Social Security Experience Panels - Seldom Heard research programme: carers and care experienced

This report presents the main findings of the first wave of research with carers and care experienced people as part of the ‘Seldom Heard Voices’ research programme.

This document is part of a collection

General experiences of benefits

Although our respondents and participants had some different and specific experiences we also found commonalities.

Which benefits?

Table 3 sets out the proportion of respondents that had experience of each of the benefits. The three most common were: Universal Credit (UC) (52%), followed by Child Benefit (CB) (39%) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP) (33%).

Table 3: Proportion of respondents applying for each benefit in previous three years (n=46)
Universal Credit 52
Child Benefit 39
Personal Independence Payment 33
Housing Benefit 30
Child Tax Credits 22
Cold Weather Payments and Winter Fuel Payments 20
Employment Support Allowance 17
Carers Allowance 15
Disability Living Allowance 13
Discretionary Housing Payments 11
Jobseeker's Allowance 9
Contributory Job Seeker's Allowance 9
Income Support 9
Sure Start Maternity Grant 9
Some powers in relation to Universal Credit 9
Severe Disablement Allowance 7
Working Tax Credits 7
Contributory Employment Support Allowance 4
Maternity Allowance 4

Similarly to respondents, participants had experience of most of the benefits shown in Table 3 and further of; Best Start Grant (BSG), Kinship Carer Allowance (KCA) and Pension Credit (PC). Most participants had experience of more than one benefit.

Information sources

Table 4 sets out the sources of information for respondents. The most common source was ‘Other organisations/professionals’ (41%) which included third sector organisations, social workers, welfare rights officers, council staff, and health professionals. A third (33%) found information online themselves, whilst 20% said a Job Centre Plus advisor told them.

Table 4: Thinking about the most recent benefits application you made, how did you find out about which benefits you are entitled to? (n=46)
Other organisations/professionals gave me information 41
I found information online 33
A Jobcentre Plus advisor told me 20
Friends/family gave me information 15
Other 9
I found written information offline (leaflets, flyers etc.) 4

Participants also mentioned a range of sources. Commonly stated sources were: third sector organisations, online searches, word of mouth, DWP and Job Centre Plus staff, public sector workers. A few of them mentioned health practitioners. Many of them used more than one source to get information about benefits. Participants told us their first source of information was often relatives, friends, acquaintances and peer/service users.

“[I got information] Just coming here [to support group], and then [name] who worked for CAB, she was really, really good. She knew everything about what kinship care payments were and what we were entitled to, so she came to the group and did bits and pieces and said you need to do one of those questionnaire things about your expenditure and benefits.”

[Kinship/foster carer and adoptive parent, focus group]

Online searches were also a common way to look for initial information. Respondents and participants who found information online commonly noted: UK and Scottish Government websites, internet search engines and social media websites. For some, websites and forums from third sector organisations were sources of information.

“I’ve looked on Google…I look at the .gov websites and I’ve taken stuff from there”.

[Single parent, focus group]

Ease of finding information

Table 5 sets out how easy or difficult respondents found getting information on benefit entitlement, almost four-in-five (78%) respondents said it is quite difficult or very difficult.

Table 5: How easy or difficult do you think it is to find out about which benefits you are entitled to? (n=59)
Very easy 2
Quite easy 20
Quite difficult 41
Very difficult 37
Total 100

Like respondents, the majority of participants also found getting information difficult. Both participants and respondents told us their difficulties stemmed from having no experience of benefits initially and so did not know where to look. When they did find information, it could be complicated and this was compounded by inconsistency across sources.

The small number of participants and the respondents who said finding information was easy, either had support from third sector organisations, public sector workers or benefit staff or said that finding information online was generally straightforward for them.

“We spoke to [local third sector organisation]…It’s a third sector organisation for advocacy…they were [able to give all the information we needed] aye. They were very good..”

[Kinship/foster carer and adoptive parent, interview]

How did they apply?

When asked to think about what channel they used in their most recent application, just over half of survey respondents (54%) said they applied online. Three-in-ten (30%) completed a paper application. Only 2% applied face-to-face. Respondents who selected the ‘other’ option (13%) generally noted they had completed their application by phone (see Table 6).

Table 6: Thinking about the most recent benefits application you have made, how did you apply? (n=46)
Online 54
Paper application 30
Other 13
Face-to-face 2
Total 100

Similarly, most participants mentioned the same channels of communication (i.e. online, paper application, face to face) when asked how they applied to benefits.

Around three-quarters (74 %) of survey respondents said applying was quite or very difficult. Table 7 below shows results in more detail. It highlights only 2% said the process was ‘very easy’.

Table 7: How easy or difficult did you find it to apply for benefits? (n=46)
Very easy 2
Quite easy 24
Quite difficult 24
Very difficult 50
Total 100

The small number of respondents who said applying for benefits was easy said that processes with some specific benefits - CB and Child Tax Credit (CTC) - were straightforward. Further, respondents who found it easy highlighted that it was because of the support they had from third sector organisations, public sector workers or benefit staff (more below).

Most participants also found applying for benefits difficult. Among the reasons cited for difficulties were: that they found application forms long and also repetitive which seemed unnecessary, that the application process could be complex and confusing, and further they could feel stigmatised or discriminated against. One final issue was that participants could feel unsure that they were following the processes ‘correctly’ which led to a feeling of insecurity.

Benefits participants mentioned as particularly difficult were UC and PIP. People who did not consider themselves computer literate, in particular, found the online UC application process difficult.

For those claiming PIP, difficulties mentioned included: the application form was repetitive, long and complex and so filling the form was challenging without support, and the assessments process was particularly stressful. Specifically, the application and assessment processes were found to be unable to capture appropriately the fluctuating nature of some health conditions.

As well as difficulties with the actual application process, participants and respondents found other aspects difficult. These included the long waiting periods before getting payment, the transition when moving to UC from other benefits with fewer conditions to entitlements; and the interactions of eligibility between UC and other benefits.

Support with information and application processes

Some participants and respondents told us about positive experiences when they got support with information on benefits and further help with filling in application forms, assessments and appeals. This support mostly came from third sector organisations, public services workers and health practitioners.

Third sector organisations, in particular, those who advocate and work on the specific needs of carers and care experienced people (for example, Who Cares? Scotland, One Parent Families Scotland and Barnardos) along with support groups and service users in these groups; were highlighted as key support for finding information and with applications. In some cases, they made participants aware for the first time of benefits to which they might be entitled. A few participants said that without the support of these organisations, they would have not applied to benefits.

“I didn’t know what benefits I could apply for, see until I came to One Parent Families Scotland, I didn’t know anything about any of the benefits I could apply for.”

“…a lot of us have found out about different benefits that we maybe don’t know about, but we should be entitled to. And it’s all down to this group”.

[Single parents, focus group]

A handful of participants mentioned having a difficulty with long waiting times to get appointments with third sector organisations notably Citizens Advice and GEMAP. Despite this, the organisations were found helpful.

“…there’s always Citizens Advice as well. They’re really good…They guide you in the right direction, for example with what charitable organisations [that] can help, what the charitable organisations can do for the child. They can give you a lot of information.”

[Kinship/foster carer and adoptive parent, interview]

To a lesser extent, public sector workers and health practitioners provided useful information to participants and respondents, and further gave support with application processes. Participants mentioned getting help from social workers, welfare rights officers, housing officers, family nurses, health visitors and midwifes. A small number of participants also received guidance and advice from support workers from schools and homeless services. Other participants criticised the lack of support from some public sector workers; in particular from social workers.

“It was my welfare rights officer that told me about the Personal Independence Payment, and he did the application form in the house for me. I got knocked back but then he appealed it, and I got it then, so that was quite good that the welfare rights officer helped me with that.”

[Single parent, focus group]

Participants had mixed experiences when looking for support from DWP and Job Centre Plus staff. A few had good Job Centre Plus advisors and work coaches who helped them find information; and supported them with completing application forms. Many others stated DWP and Job Centre Plus staff gave them confusing information, misinformation or no information about benefit entitlement. Some participants also indicated that they did not support them with application processes.

“…the Job Centre Plus that I go to, whenever I go there with a problem or whatever I have, they give you the right information or way to go. Even if they can’t help, they tell you what to do and give you telephone numbers and stuff like that. To go and get help.”

[Single parent, focus group]

“…It seem liked everyone was sending me in different directions and nobody actually knew […] The Job Centre Plus was the only source of contact that I had about benefits, nobody else had a clue. That left me stranded for ages until I got a family nurse.”

“A lot of [Job Centre Plus] staff don’t know what they are doing a lot of the time.”

[Young parents, focus group]

Most support participants obtained was in the form of face-to-face interactions. However, there were some cases where support by phone was valuable. Online forums were also a source information and were used to make specific queries about benefits for a few participants.



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