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Blackpool to deploy digital care cost checker and online application


Council develops online tool for residents and carers to assess eligibility for Deferred Payment Agreement and apply online

Blackpool Council is to launch an online checker for residents to calculate the costs of their care and any financial assistance, based on whether they are eligible for a Deferred Payment Agreement (DPA) next month.

It will be followed by the launch of a digital application form which will be tailored to users deemed eligible by the calculator, allowing them to move seamlessly on to apply online. Both will be accessible via the council’s website.

A DPA is an arrangement with a council enabling people to use the value of their home to help pay for care home costs. The core of the tool is based on open application programming interfaces (APIs) developed as a collaborative project under the Local Digital Campaign, led by the Department for Communities and Local Government, in partnership with IEG4 and the Department of Health. 

The calculator returns results based on a series of questions to find out whether a person is likely to be eligible to enter a DPA, how long the equity in their property would allow them to defer costs and what the total costs would be.

“We hope that with the calculator, someone can very quickly find out if they’re eligible, what sort of equity they have [from their property] and then make an informed choice,” said Jill Farrar, Senior Team Manager within Revenues, Benefits and Customer First.

Avoidable contact

Based on APIs, which are free for any organisation to integrate into their website or software, the tool is aimed at individuals, family members, carers and social workers. It has been designed to save time by reducing face-to-face and other ‘avoidable contact’ by phone and email.

“One hundred percent of enquiries come from not the client, but from the next of kin or someone with legal responsibility,” Farrar told UKA Local Digital. “It struck us that in a lot of cases these people lived away from Blackpool and may not be able to meet us for visits. If you can use a PC, it’s a very simple calculator to tell them whether they’re eligible and subsequently do an application online.”

The rollout of the DPA calculator at Blackpool will be followed by the implementation of the digital DPA application form during the summer, also developed by IEG4. This means that users will be directed straight to the form online if the calculator deems them eligible. Currently, users must fill in a paper form and submit it by post. 

Ian Singleton, co-development manager, IEG4 said: “It would make sense if they could continue applying online after being deemed eligible. For the carer, if they live far away from a relative, it’s frustrating – we want to give them a seamless digital experience, to give people options. The strategy is to make a digital option available to those who want it.”

Dynamic form

The digital application form will create time savings for the resident and internal savings for the council because it will require neither an initial home visit nor postage.

“Some information is pre-populated so there’s no need for the customer to fill in the same thing twice,” said Farrar. “It will be a dynamic form in the sense that it will react to whatever you put in. For example, if you answer the question ‘Do you have a mortgage or secured loan?’ and if the answer is 'yes,' further fields appear for the user to record their information.

Currently, initial home visits can take up to an hour and half, in which time a visiting officer explains deferred payments and property equity, among others. Staff then return to the office and, while clients consider their options, they monitor any system updates from subsequent calls or emails about whether the resident plans to go ahead with a DPA if they are eligible.

“It’ll be a quicker and easier way of dealing with this part of business,” said Farrar. “We are hoping it will reduce staff time in dealing with enquiries and improve customer satisfaction. There’s already a big push for digital services across the board; whether people choose to engage with them or not, it’s giving people the choice.”

Future developments

The council is working with IEG4 to further extend efficiencies around DPAs. The next step is to provide offline access to the calculator and digital application form to council staff who work remotely. This means visiting officers could access and input data offline on a tablet during home visits to applicants who do not have internet access.

Data would synchronise to council systems when they were back in an area with signal, avoiding the need to re-key information from paper forms back at the office and fewer home visits.

The council is also discussing providing a secure means for the citizen to communicate with their council and track the progress of their DPA application. This could also present complementary services and options that the resident is likely to require and eliminate the need to enter personal details more than once.

This would help to reduce calls and emails from residents checking the progress of their application. And if the resident sends incorrect or insufficient information, the system could, for example, automatically nudge the user by emailing an alert thereby saving postage, cost and speeding up response times.

“It naturally follows that a percentage of those that self serve would prefer a secure way of communicating online without needing to call or have a meeting,” Farrar said.


IEG4 is speaking at the iNetwork event ‘Loneliness and Social Isolation’ in Manchester on 20 May on ‘social prescribing: a journey to self-help.’ IEG4 is also the lead sponsor at the Digital Authority Forum on 26 May 2016 entitled ‘Leadership and the Digital Agenda’ .

Image: Wikimedia Commons. By Keith Edkins, CC BY-SA 2.0  

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