Industry voice: Lambeth council improves online benefits services and lays the foundations for robotic process automation as a way to build further improvements and efficiencies
Councils across the country are turning to digital innovations to find new and smarter ways to meet customer needs, improve services and make vital financial savings.
For Lambeth council this wasn’t a new idea. It had been one of the first councils to provide online services and eforms but these were now outdated, were not fully integrated with the back-office system and were difficult to make changes to. To make matters worse the provider of these forms was moving out of the market.
It was time to change. Working with IEG4, the council has taken back control of its online claims and created new intelligent housing and council tax benefit e-claim forms that integrate deeply into back office systems and document imaging services. But it has ambitions for more – to automate workflow and integrate Robotic Process Automation (RPA)with its online services.
To this end, Lambeth will shortly go live with IEG4’s OneVu – a self-service citizen portal which enables residents to, amongst other things, track progress to help eliminate chase up calls from customers as well as query housing benefit and council tax benefit status, start new claims or let the council know about a change in circumstances, track payments and upload supporting documents at a time to suit them. It also provides intelligent back ground workflow and a future platform for RPA.
Tim Hillman-Brown, head of the council’s revenue and benefits service, explains: “Our old system was clunky and out-of-date. We were quite clear that we wanted to achieve a better customer experience for our residents and to take it a step further to enable them to specifically self-serve.”
A key driver of the project, Hillman-Brown adds, was to drive down the numbers of telephone calls to the council and visits to the customer centre by creating a high quality digital first service: “This is a digital first policy and has been designed so that customers should find it easy and simple to use. But, for those who can’t use the online service there will be direct help and access to staff. Our key aim is to free up staff time with the switch to digital and enable them to better support those people who need the most help.”
The new system also automates mundane administration processes that staff currently do, integrating seamlessly with the back office with its intelligent workflow. At the moment the equivalent of one FTE is used to move casework around the process – this burden of repetitive tasks and rekeying of data can be completely removed, freeing up staff to focus on more exciting and challenging work.
“We can make better use of people and resources which will lead to better job satisfaction and morale. It gives staff the opportunity to really get under the skin of complex cases and really help those who need it.
“Claimants already like the new housing benefit claim form describing it as ‘intuitive and user-friendly’ – and we have had a noticeable drop in both people not turning up to appointments or grumbling about the length of time it takes to fill in the claim form.”
Setting the robots to work on the process
But this isn’t the end of the service’s digital transformation story and Hillman-Brown is now looking at robotic process automation (RPA) to build on the service improvements and efficiencies they have made.
“Nearly half of all new claims could be instantaneously risk assessed and processed using RPA - with no human interaction. I really like the idea of someone applying for benefits and ten minutes later receiving a text or email telling them the outcome of their claim and what happens next.”
Hillman-Brown hopes to introduce the technology into the council’s revenues and benefits service next year and would expect it to make significant savings. These efficiency savings will allow his department to copy with the ever-increasing volumes in requests for support
He sees working with IEG4 - who developed the first ever robotic process for the administration of housing benefit and council tax support applications - as a way to achieve this goal.
The council started its work with IEG4 in its design of local welfare fund eforms - which was done at short notice and on budget. “They understood our needs, were very knowledgeable and helped us to get it right,” says Hillman-Brown. “It was a great achievement and would not have been possible without them. In our view, IEG4 complements our overall ambition to maximise the potential of evolving technologies to continually improve the way we deliver services to our residents.”
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Image: Stuart Taylor / Brixton Town Hall, London /