Peer review was introduced into the accreditation process following consultation with the advice sector.

Peer review of case-files takes place before the audit of agencies against the Organisational Standards in Section 1 of the Standards Framework. An agency must successfully complete peer review before they can proceed to audit and accreditation.

The SNSIAP require an agency to show that its advisers have the necessary skills and knowledge to deliver advice to the public. Standard 5.5 requires that all advice agencies must ensure that all their cases are dealt with by an adviser who is competent in a topic (housing, welfare benefits or money/debt).

To a certain extent, an agency can do this through written evidence, such as adviser training records, which can be assessed at the audit stage by the SNSIAP auditor. But the auditor is not in a position to check the accuracy of the advice that has been given to the public – so this is achieved by peer review.

The information in the peer review report and any action taken in response to recommendations in the reports form part of the evidence that an agency can include in its Self Assessment and Application Form, to show that its advisers are competent to give advice in housing, welfare benefits or money/debt and effective case-checking processes are in place, as required for Organisational Standard 4.6, 5.5 and 5.6.

After their peer review reports have been considered by the Moderation Committee, agencies will receive a decision letter from the Committee setting out:

  • The decision of the Moderation Committee
  • Any specific Committee comments
  • Next steps

Agencies must submit their Moderation Committee decision letter with their application for accreditation.

  • Who does the peer review?

    Peer review is carried out by a team of trained peer reviewers with current specialist knowledge, skills and experience appropriate to the topic area they are assessing.

    Peer reviewers assess the quality of advice given in a sample of your agency’s case-files. They then write a report about the quality of the advice that is evidenced in those case-files and this report is submitted to a quarterly Moderation Committee meeting.

    The compliance mark for peer review in each topic is 75%. If your agency does not achieve a mark of at least 75% in an advice topic your case-files will be double-marked by another peer reviewer, unless you are awarded a mark of 50% or lower.  If this happens, your case-files will not be double-marked and only one peer review report will be submitted to the Moderation Committee. Double-marked reports will be submitted to the Moderation Committee with the original peer review report.

    The Moderation Committee is made up of at least three subject specialists members (at least one in each of the topics of Housing, Welfare Benefits and Money/Debt)  working in the advice sector and at least one lay member with expertise in quality assurance, with our staff chairing the Committee, providing quality assurance input and secretariat.

    The Moderation Committee meet once a quarter and make the final decision on the outcome of an agency’s peer review.

  • How is peer review carried out?

    Peer review is carried out remotely, which means the reviewers can access your case-files from where they are and do not need to come to your office.

    The peer reviewers will access your client case-files by either using a secure cloud based file-sharing system managed by us or by direct access to your agency’s case management systems.

    This will be agreed with you before the peer review takes place.

    If you are a CAB, your peer review will be carried out by direct access to your client case-files on CASTLE.

  • What happens next?

    Once you have successfully completed peer review you can then apply for accreditation and audit.

    More information about audit is available here .

    The process for agencies offering Type II advice only and those offering Type II and Type III advice is the same

  • Will the auditors see a copy of the agency’s peer review report?

    No, the report will be sent directly to the advice provider.

    However, your agency will be expected to submit a copy of your Moderation Committee decision letter with your application for audit.

  • What happens if your agency applies for peer review in multiple topics and is found a mix of compliant and non-compliant by the Moderation Committee?

    The Moderation Committee considers all the peer review reports written about your agency’s casework. Your agency has to achieve at least 75% to be deemed compliant in a topic.

    If the Moderation Committee decides that your agency has not achieved this mark and you are marked non-compliant in a topic, they will highlight any areas that require improvement in their decision letter to you.

    The peer review report(s) will also identify areas for improvement. Once you are confident that your agency has had the opportunity to embed these changes, you can re-apply for peer review in the topics that did not reach the 75% mark.

    You will have to re-apply for peer review in any topic in which you were found non-compliant within 18 months of the date of the Moderation Committee letter.  If you do meet this deadline and are then found compliant you will be able to apply for audit and accreditation in all your peer reviewed topics.

    For example, Agency A is found compliant in Housing and Welfare Benefits but non-compliant in Money/Debt and their decision letter is dated 18th February 2020.  The agency re-applies for peer review in Money/Debt in May 2021 and is found compliant by the Moderation Committee. The agency can then apply for audit and accreditation in Housing, Welfare Benefits and Money/Debt. 

  • Are you ready for peer review?

    Before you apply for peer review, it is essential you check that your agency is ready for the process. An agency applying for peer review and subsequently audit must be able to answer ‘yes’ to the following questions:

    1. Have you sought approval from within your organisation to apply for accreditation and agreed who will sign key documents?

    Peer review and audit requires your agency to dedicate resource to the accreditation process that you would otherwise use for other work. It’s therefore important that your advice team(s) have management support for their application. To ensure the process runs smoothly, we will also require the names and contact details of two members of staff.

    2. Do you regularly check your advisers’ case files?

    Case-checking and supervising your advice workers regularly is a fundamental part of providing good quality advice and it’s essential you have robust, reliable case-checking and supervision processes in place. If you do not have these processes in place, there is a risk that any wrong advice will not be picked up by your agency.  This may result in your case-files being found non-compliant at peer review.

    When you apply for audit, the auditor will also expect to see evidence of case-checking and supervision processes in your audit evidence, as these are required by Organisational Standards 4.6, 5.5 and 5.6. as proof that you are providing a good service to your clients.

    3. Do you understand the data protection requirements of the peer review and accreditation process?

    Information about the data protection requirements of peer review and accreditation, including information about the secure file sharing platform we use can be found here.

    4. Do you have processes in place that are GDPR compliant and which allow us to share information with a third party for quality assurance purposes (e.g. consent)?

    Please see our guidance note for information on consent and other legal permissions for file-sharing.

    5. Are you clear about your agency’s remit?

    The first step in the accreditation process is the completion of a self assessment of your advice service using the Self Assessment and Application form and SNSIAP Self-Assessment Guidance. This includes the identification of the remit of your agency.

    By remit, we mean the advice that you provide in housing and/or welfare benefits and/or money and debt. If you provide advice in any other areas, e.g. employment or family law, these are not covered by the SNSIAP and can’t be accredited.

    The remit of your advice is defined in the SNSIAP by the Type and Topic (e.g. Type II Housing) and sub-topic(s) (e.g. eviction) as set out in the competences section of the Standards Framework (Section 2). It also includes the background, context and overall purpose of your advice service.

    Understanding your agency’s remit is essential as it will determine which accreditation path you take and you will also be required to accurately describe your remit at the start of the process.

    For example, if all the advice provided by your agency is at Type I (Information and Signposting) you will not be required to apply for peer review of your case-files. Your accreditation path will be to apply directly for audit and accreditation. If any of your advice is delivered at Type II (Casework) or Type III (Advocacy and Representation) your accreditation path will be the peer review of your case-files in those topics, followed by an audit.

    Accreditation is awarded on the basis of compliance with the Standards and in relation to the remit of your advice service.

    The Standards and the competences are owned by Scottish Government and can be found here.

    6. Have you carried out a SNSIAP self assessment?

    You will be able to identify which accreditation path your agency should take once you have identified your remit and completed your self assessment. Whichever path you take, your first step must be to complete the Self Assessment and Application Form as this will tell you if your agency is ready to apply for accreditation and help you identify gaps or issues that should be resolved before you apply.

    Self assessment and remit information

    7. How will your peer review be carried out?

    If you have AdvicePro or you are a Citizens Advice Bureau, your peer review will be carried out via direct access to your case-files. All other agencies’ peer reviews will be required to scan and upload the selected case-files onto the secure file sharing platform used by SLAB.

    If you have another case management system which can allow direct access to your case-files please let us know.

    Further information about accessing case-files can be found here.

    If you are confident that you can answer yes to all seven questions you are ready for peer review.

    If you do not have a date for peer review, contact SLAB at SNSIAP@slab.org.uk.

    If you have a date for peer review, SLAB will send you a timetable and a Peer Review Questionnaire before your review is due to start. You will also be invited to a seminar covering the practicalities of the peer review and audit process.