Social security: benefit take-up strategy

This take-up strategy is the first to be published under the provision of the Social Security (Scotland) Act.


Scottish Ministers are committed to promoting the take-up of Scottish benefits (see Annex A for legislative background). This strategy takes a collaborative approach, ensuring that we continue to learn from the experience and expertise of third-sector, local authorities, and wider Scottish Government partners. It is only through working jointly that we can achieve our full potential - supporting people to access all the support they are entitled to.

This strategy sets out the ongoing take-up work of the Scottish Government and Social Security Scotland (the agency delivering the devolved benefits), and the ways in which these are barriers are being addressed in respect of the benefits being devolved.

A Principled Approach

Our consultation on Social Security in Scotland[1] showed that many people feel the UK system is stressful, complicated and often inhumane. The Scottish Government is determined do things differently.

In order to ensure that this commitment to a fairer, more respectful, and dignified system is embedded in everything we do, the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018[2] ('the Act') includes 8 principles for the design and delivery of social security in Scotland:

1. social security is an investment in the people of Scotland.

2. social security is itself a human right and essential to the realisation of other human rights.

3. the delivery of social security is a public service.

4. respect for the dignity of individuals is to be at the heart of the Scottish social security system.

5. the Scottish social security system is to contribute to reducing poverty in Scotland.

6. the Scottish social security system is to be designed with the people of Scotland on the basis of evidence.

7. opportunities are to be sought to continuously improve the Scottish social security system in ways which—

(i) put the needs of those who require assistance first, and

(ii) advance equality and non-discrimination,

8. the Scottish social security system is to be efficient and deliver value for money.

A People's Service

Building on the principles set out in the Act, Social Security Scotland's Charter introduces 13 commitments to clients in the delivery of social security.

Social Security Scotland and the Scottish Government will:

1. Be patient, kind and consider how clients might feel

2. Listen to clients, trust them and treat each person as an individual

3. Treat everyone equally, fairly and without discrimination

4. Support clients through their application, keeping them updated and explaining what will happen and why

5. Ensure staff are knowledgeable about social security to help clients get what they are entitled to

6. Refer clients to independent advice and support if they want extra help with their application or appeal. Clients are also entitled to ask someone that they know to support them.

7. Make decisions in a way that is consistent and accurate – and aim to get them right first time

8. Be honest, provide clear reasons for decisions and explain what to do if a client disagrees

9. Pay clients on time in the right amount

10. Refer clients to other organisations, services or forms of help where they could help improve clients' wellbeing or financial circumstances

11. Tell clients if we think they might be entitled to benefits not delivered by Social Security Scotland

12. Recruit people who care about delivering a service based on equality, respect, dignity and human rights

13. Involve people with diverse lived experiences of social security and the organisations that represent them in training staff.

Many of these commitments (particularly 4, 5, 6, 10, and 11) are directly related to increasing benefit take-up, but all contribute to making the Scottish social security system welcoming and accessible – and we make sure that they are embedded in everything that we do.

Reasons for non-take-up

Non-take-up may take a number of forms[3], and may be:

  • full or partial (only taking-up part of the amount one is entitled to);
  • temporary (delayed take-up) or permanent (from eligibility until the moment eligibility expires);
  • primary (not applying) or secondary (applying, but not receiving even if entitled).

Engagement with stakeholders and people with lived experience of the system, along with a review of the literature, shows that there are three key reasons for non-take-up of benefits:[4]

Social Barriers

(perceived) stigma, felt lack of need, people in vulnerable situations, pride, or lack of trust in institutions

Costly or Complex Access

complexity of the application, lack of time or money, limited administrative abilities or experience, or difficulty travelling to the welfare or employment office.

Lack of Information

Lack of awareness or misunderstandings about the benefit, eligibility, or application procedures.

Scope and Structure of This Strategy

Barriers to Take-up

This strategy addresses each of the three identified barriers to take-up of the devolved benefits in turn, and sets out our approach to addressing them. This work is already under way, and is embedded in the design and delivery of the devolved benefits through adherence to the principles and commitments outlined above. Through chapters 1-3, we set out our holistic approach to ensuring Scottish benefits are accessible and drive take-up. This includes our work with people who have experience of the system through the Experience Panels, fundamentally progressive service design principles, commitment continuous improvement, and the embedding of inclusive communication.

Much of the existing activity relates to Best Start Grant (BSG) and Best Start Foods (BSF) as the three payments and smart card launched between December 2018 and August 2019 were a key focus for the Scottish Government and Social Security Scotland. However, we also set out the ongoing work around Funeral Support Payment, Scottish Child Payment, and Disability Assistance.

New take-up Initiatives

As well as highlighting integral design and delivery principles driving take-up, this strategy sets out a number of new activities and initiatives which aim to progress the ultimate goal of increasing awareness of and supporting access to Scottish benefits:

  • A new £500,000 fund available for 2020 to assist organisations who are preparing their services and staff to support people who will be applying for Scottish benefits.
  • A new £100,000 take-up accessibility fund available for 2020 to assist organisations who support people to increase their household incomes, with an emphasis on ensuring people are aware of the financial support available to them.
  • A stakeholder take-up reference group will be established to provide advice and support in the implementation of this strategy, as well as feeding into the development of the next strategy.
  • Two roundtable events on access to social security – co-designed with key organisations – will bring together people with experience of the system, and organisations that support them, to explore solutions to issues such as stigma, barriers to access, and the human rights-based approach.
  • We will continue to forge relationships with a wide range of national and local stakeholders to enable us to continue making progress with Social Security Scotland's stakeholder engagement strategy.
  • Communications and marketing will continue to draw on strategic insights to deliver co-ordinated and consistent activities to best promote Scottish benefits.
  • In the interests of continuous improvement, we will continue to work with the Experience Panels, conduct targeted research with seldom-heard groups, and develop the work of Social Security Scotland's Client Insights.

The take-up activities and initiatives outlined here will provide a rich source of evidence and learning for all Scottish benefits, and findings will be fed into continuous improvement of future payments.

Measuring Take-up

Chapter 4 sets out some of the methodological challenges around measuring take-up. Here, we also provide our estimates of take-up for Best Start Grant.


As part of the duty to prepare this strategy, Scottish Ministers have consulted with two key groups:

1. People who have received assistance through the Scottish social security system, and

2. Organisations who work with or represent people living in households whose income is adversely affected, or whose expenditure is increased, because a member of the household has one or more protected characteristics within the meaning of Section 4 of the Equality Act 2010.

In an evidence review of equalities in community engagement, What Works Scotland assert that:

'[g]roups that have been known in the past as "hard to reach" are now more appropriately recognised as "easy to ignore". Those facing inequalities, sometimes multiple inequalities, are often easy to ignore because of the complexity of their situation, the difficulty of forming a solution and a lack of understanding from governments, organisations and programmes'.

In order to ensure that this strategy is based on the experience of Scotland's diverse population, we have worked with key organisations representing groups historically underrepresented in terms of take-up. Those engaged include: members of Gypsy and Traveller communities, individuals with disabilities, one parent families, those from diverse ethnic backgrounds (in collaboration with Black and Ethnic Minorities Infrastructure in Scotland - BEMIS), and a wide range of third-sector and local authority stakeholders. Further information on how we have engaged with seldom-heard groups can be found in Chapter 1 on our user centred approach.

This engagement work will continue beyond publication of this strategy – particularly in the development of the targeted social security take-up activities, and through the work of the stakeholder take-up reference group.



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