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I’m lucky, I wasn’t on my own:” Gordon’s experience of applying for Scottish benefits

13 June 2023

When Gordon applied for Adult Disability Payment, he encountered a lot of barriers.

I’m glad I had Cheryl [as my advocate]. We had three or four meetings to get the form complete as we couldn’t find time to do it in the community centres and libraries, as they weren’t always open – it was the school holidays when we started the process. We ended up having to go from library to library, and my local library has closed so we had to go out of my village. 

Gordon is a white man in a pink polo shirt, smiling softly in a brightly lit room.

Luckily I had a car at the time, but I had to go nine miles to another library. There are computers in my village but they hadn’t put in the investment to make sure there was a wifi connection, so we couldn’t use them.

Things like that put an obstacle in front of people like myself, and people who are far worse.

Fife’s very rural – it’s not like Edinburgh where you can jump on the bus for £2.50. If you’re in a village, it’s a problem to apply.

The form – a lot of the time the questions were confusing, we weren’t sure exactly what they meant. I was given empowerment to complete it myself, but then Cheryl would say, I don’t think it means that, it means this. Sometimes we weren’t sure, but we would talk about it. I’m lucky, I wasn’t on my own.

People on their own might end up putting the wrong information in and not get the right result.

We spent a lot of time talking about what was the right answer, what goes in what box – my advocate would tell me, there’s another box down here that that goes in. Another good reason why it’s a good idea to have an advocate when you’re filling out the form. 

I’m not having a go at the admin people, but it did feel like it was somebody who didn’t have a disability who had put this form together.

There definitely needs to be some research from people with disabilities to say what is it we’re actually looking for, and how should we put it, to make it easy for that person to tell us about themselves.

I got the form filled in online, and they needed evidence. I had a stack of evidence of a lot of things – delicate issues that you don’t really want to talk about, but I had to. It was difficult for me. 

I photocopied the evidence and sent it away, both the DWP and to the Scottish disability system, as I was coming out of one system to the other. The evidence arrived for the DWP, but never arrived here, and I wasn’t informed until 11 weeks after that they had not received my information. I got a call, the gentleman said we haven’t got it, could you upload it? 

I’ve got a decent enough computer but apparently I didn’t have a good enough camera, it was too blurred. They asked me to use my phone but it was still blurred, so he said he would apply to my surgery and get the information from them.

They asked me a lot of the questions that were on the form, on the phone, and I did it. 

I answered their questions. It wasn’t easy or nice to do that, but I did it, because I know how desperate I am to get help, financial help.

I have health problems and this doesn’t help. I might not get the right result, because the surgery didn’t have the resources to deal with the request, or because they didn’t get the information they needed because it was made so tricky by technology.

You need to speak to the people, the very people who are at the end of all this. They’re the people with the answers, not the people doing the admin. The people down at the bottom have got the answers – they just need to come and take them.”

Collective advocacy: raising voices, making an impact

VoiceAbility is commissioned by Scottish government to support people to access Social Security Scotland benefits through advocacy.

But we don’t only support people like Gordon with their applications. We also work to ensure people like him are heard by the people who have the power to make improvements to the process. 

Gordon’s feedback has been shared. We’re also introducing new collective advocacy sessions and a steering group, to support more people who’ve accessed benefits advocacy to feed back honestly, and help make the system work better for all the people who use it.