Improving benefit take-up among Scotland’s seldom-heard groups

Evidence review setting out the current seldom-heard groups within the Scottish social security system.
Carer or visiting nurse, speaks to an older woman.
  • Authors:
    Hannah Biggs
    Jo Wildman
    Eleanor Holman
  • Publishing date:
    16 May 2024

About the study

The Scottish Government commissioned the Scottish Centre for Social Research (ScotCen) to undertake a Rapid Evidence Review (RER) to provide robust information on the seldom-heard groups at increased risk of being marginalised from Scotland’s social security system. 

Social security benefit take-up rates are fundamentally important because people who do not receive their full entitlements are at increased risk of poverty and social marginalisation. However, ensuring that those who are eligible receive their entitlements is challenging, with billions of pounds going unclaimed each year.

Evidence from the review will support the Scottish Government’s Benefit Take-up Strategy by helping develop new approaches to support people to access social security benefits. The findings will also inform market research on how best to communicate and promote devolved benefits to seldom heard groups.


In 2019 the Scottish Government’s Seldom Heard Voices Programme identified five seldom heard groups: mobile populations, vulnerable groups, end of life, carers and care experienced, and survivors of abuse. It is clear from the current evidence that these five groups are still relevant. There is evidence of additional seldom-heard groups in Scotland, including people from established minority ethnic communities, people with long-term physical and mental impairments and health conditions, people with learning disabilities and/or learning difficulties, and socially isolated older adults.

  • To improve knowledge of take-up rates among marginalised groups, much better collection of data from these groups is required.
  • There is a large and robust body of evidence identifying barriers to claiming benefits, all of which increase the personal costs of applying for and maintaining a benefit claim.
  • Psychological barriers to claiming benefits include stigma and prejudice, fear of authority, and experiences of trauma.
  • Learning barriers include complex eligibility rules, inaccessible information, and misinformation.
  • Compliance barriers to claiming benefits include inaccessible or unavailable support, complex application processes, challenges in providing evidence or proving eligibility, and difficulties in complying with conditionality.
  • There is evidence of approaches that, while rarely formally evaluated, appear to be effective in improving access to benefits for a range of marginalised groups.
  • Take-up approaches with evidence of effectiveness include culturally aware and targeted support services with long-term funding, joined-up approaches such as automatic enrolment, simplified application processes, and improved staff training.
  • Challenges to prioritising seldom-heard groups in terms of the extent to which they are marginalised from the benefits system include a lack of data on benefit take-up and the nature and extent of marginalisation of many seldom-heard groups.
  • A range of take-up strategies is needed as high levels of intersectionality (groups within groups) among members of seldom-heard groups mean that focusing benefit take-up strategies on one dimension risks missing other aspects of marginalisation. 


Evidence dating from 2018 to the present from peer-reviewed articles, UK and Scottish government reports and statistics, and reports from third-sector organisations and non-governmental research agencies was eligible for inclusion in the review. Evidence searching, screening and extraction was carried out between November 2023 and January 2024. 

Searches of the academic databases Google Scholar and multidisciplinary database, Scopus, were conducted to identify peer-reviewed evidence. Grey literature searches were conducted in the search engine Google to identify Government (UK and Scotland) statistical data and research reports, and third sector and non-governmental organisation research reports.

Evidence was reviewed and synthesised using a framework approach, which involved summarising the evidence thematically so that the review systematically captured the information needed to address the core research questions.