South Cambridgeshire District Council (SCDC) has rolled out a suite of electronic forms for benefits claimants in just six weeks, dramatically increasing the efficiency of its Revenues and Benefits department.
The council has seen use of its digital benefits forms grow from none to 75% since implementation last Autumn, substantially reducing the time that staff spend on time-consuming manual tasks and saving the council money.
What the council had struggled to implement for years took IEG4 a matter of weeks, according to Sean Missin, the council’s procurement officer. “It was a very rapid turnaround from contract signing to completion, a matter of weeks,” he said. “And integration was painless.”
Access to the digital forms, designed and deployed by supplier IEG4, means that residents do not need to repeat their personal details to different members of staff and are presented only with the information or fields pertinent to their circumstances. The electronic forms pre-populate fields with claimants’ key details and data entered onto the forms is integrated with the council’s back-office systems automatically.
“Instead of us transcribing forms, it automatically takes them to back office,” said Missin. “It does the checks and balances and residents don’t have to fill out unnecessary fields – they won’t appear.”
The full extent of cost savings from this increased automation has not yet been fully quantified by the council. Substantial savings are, however, expected as council staff no longer have to assemble paper application packs; post them to residents; open post; return documents to claimants; scan and index documents to a document management system; re-key data or, as happened frequently, contact residents who had returned an incomplete form.
Any amendments to claim forms were made by staff manually, which was time consuming and left the organisation open to human error.
SCDC has deployed three efficiency-enhancing products. eClaim lets residents initially register details about their circumstances for Housing Benefit or Council Tax reductions, and allows them to make any subsequent changes electronically.
Meanwhile, eChange in Circumstances allows residents to register a change of circumstances by logging in and making the changes directly. There is no need for claimants to send in a form or repeat their details over the phone. It uses ‘intelligent matching’ upon submission of key data to identify the claimant in the back office.
Both present only the questions that are relevant to that person’s circumstances, shortening processing time and making sure reporting is accurate. The e-forms were designed to be filled in quickly and accurately and cannot be submitted if they are incomplete or contain errors, saving staff additional time.
A third product, eDesigner, lets the council build their own forms, in line with organisational branding.
With this increased automation, new claims performance has improved within the Revenues and Benefits department. The time to process a form has dropped by three to five days. There is no longer a need to send and administer every claim form, which cost the council an annual £4,500 in postage and paper alone.
“IEG4 were very knowledgeable about the complex area of Revenues and Benefits forms and interfacing to our existing computer system. They also had an excellent understanding of the underlying business reasons for putting these forms in place,” Missin said.
The move is an important part of the council’s ‘digital by default’ programme, which will be rolled out in the coming months and will see the introduction of multi-skilled Revenues and Benefits staff who can swap teams depending on priority, and an increase in self service across the council more broadly.
Based on the success of the initiative, Missin said that the council now plans to offer digital forms “well beyond the Revenues and Benefits department”.
See IEG4’s Revenues & Benefits products and collect your local authority-specific business case at a half-day free event on 16 February in Alderley Edge, or 23 February in London. Lunch and refreshments are included.
Image credit (top): “Cambridge MMB 13 Fort St George and River Cam” by mattbuck. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Image credit (bottom): IEG4