Weekly Poll – National Entitlement Card Scheme
Each week Disability Equality Scotland send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue and last week we asked our members about the National Entitlement Card scheme.
Please note that this is a snapshot of the views of our membership and does not reflect a policy stance of Disability Equality Scotland. Any identifying information within respondents’ comments has been removed. If you plan to reference the findings featured in this report, please contact us in advance so that we are aware of this.
Results: 95 respondents
Have you applied for a National Entitlement Card?
If yes, is the application process for an NEC accessible?
We provide verbatim comments where appropriate to illustrate strength of feeling or personal experience.
Many respondents identified that the NEC application process was unclear/overcomplicated as it requires many hard to access documents to prove eligibility. This includes benefits letters, doctor’s letters, and letters from DWP dated within the past year. Applicants also noted the process for uploading pictures and documents was challenging, such as scanning pictures and errors meaning items needed to be uploaded several times.
‘I couldn’t find benefit details to show I was entitled (had just moved). It was a nightmare as I am partly deaf and couldn’t ring benefits office. I wouldn’t be able to hold a phone long enough either.’
‘It’s not accessible because you need someone to write a letter proving your entitled. Just more hoops to jump through even though we have the medical history on file to back it up.’
‘I haven’t applied though have tried. Online it told me I had to apply through council offices rather than online. I spoke to the office, and they said they couldn’t give me the forms I had to ask my social worker to get them for me. I asked my social worker multiple times, but it never happened. Eventually they told me to go to the offices. After going round in a circle for a long time I just gave up.’
Another issue that makes the NEC application process complicated is the logistics of applying. There is a lot of uncertainty around how and where to apply and it can be challenging to physically complete the application either online or in person.
‘To get an NEC you have to faff around with the internet, and it takes ages to do. Contrast this to the over 60 bus passes. Go to a post-office with some passport photographs and it’s all done for you. It’s no wonder that the uptake is so low with disabled people – the process is too complicated even if you know it exists’
‘Local council staff don’t understand or carry out any quality monitoring to understand the crazy hoops and hurdles that exist which almost prohibit people from applying’
Options for applying
There are not enough options of how to apply to accommodate a range of accessibility needs, such as phone, email, online, and in-person application. Having ways to apply offline will make the application accessible for the many disabled people who are digitally excluded or who have less experience/access issues with technology. It is also important to have a digital application system and to simplify this for disabled people who would find applying online easier.
‘It is very hard for people to apply when they do not use digital at all and have no access to it. It is time for the government to realise that they have to offer more ways for this application.’
‘I needed help to navigate the website it wasn’t particularly clear what they were asking – it would be nice if accessible (easy-read, BSL etc.) formats were available. It was really confusing trying to find out what I needed to do.’
Lack of awareness
Another issue respondents identified is that there is a lack of awareness about the NEC scheme and/or the different ways to apply. Many people reported that they had either not heard of the NEC scheme or had not applied as they were unaware of how to do so.
‘I lived without one for many years when I was entitled for one because I had no idea how to get one. There is a severe lack of information about the programme unless you happen upon a good organisation that tells you about it and helps you through the process.’
Problems with service and support-
Respondents identified that there is insufficient reliable support during the NEC application process. This means that many people need to rely on external staff, i.e., in libraries, community centres, or the council. Many respondents identified that external staff had been very supportive. However, for others external staff were not always a positive or reliable source of support and lacked training around disability awareness. There needs to be a more reliable source of support for people who need it during the NEC application process, such as someone to discuss the application with the applicant in detail, guide them through it, or complete it on their behalf.
‘I applied through my local library. When I phoned my library the first time the member of staff asked me which organisation has provided my letter of eligibility and she also wanted to know which disability I had. I didn’t feel comfortable telling her about these things over the phone. When I went into the library, she asked me the same things and I found it intrusive.’
‘The council were very unhelpful, and a friend helped me apply in the end. The woman I requested to help me with this made me feel like I was an inconvenience… one of the reasons some people may not be applying is because some council staff are so unhelpful, but they struggle to [complete the application] themselves.’
‘I needed support from another person as it is quite difficult to navigate without assistance’.
Expiration and renewal
Several respondents reported that they had experienced issues and stress around renewing their National Entitlement Card. Some respondents found they had to go through the stressful process of reapplying and were left without a valid NEC as they were unaware their card had run out, either due to visual impairment or other health conditions.
‘I found the initial application process easy and accessible because I knew where to get it and what to do but I find the renewal process very stressful.’
‘I have had a card for some time now however I was unaware that it has expired, and it was only when a train examiner pointed it out that I became aware… I was told to submit my application for a renewal and that it would take around two weeks… I can see people being upset and embarrassed if their card expires and they are unable to pay the fare.’
Another issue is around physical inaccessibility. The National Entitlement Card offers access to many public services across Scotland, such as public transport, libraries, cultural buildings etc. However, many of these, especially public transport, are not physically accessible for disabled people. This means many disabled people cannot use their NEC when they have successfully applied or feel unmotivated to apply as they may be unable to use an NEC.
‘Having received my National Entitlement Card, I now find that both buses and trains are not accessible to me in my wheelchair. Many modern wheelchairs cannot access the wheelchair spaces, or even get on board the transport. When will this be addressed?’
‘Maybe the lack of take up for people with disabilities like me is due more to failed transport services or very poor bus services. In the Highland region it has been dire due to unreliable buses breaking down and sending huge coaches which I couldn’t access because of high steps.’
To conclude, respondents had several suggestions as to how the NEC system could be simplified and made more accessible. These include having the NEC as an opt-in on the Adult Disability Payment application form and increasing the range of application options to being both online and in-person. It could also include reducing the number of steps/documents needed to complete an application and making the renewal process automatic. It is important to improve the support available to help people with their application and staff handling NEC applications must be easily accessible and appropriately trained about disability. The NEC system should also consider the physical accessibility of the services that their card facilitates access to as this plays a significant role in whether disabled people are motivated to apply for an NEC.