Social Security Experience Panels - appointments and local delivery: report

This report outlines the Social Security Experience Panels views expressed in a survey and focus groups on Social Security Scotland appointments and local delivery.

This document is part of a collection


Demand for appointments

The majority of survey respondents said they would want to make an appointment to speak to a Social Security Scotland staff member at some point (85 per cent), with just fifteen per cent saying they would never want to make an appointment.

Reasons for wanting an appointment

Focus group participants offered reasons why they would want an appointment with Social Security Scotland across four main themes.

  • Accessibility: having accessibility needs meant that appointments were the best way to resolve their queries. 
  • Consistency and reliability: making an appointment was felt to be more reliable than other means of contacting Social Security Scotland and would be a way to access accurate and consistent information.
  • Information Seeking: an appointment would stem from them seeking information about a particular benefit, eligibility or some other query.
  • Checking status: an appointment was a means of staying in touch with Social Security Scotland, so that they could get clarity over existing applications and claims, and be reassured if needed on any issues that had arisen. 
  • Other reasons: participants gave other reasons for appointments, the most common being to make, resolve or get an update on any complaint they had made about Social Security Scotland. 

A small number of participants said they would never expect to make an appointment, as they believed everything could be done online.

Types of appointments

Face to face 

  • Over eight in ten respondents said they would be ‘very interested’ or ‘interested’ in a face to face appointment (84 per cent).
  • A fifth of all respondents said they would like a home visit (20 per cent) and just under three in ten said they would come to a Social Security Scotland office or venue (27 per cent). Just over half of respondents said they would sometimes visit a Social Security Scotland venue, and would sometimes want a home visit (54 per cent).
  • Overall, just over eight in ten respondents said they would – at some point – like to come to a Social Security Scotland office or venue (81 per cent).


  • Just over seven in ten respondents (71 per cent) said they would be ‘very interested’ or ‘interested’ in a telephone appointment.
  • The majority of respondents wanted Social Security Scotland to call them at the agreed time (88 per cent), with just over one in ten wanting to call Social Security Scotland (12 per cent). Focus group participants also tended to believe Social Security Scotland should call them at the time of their appointment.


  • Just under four in ten respondents said they would be ‘very interested’ or ‘interested’ in a Skype appointment (38 per cent), with the majority saying they were ‘not that interested’ or ‘not interested at all’ (62 per cent). 
  • Many focus group participants expressed a favourable opinion of Skype appointments, seeing it as a ‘convenient’ and ‘easy’ way of speaking to Social Security Scotland, particularly for general enquiries, and discussing their eligibility for benefits. Many said they liked the face to face aspect of Skype. 
  • However some participants had concerns, particularly around the security of their personal information, the reliability of internet in rural areas and computer literacy.

Web chat

  • Survey respondents were split down the middle on whether they were interested in web chat appointments, with roughly half saying they were ‘very interested’ or ‘interested’, and the rest saying they were ‘not that interested’ or ‘not interested at all’.
  • Focus group participants were also split. Those who did not like the idea of web chat said it was because it lacked the ‘face to face element’ that you might get in person or with a Skype appointment.
  • Those who did like the idea of web chat felt it was ideal for short, simple queries. They liked the idea of not having to leave home, and being able to speak to Social Security Scotland outside of an agency office. Others liked that you could save a record of the conversation to refer to in the future.

General appointment preference

  • We asked respondents what type of appointment they would most prefer. Respondents were generally mixed, however the most popular options were a face to face appointment (40 per cent) and telephone (34 per cent). The least popular option was Skype, with 6 per cent of respondents saying that would be their first choice of appointment.
  • A significant association was observed between respondent age and preference for Skype and web chat appointments. For Skype appointments, almost seven in ten respondents aged 60 and over said they were not interested (68 per cent) compared to just over half of respondents aged under 60 (54 per cent).

Recurring appointments

  • If they needed multiple appointments, most respondents said they would want a face to face appointment (61 per cent) the first time, however just under one in three would be happy with a telephone appointment (27 per cent). Digital options such as Skype and web chat were less popular with just over one in ten wanting a web chat appointment (11 per cent) and one in fifty wanting a Skype appointment (2 per cent).
  • For most respondents, their general appointment preference tended to match that of their first appointment preference. In general, respondents who wanted their first appointment to be face to face tended to be more willing to have an alternate general appointment preference. Conversely, very few respondents who had a first appointment preference for a digital channel such as Skype or web chat wanted to then switch to a non-digital channel later.

Booking an appointment

Most survey respondents said they had no preference as to the booking method (51 per cent). The remaining respondents were split between the referral method (26 per cent) and the self-booking method (24 per cent).

Survey respondents tended to prefer booking their appointment online, with almost six in ten saying they would book this way themselves (57 per cent). Telephone was also popular with almost three in ten respondents (28 per cent). The least popular ways of booking an appointment were through an app (8 per cent) or in person at a Social Security Scotland building or local venue (7 per cent). Focus group participants tended to reflect the wide range of preferences shown by survey respondents.

Before the appointment

For survey respondents, the most popular method to receive a confirmation of an appointment booking was by email (47 per cent), with text message and post also popular (26 per cent and 25 per cent respectively). The least popular options were by telephone (1 per cent) and social media (0 per cent). Almost three quarters of respondents said they would prefer to receive a digital confirmation alongside a post one (74 per cent).

Almost all respondents said they would like to receive a reminder of their appointment (94 per cent). Most respondents wanted a text or email reminder, with around a third wanting a reminder by post (32 per cent) and less than a fifth by telephone (14 per cent) (Respondents could tick multiple options).

Most respondents wanted their reminder the day before the appointment (44 per cent), however just under a third wanted it two days before (32 per cent) and just over a third wanted it a week before (34 per cent). Less than one in ten respondents wanted a reminder on the day (9 per cent) or two weeks before the appointment (6 per cent).

Seven in ten respondents said they would want the ability to cancel or change their appointment themselves (70 per cent) with three in ten saying they would prefer to ask Social Security Scotland staff to do this for them (30 per cent). Respondents were asked what would be their preferred way to change or cancel an appointment. The most popular method was online, nearly two-thirds of respondents (65 per cent) would prefer to change or cancel an appointment that way. 

Focus group participants said they would find the following kind of information useful prior to their appointment:

  • Information on accessing and moving around the venue;
  • Typical length of appointments;
  • Information on travel expenses; and
  • Information on how to change or cancel the appointment.

At the appointment

Respondents were asked if they would like to speak to the same person each time if they needed recurring appointments to resolve an issue. Almost all respondents said it was ‘very important’ or ‘important’ that they speak to the same person each time (98 per cent). 

Focus group participants were slightly more mixed in their views. A greater number of them were more comfortable speaking to a different person each time. However these views were still in the minority. 

Survey respondents and focus group participants gave various reasons for wanting to speak to the same Social Security Scotland staff member at each appointment, primarily:

  • Not having to explain themselves over and over;
  • Fear of information being lost;
  • Having someone ‘know’ them and their needs; and
  • Having a more personalised service.

Over seven in ten respondents felt an appointment should last longer than 15 minutes (72 per cent), and over four in ten felt it should last longer than 20 minutes (43 per cent). Just over one in ten felt appointments should last longer than 30 minutes (12 per cent).

In the future, Social Security Scotland may allow third parties to book appointments on behalf of their clients. Just under three in ten respondents said a third party, such as an advocate or a carer had booked an appointment for them in the past (28 per cent). Eight in ten respondents said they were either completely comfortable or quite comfortable if a third party could book an appointment on their behalf (80 per cent), with two in ten saying they were not that comfortable, or not comfortable at all (21 per cent).

Home visits

The most common reason survey respondents said they would need a home visit was due to their disability, mental health or long term health condition (78 per cent) followed by mobility issues (47 per cent). Around a fifth of respondents said caring responsibilities restricted them from visiting a Social Security Scotland office (22 per cent) with a further 16 per cent saying they would struggle with transport.

We asked focus group participants what types of behaviour client support advisers should display when visiting their homes. Participants often said they expected client support advisers to be non-judgemental and respectful of their home and privacy. Others wanted reassurance that the advisers wouldn’t bring anything they were allergic to into their homes.

They expected the client support adviser to be ‘honest’, ‘respectful’ and ‘friendly’ and have a good understanding about the client, their disabilities and what they wanted to discuss. Other suggestions to make the home visit a positive experience included: client support advisers showing up on time; informing clients of what will be covered; knowing the name of the adviser; and the adviser calling the client before visiting to introduce themselves.

Drop-in sessions

Three quarters of respondents said they would be interested in attending a drop-in session at Social Security Scotland buildings or other local venues to find out information (75 per cent).

When asked what they would use drop-in sessions for, the most popular topics were to ask about eligibility (80 per cent) or to get guidance about other support services available (78 per cent). Asking about specific benefits and getting help with an application were also popular, chosen by over two thirds of respondents (76 and 68 per cent respectively). The least popular option was to get guidance on how to check application status, however this was still popular chosen by just under six in ten respondents (58 per cent).

Most focus group participants agreed that drop-in sessions could be a suitable environment to ask general questions about the benefit system. Some felt that drop-in sessions should always be held in non-Social Security Scotland venues - such as local community buildings – to put clients at ease. 

Local delivery 

Accessing a local service 

The majority of focus group participants felt that a local service should be easily accessible for each individual. Some participants from urban areas said that the city centre was local to them, while others felt this depended on how easily someone is able to travel. Participants from rural areas expected a local service to be near where they lived, but acknowledged that services were more spread out in these areas. 

Participants mentioned a variety of travel methods they would expect to use to get to get to a local service. Many felt that public transport could present a barrier to accessing a local service. A few participants felt that buses are unreliable and inconsistent. The affordability of public transport was also a concern for a few participants, as was parking at buildings.

Focus group participants were asked their views about how they would like to access local services. The most common response was face to face within a private space. Participants highlighted the importance of having the local service in  well-known buildings and venues. Participants said that venues should be welcoming, accessible throughout, and have accessible parking. A few participants suggested a mobile service.

Many participants commented that local services should not be in a DWP building, or a job centre. Participants also felt that the local services should not be in buildings which have any religious connotations or any security guards.

Expectations of a local service 

Most participants said that they would expect to ‘drop into’ a local Social Security Scotland venue to speak to a member of staff face to face. Some participants raised the importance of other options such as skype. 

Participants wanted a local service to provide both general information about the social security system and information and help specific to them. This included getting help with application forms, eligibility and timescales.  Some participants wanted to be signposted to other local services and organisations. Participants noted that it is important that a local service have areas for private meetings. Above all, participants said that they expect Social Security Scotland staff providing the local service to be fully trained, knowledgeable and willing to help.  

Participants gave various suggestions as to how Social Security Scotland should make people aware of the services provided by local delivery. Some participants proposed having posters and information leaflets in local delivery venues and other community spaces. Other participants suggested advertising through TV, radio and social media.  Participants noted that information should be available in a range of accessible formats. 



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