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.

Chapter 2: Addressing Costly or Complex Access

To ensure simpler access we will:

  • Continue to provide multiple application channels, in recognition of clients’ varied needs.
  • Provide clear eligibility criteria, and ensure that there is local support in place through Social Security Scotland’s Local Delivery teams.
  • Simplify the application process through applying insights from end-toend user testing.
  • Simplify the process of providing supporting information to accompany an application.
  • Explore automation of certain payments.
  • Continuously improve and refine the system based on the lessons learned through policy development and delivery.

A User-centred Approach: User Research and the Service Design Process

We have taken a user-centred approach to the design of benefits to be delivered by Social Security Scotland, embedding the principles of dignity, fairness and respect – with in the delivery of the benefits, as well as the full journey from awareness to post-payment. This has fed into the continuous improvement of work around inclusive communications, access to applications, and how we communicate decisions.

We have worked directly with people who have experience of the social security system throughout the development of all benefits, from initial exploratory research, through to the testing of prototypes and final designs.

User research teams have regularly engaged with the Experience Panels, and worked with people from benefit-specific demographics to ensure a robust research and testing approach. This included support organisations for groups such as single parents or young carers, recruitment focused on people who met the eligibility criteria for the benefits being designed.

Exploratory user research has used focus groups, interviews and design research methods such as journey mapping to understand the lives of clients who are likely to apply for benefits. This provided the context for each benefit, and allowed specific barriers to uptake for key user groups to be identified.

Continuing to undertake focus groups and interviews, the optimal application journey, and prototype artefacts such as the application, pre-application information, letters, and communication materials have been co-designed with clients. Following this, usability testing was conducted with a range of users, testing how well the application and supporting information performed, and making reactive changes to improve the experience.

Multi-Channel Approach

In order to maximise accessibility to Scottish benefits, we have made multiple application channels available. This means that people are able to access Scottish benefits in a way which works best for them – serving to reduce the cost and complexity of access which has historically been a barrier to applicants. We will seek to understand how different channels are used – reporting on this annually – utilising this evidence to improve the services offered.

Digital applications

Digital applications can be the fastest and most efficient way for many clients to make an application; this is seen in Best Start Grant, where 93% of applications have been made online. However, we appreciate that using this channel alone can create significant access barriers – these include those who may use English as a second language, have limited internet access, or those who may prefer to practice and review an application before submitting.

"After hearing about [Best Start Grant] on Facebook, I applied online. The application process was really simple and easy to follow.

"The payment has made a big difference to my life. I used the money to pay for a baby carrier to help me on the school run and to pay for my electricity.

"My son Caleb should qualify for the School Age Payment. This will be good. It will help me buy his school uniform, school bags, jackets, shoes and water bottle."

Emma-Jayne, Tarbert

Some clients who may prefer to apply digitally face additional access issues, particularly those with disabilities or impairments. To address this, an in-house Accessibility Lead works with developers to ensure that all digital applications are accessible for people using assistive technology - including screen readers, joysticks, and specialist software for dyslexia. Each application form undergoes testing by users using multiple assistive technologies before being published.

Paper applications

User research, and review of submitted applications, shows that the paper channel is used primarily for assisted applications. Often these are used by support organisations or charities, where they will partially complete the application with a client, allowing them to complete the final details before posting to Social Security Scotland. These forms are available by request through Social Security Scotland, and for download from The download link allows an applicant to print as many forms as they like. People with dyslexia and cognitive impairments told us during user research that they often prefer to do a practice run of an application, and ask someone to review it, in case they make any mistakes. This approach is expected to increase take-up, and reduce the number of errors in applications received, as it allows clients to adjust the application process to suit them without needing to disclose any disabilities or impairments to a client advisor.

Telephone applications

Applications by telephone are made primarily by clients who would like reassurance that they have completed an application successfully, or need to have the questions explained to them. Research with users has shown that specific groups, such as older people, people with learning disabilities or cognitive impairments, and people in a crisis situation have a need for access to telephony. For example, applicants who are grieving have told us that they benefit from the reiteration of their options before proceeding with an application. To date, around two thirds of Funeral Support Payment applications have been made by telephone – showing the importance of a multi-channel approach for all benefits. In Best Start Grant, parents whose babies have died have a page in the digital application which is distinct to that group, reminding them that they can call the agency if they would prefer, and letting them know that a trained client advisor will take the application at a pace that works for them.

Simple and Integrated Applications

Best Start Grant accessibility

Applications to Best Start Grant can be made online, by phone, or by paper form. In the vast majority of cases pregnancy is verified through an electronic check of Baby Box records. This makes the process simpler, and removes a key barrier to access around supporting information. Administrative systems have also been integrated so that parents can apply for all Best Start Grant payments and Best Start Foods in a single application form.

Funeral Support Payment

The Funeral Support Payment service design process has built on the lessons learned through implementation of the Best Start Grant, to ensure the benefit is accessible. Individuals are now able to apply for the Funeral Support Payment over the phone, by post, or – for the first time – online.

The online service provides clients with a tailored application process specific to their needs. For example, the online application process front loads the eligibility questions and signposts clients to other services if required – such as directing clients to DWP if they are resident in England or Wales and have mistakenly applied to Social Security Scotland.

To ensure the online process is as simple and short as possible, the application is personalised based on the information the applicant has already entered – automatically skipping questions that are not relevant to that particular client's circumstances. For example, in applications associated with the funeral of a person who was 17 or under, the online process would recognise the age of the deceased and would not ask about their estate, since no deductions will be made to those awards from any estate they may have had.

Young Carer Grant Application and Re-application

During development of the Young Carer Grant, the user research team engaged with 234 people, of which 105 (45%) were young carers. This engagement allowed constant testing of the application and pre-application content to ensure it was accessible to the user group. For example young people struggled to understand the phrase "Freephone" so the phrase "call us free" was used to ensure understanding. Along with the feedback from the Scottish Commission on Social Security,[8] formal consultation, engagement with stakeholders, Disability and Carer Benefits Expert Advisory Group and Social Security Committee this ensured that Young Carer Grant was co-designed.

User research findings have been applied to ensure that there are no barriers which might cause a young carer to abandon their application. There are also no 'hard stops' in the application – meaning that there are no points where an applicant is unable to continue for any reason. This ensures that the client will always be able to receive a determination.

If an applicant's answers flag that they may be ineligible for Young Carer Grant, they are taken to a bailout page. Here they will find signposting to other support that they may be eligible for – such as the Young Carer Package, which is part of the Young Scot National Entitlement card, or Carer's Allowance.

During the application it is also optional for the young carer to enter their cared for person's National Insurance number or which qualifying benefit their cared for person is on. They are informed that not including this information may increase the processing time of their application but can still progress, rather than being prevented from making the claim.

Being an annual payment there are some recipients of Young Carer Grant who will still be eligible in 12 months' time. Following feedback, at the end of the application an option has been included that allows clients to "opt in" to receiving a reminder in 12 months' time. This will be issued just before they will become eligible to re-apply and will invite them to do so.

Scottish Child Payment – Combined Application and Automatic Awards

As part of the service design of the Scottish Child Payment, we have closely matched eligibility to our existing low income benefits, and particularly Best Start Grant. This means that the key eligibility criteria of child responsibility and qualifying benefits found in Best Start Grant will be replicated for Scottish Child Payment which we expect will increase awareness and understanding of this new benefit, and ensure a simpler application process.

While we will continue with separate, standalone application pages for i) Scottish Child Payment, and ii) Best Start Grant and Best Start Foods (which currently operate on a combined application) we will offer individuals applying for one of the above benefits the opportunity to be considered for the other, and combine applications. This will streamline the process for applicants into one application form, but will create two separate applications for Social Security Scotland to process. This ensures that clients retain the right to receive determinations on each application they submit – meaning they will not have to wait on a decision for one of the benefits in order to receive the other.

We are committed to automation where possible, and will provide automatic payments for Scottish Child Payment applicants when it is technically possible. Therefore we will put in place regulations which would allow Social Security Scotland to determine eligibility without an application having to be made. Due to the technical requirements and the fast-paced environment in which we are working, we would only be able to introduce any such functionality after full roll out of the benefit in 2022.


Across all of the devolved benefits, the Scottish Government is committed to ensuring we minimise as far as possible any burden on clients, and ensure we put in place the appropriate mechanisms to maximise uptake. As part of that, we have considered where we could more readily automate payments of Best Start Grant and Best Start Foods for those who are eligible for Scottish Child Payment. As mentioned earlier, both benefits share many of the same eligibility requirements and meet the same policy intent – supporting children and families.

Best Start Foods operates under a different legal framework to Best Start Grant and so the "determination without application" provisions do not apply. Therefore we will explore the practical and legislative implications to determine the feasibility of taking the same approach for Best Start Foods.

Disability Assistance Applications

Under DWP, there are currently no online applications for Disability Assistance. We have been working closely with people who have qualified for disability benefits from DWP in the past to design our new online application process.

While people will still be able to make applications on paper forms and by telephone, there are some ways we can help people to complete the application online that are not possible through other channels. An important aspect of this is the flow through the questions in the form.

On a paper application, an applicant must read through all of the questions on the form, over dozens of pages, and make a decision as to whether each section is relevant to them. We know from our user research that this can be intimidating, and people are often not sure if they are required to fill in every section or if they are less likely to receive an award if there are gaps. With an online application form, we can tailor this so that people are only presented with questions that are relevant to them (e.g. if they tell us at the start that they do not have a condition that affects their mobility then they will not be asked subsequent questions about mobility). The online application form also allows us to provide extra guidance to an applicant – for example, if they are not sure what a question means – more clearly than on a paper form.

We will continue to test and refine this with clients throughout the next stage of development until the launch of Disability Assistance for Children and Young People, and the other forms of Disability Assistance. Some of this will also be useful in ensuring that the other application channels – for example, the paper form – are as easy as possible for people to understand and complete.

Disability Assistance: Rolling Awards and Supporting Information

For Disability Assistance, client awards will have no end date and they will continue to receive their awards whilst reviews are on-going which will support take-up by preventing eligible clients from dropping out of the process.

There will be no hierarchy of supporting information and all information will be considered on its own merits, ensuring that information from family members and carers is given appropriate weight.



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