A group of eight local authorities are now user testing a free calculator to help residents work out the cost of residential care, as part of a trial to inform the development of an open Application Programming Interface (API) that will be made freely available to local authorities and their suppliers in June.
Developed under Open Government Licence, the API will be freely published alongside documentation on how to build the calculator – making it easier for local authorities to build their own local solutions and prevent duplication of effort nationally. The API ‘plugs in’ to a council’s website, and does not interfere with the website’s own look and feel.
The free API will help councils to rapidly develop online calculators for the public to work out residential care costs under the Deferred Payment Agreement (DPA) scheme.
A DPA is an arrangement with the council that enables people to use the value of their homes to help pay care home costs – preventing people from needing to sell their property immediately to pay for residential care.
“As the mechanism and formula behind the DPA calculation is mostly similar for every local authority, we felt this project should be approached at a national level, with us overseeing the development of one solution, which could be used and adapted locally”, says Denise Hampson, Product Owner, Local Digital campaign in a blog on the project. “We know that other suppliers and many local authorities are planning to develop their own form of DPA calculator, and it was felt that an API approach would open the market and provide the tools and building blocks needed,” she says.
Working out residential care costs can be complex. For example, DPAs incur interest and charges and the interest rate applied in each area can vary, as can the average cost of care. The calculator will make it easier for residents working out the total cost of a DPA care for themselves or a family member by doing total sums and if they are eligible.
The calculator will also potentially reduce large numbers of enquiries to councils by quickly identifying who is eligible. Eligibility for a DPA depends on factors like whether the person going into care owns their home outright or lives on their own.
Its API will also have a feedback function to provide anonymised data about the usage of the calculators back into a central data repository, which can be interrogated to establish any cost savings and to inform future work. SME IEG4 was chosen to supply the technology following a formal bidding process.
The brainchild of the Local Digital Programme, the API is one of three ‘incubator’ projects it is facilitating for local authorities to collaborate on digital services that improve public service efficiency and prevent duplication. Discussions at a Local Digital co-design event in July last year informed the DPA project. The concept was pitched to a judging panel, beating proposals for a useful digital tool developed on the day by Land Registry, Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and the Department of Health and local government managers.
User testing will continue until mid-May and a free beta version of the API will go live by the end of the month. The councils involved in user testing will continue to contribute to iterative improvements.