Presently we are responding to emails; however, due to the impact on our staffing resources, our response times will be affected. We are also postponing non-essential meetings and instead communicate by phone/online meetings wherever possible.
We appreciate that public services are under huge resource pressures as you focus on responding to COVID-19 and the delivery of essential services, particularly in health and social care. Please be assured that we are taking full account of the current context in how we operate. While we are committed to delivering our statutory responsibilities, we in no way wish to put unnecessary pressure on you and we fully support you in times of such unprecedented challenges.
Scottish Welfare Fund
We are continuing to deliver our essential services and have prioritised Scottish Welfare Fund (SWF) reviews and processing of certain complaints as essential. SWF review applications are being handled as far as possible as normal and local authorities should not see a significant difference in the level of service. If your local authority is experiencing difficulties responding to our enquiries, please contact us immediately.
Further information is available in below letter that we sent out to local authorities.
Our Scottish Welfare Fund (SWF) team is providing an essential service to people in need and hardship and is available by phone as normal on Freephone 0800 014 7299.
To help us monitor the impact of COVID-19 on the handling of SWF applications, we have introduced some new findings categories. We acknowledge that the Scottish Government has issued advice to councils about relaxing the requirement to issue decision letters, and around the timescales for making decisions. While we are very sympathetic to the operational difficulties and pressures faced by councils, it is incumbent upon us to monitor how and where this impacts on the service and support provided to applicants, many of whom are vulnerable and at risk of that vulnerability increasing because of the impact of COVID-19.
One area where we have observed variances in approach is applications from those who have applied for a crisis grant after already having received three or more awards in the previous 12 month period. In such cases, we assess whether the council has taken account of the full circumstances of the application. This includes the impact of COVID-19 and the advice from the Scottish Government to suspend the sections of the statutory guidance which cover the assessment of exceptional circumstances (7.21 to 7.23).
Other feedback categories include:
- delays in processing applications within target;
- instances of decision letters not being issued;
- where insufficient information has been gathered to make a robust decision; and
- when case notes do not adequately record the decision.
These findings categories will only apply to applications where we identify a clear link to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our existing findings categories will continue to apply to record feedback on other applications.
Complaints to SPSO
We are still receiving postal deliveries and new complaints but the work done on them will be severely limited for the foreseeable future. We are scanning post and new complaints to identify complaints that relate directly to current service provision for vulnerable people, and those where we believe there is a real and present risk to public health and safety.
We will be progressing ‘essential’ new complaints. This means that we need to contact you for information, or discuss matters with you immediately. We expect such instances to be exceptional. Whilst we recognise you are under pressure, equally we hope you will appreciate that if we make contact it is due to the urgent nature of the case and so would greatly appreciate your support in such instances.
As regards all other complaints, we are trying to progress these as far as possible, as we recognise that they are important to both complainants and to public bodies, and their staff, being complained about.
We understand that you may not be in a position to respond to us within the usual time frames. When we start an investigation, it would be helpful if you could tell us whether you are in a position to engage in that investigation. We understand that your resources are likely to be stretched so we will avoid contacting where we can and we will take full account of what you tell us about your ability to respond and engage.
More generally, we would be grateful if you could keep us informed, as to the current position in your organisation in terms of your capacity to engage with us and in particular if contact details have changed temporarily.
Complaints handling in your organisation
We also understand that resource implications may impact on your ability to continue to deliver services to the standards that you normally would. So please remember that complaints procedures allow for timescales to be extended where appropriate. This extension should be used by organisations where applicable. Please ensure to keep your customers updated where this extension is applied. Equally, at the SPSO we are encouraging complainants to exercise patience and understanding if the service received falls below expectations or responses to complaints are delayed.
Below you can download materials specifically aimed at public service organisations to advice and support them during this time.
If you have any questions about complaint handling or concerns about the Model Complaint Handling Procedure, please contact us as normal via CSA@spso.gov.scot