City council implements new digital process to assess individuals’ circumstances in providing financial support
Derby City Council has begun to encourage residents to use an online tool in applying for discretionary awards to deal with financial crises.
It has implemented SDA (Single Discretionary Award) Gateway, developed by Empowering Communities, a not-for-profit social enterprise that specialises in collaborative technology.
The tool brings together three sets of awards – the Discretionary Housing Payment, the Local Assistance Scheme and Council Tax Hardship – in a process that has three components: customer-facing forms, processing, and ongoing support.
The customer applies online, the council processes the award and identifies whether the customer is also in need of any additional help. Empowering Communities said this makes it possible to address the underlying cause of the crisis for individuals, rather than just treat the symptoms.
It also allows the council to involve specialist case workers when appropriate.
Councillor Baggy Shanker, Derby’s cabinet member for governance and finance, said: “Our welfare reform team carry out need assessments to identify the customer’s priority needs and refer them to a wide range of specialist agencies such as counselling, money advice, alcohol and drug dependency support, housing, digital skills, banking, welfare rights and employment support. Our focus is to work with customers to support them in becoming more financially independent and removing barriers to employment.
“With individual discretionary awards we were less able to identify the underlying challenges that resulted in customers regularly using these short awards instead of a longer term more sustainable plan.
“We are currently preparing for the full roll out of Universal Credit and other associated welfare reforms and by introducing this service we are helping customers be better prepared.”
Before the implementation of SDA Gateway in January, Derby council had already been using Empowering Communities E-CINS system for multi-agency case management.
The council’s director of finance, Martyn Marples, said the move could encourage other local authorities to rethink their administration of discretionary awards.