LookingLocal

Kirklees Council BetterOff: Launch of the first digital benefits platform

By: Guy Giles, Managing Director of LookingLocal
Published: Tuesday, December 8, 2015 - 10:29 GMT Jump to Comments

Kirklees Council in West Yorkshire has redefined the benefit and welfare process and made it digital-first.

The majority of claimants in Kirklees are now directed to use the online platform BetterOff to calculate their benefit entitlement, apply for benefits, lodge appeals and apply for jobs.

In light of ongoing government cuts, councils across the country are struggling to release further savings. Although many simple processes have now been made digital, benefits and welfare continues to remain paper-based and resource-heavy. This, teamed with the Universal Credit rollout, prompted Kirklees Council to tackle the benefits process end-to-end and propel it into the digital age.

“With a welfare advice budget facing a 30% reduction in 2015/16, rising to 50% over the next three years, some radical thinking was required to ensure that Kirklees’ benefits system could still deliver and ensure that nobody slipped through the net,” explained Steve Langrick, Head of Online, Channel Strategy & Development.

Working systematically, LookingLocal - a technology provider wholly owned by Kirklees Council - along with benefit advisors, claimants and the Welfare and Exchequer senior management team unpicked and analysed each stage of the benefit process. From this came BetterOff, the first local authority solution to bring benefits and employment together.

There are essentially four key areas to the platform: Applications & Appeals, Jobs Search, a Job Journal and a Benefits Entitlement Calculator provided by entitledto. There is also a range of supporting content around employment, interviews, CV writing, childcare, financial management and budgeting.

Whether on a mobile, tablet, laptop or online in the Kirklees Customer Contact Centre, all claimants start by working through the benefits entitlement calculator. This gives them an indication of the benefit they could receive based on their personal circumstances. Claimants are then presented with benefit applications relevant to their situation, making the experience both simple and personal.

All of the digital forms are interjected with real-life advice from benefit advisors. Forms such as the ESA50, ESA1, AA1A, SSCS1 and Mandatory Reconsideration have been deconstructed and digitised. Knowledge and guidance helps claimants fill in forms correctly the first time, consequently avoiding appeals, tribunals and sanctions.

Whilst a lot of time and effort went into real-life guidance within the forms, it was recognised that claimants would still have questions. This allowed both new and established website support models to be introduced. Firstly, webchat has been integrated throughout BetterOff to support people at any stage. Secondly, at the more innovative end of the scale, if a problem persists then the platform offers the capability for digital benefit advisors to remotely co-produce and help complete forms with the claimant in real time - like benefit forms meeting Google Docs.

BetterOff is not only speeding up the benefit process for claimants and freeing up advisors to deal with more vulnerable cases. It also combines two sides of the same coin: benefits and employment. The job aggregator brings in vacancies from a host of national jobs feeds and local jobs sources, allowing claimants to dynamically search multiple databases. When searching for jobs claimants will be able to directly compare their benefit entitlement to advertised job wages, which is a UK first and could transform the way in which claimants are positively incentivised to move (back) into the workplace.

Critically, the development and deployment of BetterOff has been made in full view of the DWP and Jobcentre Plus. Recent agreement has been made with DWP around the integration of BetterOff with back-end systems to enable the electronic submission of forms. Discussions are ongoing around working together on Universal Credit, providing digital access to the application form, embedded guidance and back-end integration.

As the technology is owned by public sector, it can be repurposed for any housing or local authority tackling this complex area. Several local authorities are working with LookingLocal and Kirklees Council in the development of their own bespoke version of the platform. The system is continually evolving, and discussions around financial inclusion and the integration of carers’ Financial Assessment forms are beginning.

This article was first published on PublicServiceDigital, a Boilerhouse Media platform associated with Better connected.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.

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