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Harnessing online applications to help the vulnerable


Industry voice: Trafford is speeding up the process of welfare support whilst identifying how to improve the lives of some of its most vulnerable people with its new digital services

Councils nationwide provide a safety net to their residents in the case of a disaster or emergency as part of the Government’s welfare assistance programme.

Trafford Council is no different and provides an online Trafford Assist claim form for people to apply for food vouchers, electric or gas credit or household items. But what makes Trafford different is that its form has been created in-house, using IEG4’s eDesigner, and has been designed in such a way that the council can use it to identify where more support can be provided to its most vulnerable residents.

The form was created by Jane Lamb, the council’s systems and performance team leader. She says: “We wanted from the outset for the form not only to be user-friendly and easy to complete but to also be a mechanism to alert staff to the needs of our most vulnerable residents.

“By designing the form the way we did it means that we can trigger interventions to help people early on rather than at a later date when they may have bigger - and more costly - problems.”

With changes in welfare support, Trafford is seeing a rise in applications for its Trafford Assist local welfare assistance scheme, and feedback suggests their innovation in this area is making a real difference to people’s lives.

Meeting the user need

Lamb has designed the online application form to be simple and user-friendly using eDesigner’s inbuilt logic and intelligence. The form only asks for the information and evidence that is needed to complete the immediate task. For example, if a resident hasn’t applied before and is asking for food or assistance with heating then they are only asked to complete a short version of the form. But if they reapply for further support more information is captured, enabling the council to follow up and offer deeper assistance – for instance looking at what benefits they are receiving or may be entitled to or offering to help with applications or a personal budgeting support service.

People can access the form from a computer or mobile phone and upload relevant supporting evidence as needed. For those without mobile or home broadband access, free computer use is available at local libraries, however Lamb has found that most customers now have access to the internet, predominantly by mobile phone. The applicants are then contacted by email, text or letter according to their preferences.

Lamb explains that the council’s existing forms were ‘clunky to fill in’ - so much so that the council had to provide a helpline for those trying to apply. The goal behind the new forms was to deliver a truly self-service process for the applicant so that they would not need to  telephone and ask for assistance. “We had to move away from the old system as it was just too clunky and time consuming. Using IEG4's eDesigner we were able to produce a form that suited the customer much better and captured all the information we needed in one go.

“The form is easy to fill in which means we don’t have to chase up inaccurate or incorrect information. So, it’s a quicker, simpler service for the applicant and has reduced support costs for the council too,” she says.

A useful feature of the new form is that applicants don’t have to complete the form in one go and providing they include an email address they will receive a reference number so that they can re-access and finish their application at any time. Again, the focus is on working from the customer’s perspective, putting them in charge of the application process.

From a standing start in January 2018 the first new form, welfare assistance, went live in March, followed a few months later with one for discretionary housing payments. These complement a recently launched IEG4 eCIC - change of circumstances - form and an established IEG4 eClaims benefits form, both of which interact with the back office systems.

Says Lamb: “Trafford first worked with IEG4 ten years ago on our online eClaim housing and council tax benefit forms and we are really pleased that they have helped us again in our journey to improve services for our residents by helping us provide a safety-net for the most vulnerable in our community.”

Designed from front line experience

Lamb is an expert in benefits and revenues – earlier in her career she used to assess benefit claims – so whilst not having a technical background she had the front line user need experience and the policy knowledge to create a form-driven process that worked for vulnerable people.

“Understanding the benefits systems was beneficial but we all, in our daily lives, regularly fill out forms so I drew on my own personal experience to help me create a form that our customers would find easy to complete while capturing all the information that we as a council needed.

“eDesigner also made the task easier too as once you worked out what questions you wanted and understood the logic and rules behind the solution it was very straightforward.  So much so that I really enjoyed the process and would love to develop more!,” she says.

Staff working in job centres acted as a pilot group giving feedback on the structure and contents. “These are the people who are regularly helping vulnerable people understand the whole range of benefits that are available to them, so were best placed to review the new form with them and ensure that we got it right.

“The claim assessors and team really like the end result. They particularly liked the way we could tweak the forms on the go and instantly feedback changes to them,” adds Lamb.

“Helping people to serve themselves and access the help they need is a really good way of reducing costs, having the ability to design these digital services ourselves without the need to bring in consultants makes it even more cost effective.”

If you’d like to find out how IEG4 can help to improve and deliver your digital transformation needs, the company is hosting an eDesigner Webinar on 6th February. To book your place click here.


Image: Parrot of Doom / Wikimedia Commons 

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