Warwickshire County Council, the Open Identity Exchange (OiX) and DWP have been working on the concept of an online eligibility checker in a leading edge, digitised Blue Badge application pilot.
The results are proving so interesting that the NHS is now joining the team to explore whether automated checking of NHS data could widen still further the range of disabled people able to use such a service.
If successful, the reusable, scalable pilot concept could deliver a "seismic shift" at the heart of digital public service provision.
Blue Badges allow disabled drivers or passengers to park closer to their destinations. To prove whether citizens are eligible for the scheme, they must usually provide paper-based evidence or attend mobility assessments. However, some key benefits, such as the mobility element of Disabled Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment, automatically confer eligibility for a blue badge.
Checking benefits information
OiX and Warwickshire have worked with the Government Digital Service, DfT and DWP to test the concept by building a prototype eligibility checking system.
In the trial, if an applicant is citing a DWP benefit as their evidence for a Blue Badge, identity is first checked via the GOV.UK Verify platform before asking the applicant for their permission to make the necessary eligibility checks with DWP records via ‘attribute exchange’.
Under attribute exchange no data is transferred between systems: when the user selects the option, the aim is to simply check with DWP in real-time whether the applicant’s assertion that they are eligible for the Blue Badge is correct.
Compared to the current time-consuming, costly exchange of paper documents or attending assessments in person, the concept has obvious efficiencies and service improvements. Apart from cutting a six to ten week eligibility check to ‘instant’, the project team predicts that the Blue Badge eligibility checker could save local authorities £12 million annually and their customers £5 million.
In addition, it could save DWP around £0.5 million in reduced contact from citizens and their LA agents - including the current cost of sending copies of eligibility letters for the claimant to take back to the council!
The real benefit to DWP, other central government departments and local authorities, however, is the potential for swapping out expensive bulk/batch data sharing arrangements with trusted 3rd parties, and truly supporting citizen self-service with end-to-end online services.
Indeed, this approach of checking ‘attributes’ held by one trusted public sector organisation in order to establish eligibility for another public service could be replicated across the sector to deliver a seismic shift in digital service provision - along with significant savings and a reduction in fraudulent claims.
Next step, check non-sensitive health evidence
Approximately 40% of applicants’ eligibility can be checked by the pilot via the DWP information. However, if the individual is not eligible under DWP criteria, the application normally goes to an Occupational Therapist or mobility assessor who determines whether the individual must attend a mobility assessment, which is a labour intensive and obviously inconvenient process for people mobility issues.
“The next stage, therefore, is to bring non-sensitive, non-clinical NHS data into the Attribute Exchange ecosystem,” said Ian Litton, commissioning implementation lead at Warwickshire County Council, who leads the project.
The project is now investigating the potential of teaming up with NHS England and the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) to understand whether automatic eligibility checks could be made against information held by GPs using attribute exchange.
User testing sessions of this concept will take place in the coming months to see if applicants are happy for their medical records to be used in this way.
Expanding the service
“We recognise that NHS information could be used for other transactions, for example, applying for benefits. The end game is therefore to create an ecosystem not only allowing Blue Badges to be delivered more efficiently, but also a whole host of other services,” said Litton.
Indeed, digital eligibility checking could be used for an even wider number of services, potentially linking in to central government, local government and private sector databases, in cases where transactions cross organisational boundaries.
“Some transactions cross boundaries, for example, hiring a car. You could potentially go online to prove your identity, prove you have a clean valid driving licence, and that you have suitable insurance before you turn up to collect the car. The same ‘ecosystem’ could be used to check these attributes with private and public sector organisations. You could even use it in online gaming to check that the player is over 18,” he told Local Digital.
“The critical thing is that the customer gives permission for the check to be made for a specific transaction, at a specific point in time, and in a way that is totally transparent. No sensitive data is shared, and the customer’s privacy is respected at all times.”
Managing consent more effectively
In the next stage of the project Warwickshire will be working with private sector providers to develop the attribute exchange solution further. For example, ForgeRock (an open source identity and access management provider) has incorporated User Managed Access (UMA) into their Attribute Exchange solution. The team will be investigating and testing this to further address the thorny issues of trust and transparency when gaining citizens’ permission.
"With the prototype we built, we didn’t have a way to manage ongoing consent,” said Litton, “only customers’ permission for their information to be shared at that point in time for that specific transaction.
“But eligibility for some services can be quite dynamic, for example, as the level of an individual’s in-work benefits varies, and it may be necessary to carry out on-going eligibility checks from time to time. UMA gives the individual a place to go online where they can see and manage all the consents they have given to different organisations.
“Until now, managing ongoing consent was tricky,” he added. “Typically, you asked individuals to consent at a point in time. They tick the T&Cs, which they never see again. UMA should fix that problem.”
Read related content:
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons, By The Photographer - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.