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Social Security Experience Panels: Carer's Allowance Supplement

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Communicating information about the Carer's Allowance Supplement

Awareness of the intention to introduce the Carer's Allowance Supplement

Participants' awareness of the planned introduction of the supplement varied substantially. Some had little or no knowledge of the intention to introduce the supplement, and a small number had little awareness of the changes to social security generally.

Others knew about the intention to increase Carer's Allowance, but did not know about what to expect in any detail. Some had very detailed knowledge of the intention to introduce the supplement, including timescales, the amount, and the eligibility criteria. These respondents had mostly heard about this through looking at information shared by carers' organisations, or through their own political engagement and actively looking for information about what will happen.

"I've been really watching this. I am involved politically so I know what is coming."

"I was aware of change which was coming in regards to Scottish Government taking over benefits. I heard about Carer's Allowance Supplement online and follow the Minister on Facebook, I saw there what the plans are."

Feedback on the draft letter

Most participants felt that the draft letter (available in Annex A) that they were shown was quite clearly worded and they felt that they understood what it meant, and that it was "is pretty straight forward".

"It's self-explanatory - less jargon and more to the point."

Acknowledging the role of carers

The introduction to the letter stated:

"Carers play an important role in our society and the Scottish Government recognises this. That is why a new Scottish Government agency, is sending you this payment – to give you some extra support"

Many participants felt that it was positive that the letter started by acknowledging the important role carers play in society. This provoked mostly positive reactions from most participants who said it was important to have this "appreciation" or that it was "nice to see" the government value carers. Many participants said they would feel "very happy" reading this.

A small number felt that this statement should be more positive and emphasise that the letter is "good news."

However, some participants felt that it was important to be cautious with this language. They felt that it could be perceived as self-congratulating for what some said is "pocket-money" or "still not enough". Some suggested that it sounds more like a "handout" because it is a single payment. Some also felt that this is simply fulfilling a commitment that was made some time ago.

"I feel pleased that Scottish Government are doing this and it is good it is happening, however Scottish Government shouldn't be patting themselves on the back too much."

Understanding how the payment will be made

Some participants felt it could be confusing that the supplement will be paid by the new agency while they continue to receive Carer's Allowance from DWP. People felt it needed to be clearer who was paying you and why – this was important in particular for a number of people who expressed a distrust of the DWP.

Other key issues with the letter that were raised as being more difficult to understand included the intention to pay the supplement every six months.

The draft letter stated:

"We will send you a payment of £…… This is for the period 00 April 2018 to 00 October 2018."

People were unclear from this about whether or when they should expect to receive future payments and the timeframes that the payments would cover. Most participants felt that it was unclear what would happen next after this six month period, or how frequent this payment would be.

"Is this a regular, permanent payment?"

A small number questioned the commitment to continuing this payment, and felt that it would be reassuring to have this commitment in writing. Some said it would be useful to include when they will hear from us again. A small number of participants felt that it was clear that there would be another payment for the next six months (i.e. 2 per year).

"It is a bit unclear – I got that it was 6 monthly payment. It sounds like an extra amount like your Christmas Bonus or a Winter payment but not clear why it's being paid or why it's being done in that way."

What participants would do if they received the letter

The draft letter stated "You do not have to do anything. There is no need to fill out an application or to get in touch with us or with DWP to receive these payments. This will happen automatically".

Most participants felt that it was quite clear that you wouldn't need to do anything after receiving the letter in order to get the payment.

"I would know I didn't need to do anything – I would be pleased there would be no form filling in."

However, some felt that they would still be nervous or want to phone and check that the information was accurate.

Impact on other payments

The draft letter included a paragraph which stated:

"Will this affect other benefits I receive?

No. You do not need to tell DWP about this payment. You do not need to notify DWP about receipt of this payment. The payment will not be taken into account in any benefit calculation and should not affect the amount of benefit, including any Housing Benefit you receive."

Some participants expressed concern about how the supplement would affect their other benefit or tax credit entitlements. Many specifically questioned whether Income Support would be affected. Other queried how this would affect their earning threshold if they have other income. Some questioned the tax implications and implications for pensions/ pension credit.

Some participants also said they would be afraid of having their benefits cut or getting in trouble if they didn't tell the right people. In particular phrases like "should not" made people concerned that there was some ambiguity. Many felt that this could be expressed more clearly in the draft letter.

Contacting Social Security Scotland

The draft letter contained details of a website, postal address, and phone number. Many respondents also felt that it was important that a wide range of contact detail options should be available, including a freephone phone number, email address, and text phone. Social Security Scotland's phone number is a freephone number, but that was not explicitly stated on the draft letter.

A number of participants emphasised that it is important this contact number is a Freephone number, including from mobiles. One participant gave an example of being charged £17 for a call to DWP because she was on hold for so long. Some participants also said that they would prefer a phone system that allowed them to speak to an operator straight away, rather than automated systems.

Some also felt that it was important that any supplementary information should be available in other formats than online to meet the needs of those who do not regularly use computers.

"If I hadn't received the payment I would likely contact via email, it is easier. Quicker than sending a letter and I am not always great with people on the phone."

Overall response

Overall, participants responded positively to the introduction of the supplement and felt that the draft letter was quite clear. However, there were a number of points, outlined above, where there was a lack of clarity or consensus in terms of how the letter was interpreted.

The letter therefore underwent further development and testing to ensure that it was as clear and simple as possible when the first round of payments and letters were issued in September 2018.

How this feedback was used

The first Carer's Allowance Supplement payments were issued in September 2018. This research built on earlier input from people with experience of all aspects of social security and was used to help make sure that the letter and supplementary information made available to recipients was as clear and straight forward as possible. It was on the basis of input from panel members that Scottish Government decided to raise awareness of the payment in advance of the letter through radio and press media. This was to mitigate against carers being sceptical if their letter was genuine when it arrived.

A copy of the final letter issued to Carer's Allowance Supplement recipients in September 2018 is available in Annex B. Future letters will be amended to take on further feedback from people who have received the letter.

Where participants go for information, advice and support

We asked participants about where they go for wider support and advice about being a carer. This was also asked within the context of where they would be likely to look for more information if they had questions about the Carer's Allowance Supplement. This is to help us understand how we can best communicate information about the Carer's Allowance Supplement.

The support that carers received was quite variable. Many said that the services that they were in contact with were more associated with the health needs of the person they care for, rather than support for themselves as a carer.

A psychologist at local mental health centre sees my granddaughter and there is a member of staff there that I speak to every now and again.

Many were also aware of Carers Centres in their local area. Some had used these services and others had not.

Reasons for not attending these support services included feeling that they didn't need it, or feeling that they didn't have time to attend. Some said that they felt quite isolated by their caring role, or had found it difficult to access support.

"It makes me feel quite isolated – there is stuff out there for carers, but it's all "come to a meeting" but I have childcare, and meetings aren't on a bus route… there is stuff out there for carers but I don't have access."

"Support for carers generally is pretty abysmal in my experience. Only place any information I've seen for carers is in the doctors surgery waiting room, and that is pretty scant. Every aspect of social care is geared towards the sick or disabled person. It is as if the person(s) caring for them do not exist/matter at all."

Some felt that it was important that information was available from Scottish Government, Social Security Scotland, and also from third sector organisations who support carers, to ensure that everyone can get access to the information.

"Charities and things are going to be much busier – Citizens Advice are already really busy – that will make a big difference locally. People on low incomes struggle to get advice. If you can get advice from Scottish Government that gives everyone a level playing field.

"I would check [the] website for more information, details regarding other support in your area, details about CAS and why they are doing it in this way."

A number of participants said that they rely on friends and family for support if they need it.