Council claims that online channel for housing benefit and council tax is providing the foundation for significant savings
Kirklees Council has replaced its online forms for housing benefit and council tax reduction (HB/CTR) with a new system developed by its own technology development organisation LookingLocal.
It launched the solution in March and has claimed that it is already on course to deliver cashable savings of £500,000 per year.
The council said it began to work on the system after its analysis showed that the previous online HB/CTR forms were confusing for many customers, requiring manual steps and printing that were leading some to abandon applications. This was placing pressure on its customer advisers to deal with the subsequent enquiries and adding to costs.
The new system provides virtual advice and guidance for completing a range of benefit forms, with a dynamic evidence list and upload facility. Upon reaching the end of the application form the user is presented with a list of evidence they should supply, which is tailored to the information they have given in the form. They are only asked for evidence specific to their circumstances, and can retrieve the checklist later if required.
Applicants can use the upload facility to supply evidence in support of their claim, which is submitted to the back office system and automatically attached to the customer's existing case file, ready for assessing by benefits officers.
Back office link
Kirklees worked with its partner company for integration and content capture, Govtech Solutions, on ensuring all of the data from the new forms passes into the council’s Northgate back office system.
Steve Bird, head of welfare and customer exchequer services at Kirklees, said: “As a council we are working towards a vision in which the majority of our clients are able to help themselves.
“Like every other council in the UK, we are having to deliver our services with reduced funding, which has driven us to develop this new capability with the associated cashable savings to the bottom line. However, we have managed to do this whilst increasing customer confidence and independence, with a transformed ability to self-serve.”
Kirklees has also made elements of the solution available to other councils through the Digital Marketplace.
Its head of online, channel strategy and development, Steve Langrick, made the case for developing such systems within local authorities.
“As a council, we often find that supplier systems limit our opportunity to do new and different things and therefore, hinder our ability to extract maximum efficiency savings whilst improving services to customers,” he said. “This is why we take it upon ourselves to invest resources into developing improved solutions that do just that.
“We are aware that other local authorities face similar challenges and therefore want to offer our counterparts across the country the ability to re-use what we’ve done, in the knowledge that it’s been designed by fellow colleagues within the sector.”