an information pack listing all the things people are entitled to, or apply for." (survey respondent)

"Supply contact information for other benefits / services  / reductions that a claimant may be eligible for." (survey respondent)

Respondents also said that Social Security Scotland should advise and direct clients to other forms of support available from relevant organisations.  Many suggested this could be via leaflets.  Other suggestions included: written information; links to websites; via advertising; over the phone; or during face to face interactions.  Directing clients to other possible sources of support was also highlighted as important by focus group participants.  Discussion included 'bridging' and 'signposting' to specialist support groups, advocacy services, and other public services. 

"…staff might be able to signpost to another Agency if you've got a problem with mental health issue or they think you're suicidal, they can point you towards the Samaritans or you have problems with rheumatoid arthritis, they can put you on to a support group or something like that and try and make it a whole experience and try and make it as positive as possible as well." (focus group participant)

 "I tend to prefer doing things online so I would like a directory of information and resources on a website.  It would be important for you to effectively advertise and promote your ability to provide this information.  It should be available as leaflets, posters etc., or with direct/web chats with your staff." (survey respondent)

 "A list of support agencies / projects - if possible tailored to the condition / diagnosis of the individual.  [For example] Parkinson Society, Macmillan Cancer, Mental health projects, etc." (survey respondent) 

Visits to a Social Security Scotland location

Focus group participants were asked how Social Security Scotland could support clients visiting a Social Security Scotland location.  In particular, participants were asked what information should be shared with front of house staff.  Overall, participants felt it was important that personal information about disability and other needs was not shared with reception staff at Social Security Scotland locations.  

Participants thought however, that it was appropriate to for Social Security Scotland to share details about accessibility needs.  Examples included adjustments relating to vision impairments such as clients who need a guide to accompany them within the building or if the client will be accompanied by a guide dog during their visit.  Examples also included if a client was in a wheelchair or would be accompanied by a carer or another individual for support.  Other information it could be relevant to share about a client's needs included access to a hearing loop and ability to book parking spaces.  Participants noted this type of information could be important in case of a fire drill or other safety event.

Most participants agreed that it should be sufficient for Social Security Scotland to share only the name of the client and their appointment time with reception staff to allow them to welcome clients to the building.  

"Wheelchair user, walking stick user. Any accessibility problems they've got, that's about it." (focus group participant)  

"All they need to say is I'm expecting Mr and Mrs X at such a time." (focus group participant)

Supporting clients through knowledge and understanding 

Survey respondents were asked what else Social Security Scotland could do to meet clients' needs in addition to Subject Matter Experts and signposting to other services.  Focus group participants also discussed alternative ways Social Security Scotland can support clients' needs.  

Many respondents said that it was important all Social Security Scotland staff displayed qualities aligned with Social Security Scotland's commitment to its core values of fairness, dignity and respect.  Answers highlighted that clients should be treated with empathy and kindness by staff who show a caring, helpful attitude.  The importance of empathy has been highlighted several times in previous Experience Panels research projects.  This was also highlighted by some focus group participants who were pleased to see personal qualities such as empathy included in Social Security Scotland job adverts.  

"Having a caring and empathetic nature, one that wants to help to make people's lives that much better and to let them know we care about you." (survey respondent)

"I had a look at the person spec. for benefit advisers recently…in particular it [empathy] was actually written into the person spec." (focus group participant)

Respondents also thought that staff should have a good level of knowledge and understanding about different disabilities or long-term conditions.  Respondents suggested staff training and learning from both experts and those with lived experience to accomplish this.  Focus group participants described this as staff having both a broad awareness of disability-related and other needs as well as specific training.  Comments from survey respondents and focus group participants also highlighted it was important for staff to consider the individual and variable impacts of disabilities and long-term health conditions.  

"You could have information from the experts that your people could refer to when faced with an applicant…You don't have to have experts on hand, but for them to write info guides to work from." (survey respondent) 

"I think it helps having them talk to disabled people as it helps them raise awareness so they aren't just doing online training." (focus group participant) 



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