Industry voice: When Leeds City Council soft launched its new service to allow residents to apply for council tax and housing benefit online it received the first e-form within nine minutes of going live and four months later it had 79% take-up of the digital service
As part of driving forward its digital agenda, Leeds worked with IEG4 to introduce an intelligent online eClaim form that enables residents to apply for housing benefit, council tax support and free school meals.
People can make a claim and upload any required supporting evidence at home via mobile, PC or tablet, or via one of the public facing PCs in Leeds’ network of one-stop shops. If people are not confident in filling out the form customer service staff can help claimants and scanners are available to scan and upload evidence to submit with the claim. Housing staff also have tablets with them when they make home visits and are able to help with applications.
According to council tax and benefits section manager Jayne Ruddock, when a customer submits a claim in the morning it will be on the system by the end of the same day and processed by assessors within five days. Almost all – some 99% of claims - are received without issues but for the 1% where suspected incorrect information has been input or risk alerts have been flagged an email notifies the assessment team for review and correction before confirmation of the details are displayed in back office systems.
“The form integrates information into our back office revenues and benefits and document management systems and work with our risk based verification system,” explains Ruddock. “This provides a seamless operation for the team, designed to enable them to review the information provided and easily identify possible errors or risks that need closer attention and action from us in order to resolve them.
“The form has intelligence built in to validate information, but sometimes manual intervention is needed as, for example, a fleck over a non-English name spelling may not be recognised by the back end system.”
Before launch, the form was pen-tested in line with Leeds’ security policies to ensure that it could not be hacked or have an adverse impact on the council’s cyber security. Other security and GDPR considerations also mean that staff at the one-stop shops cannot complete a form for a customer but can, with their consent, guide an individual through completing and submitting their claim or change of information details.
Digital only following rapid take-up
The council initially did a soft launch of the new online service – and was pleased to see the first digital claim coming through within nine minutes of launch. In fact, the online forms have been so successful that four months later the council was able to withdraw all paper claims other than for vulnerable people and assisted digital.
A new eChange form to advise the council of a change in circumstances was user tested and went live in January. This is useful as the council moves to universal credit roll out, Ruddock explains: “With these new forms we can make changes or add information as we need it, so we will be able to add information and advice about universal credit as it rolls out. It is a real bonus compared to a paper form that was expensive to update!”
This flexibility has already proved useful, with the team able to tweak the information provided around free school meal applications in order to best direct people to the benefit – for example, explaining that even if their child prefers a packed lunch they are still eligible to register for free school meals in order to accurately reflect the need in the city. “The forms can quickly be tweaked and tailored to reflect the council’s own needs and processes as circumstances change,” says Ruddock.
Better for citizens, better for the council
During user testing the customer experience has proven to be trouble-free, according to Ruddock: “Even if the council's main server was down claims can still be submitted as the forms are automatically saved and come through to us once everything is back online – so there’s never an impact on the customer service.”
She is also keen to acknowledge the savings the council will be making on paper, print, scanning and postage costs: “The new forms save workloads, storage and equipment space and reduce staff time on routine applications, allowing us to focus on the more complex cases.”
When choosing a solution and a partner to work with, the council was looking for integration with three existing systems and an improvement to the good quality of service that was already being provided.
“IEG4 were really responsive and knowledgeable and dealt with any issue we found. They knew everything inside out and had proven integrations with the systems that we used", says Ruddock.
“For me eClaims is definitely the way forward and is a real positive for our customers.”
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Body image supplied by IEG4.