Wednesday was our third BetterOff Show and Tell day this time hosted in London. Seven local authorities and housing associations from across the country joined us at The Club House in West London to hear about the latest progress with BetterOff Kirklees. BetterOff is a new online platform that tackles the benefit and welfare process end-to-end; from assessing entitlement to benefits, guiding claimants through benefits applications and helping claimants into work.
Quick headlines of the day include:
- This financial year, Kirklees Council have made a cashable saving of over £390,000 from its advice budget.
- Since the 15th October 2015, BetterOff Kirklees has had over 3000 unique visitors, recorded monetary gains of over £1.6million and over 10,000 users of the job search feature.
- Interested LAs/HAs facing similar welfare reform issues, heard and then saw about BetterOff; the why, how and the now;
- The intended inclusion of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Reduction as a single claim form within BetterOff;
- The proposed addition of UC forms - with embedded guidance - within BetterOff and planned integration with DWP for online submission of all benefits claims;
- The plans around developing an ‘advocate’ approach to BetterOff, which would cement already positive cross organisational working and bring significant benefits to claimant and partners;
- BetterOff has helped to free up specialist advisor time in the customer contact centres, meaning they are able to see twice as many people a day and their time is spent more efficiently in helping those with more complex and vulnerable cases;
- BetterOff works with local partners, for example, Citizens Advice to allocate the support and advice to where it is needed most as well as seeing self-service and claimant empowerment increase.
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If you are interested in attending any of our future events are would like to book a demonstration of BetterOff please email email@example.com.
For a more detailed view, read on…
The ‘Show ‘n’ Tell’ day was a chance for LAs and HAs to talk to the people at Kirklees Council that led in the implementation of the platform, understand the background and the multi-partnership approach, as well as to have a demonstration of the technology. The day has an informal tone and as described by a member of the Kirklees team is really a day controlled by whatever the delegates; it’s an opportunity for them to ask questions that are relevant to them. The talks for the day were led by Steve Bird, Head of Welfare and Exchequer Services at Kirklees Council, Steve Langrick, Head of Online, Channel Strategy and Development at Kirklees Council and Nick Whittingham, Chief Executive at Kirklees Citizens Advice & Law Centre. For this event we were also joined by Alison Blount, Head of Revenue and Benefits at Stockport Council, who will be the next local authority to go live with BetterOff at the end of April.
The Business Case
The presentation started with an explanation of the business case that supported BetterOff, and the reasons Kirklees Council believed it was the opportune time to implement a digital platform for the welfare and benefits process.
This began with a review of the last two-years and how the advice cuts have shaped the service Kirklees have today. When faced with the possibility of quite a dramatic reduction to the welfare budget Kirklees Council knew that it was time to change it’s whole process. When beginning to plan how they would resolve the challenge there were four main goals that were kept centric to the overall solution which were:
- The joining up of housing and benefits
- Protecting the most vulnerable
- Digitally transforming the service
- Continued high levels of monetary gain
In terms of savings, Kirklees Council has reported that within this financial year it will have made a cashable saving of over £390,000 from its advice budget. There was also a review of the most recent statistics since the launch date on the 15th October 2015 which included: Kirklees BetterOff has seen over 3000 unique visitors, monetary gains of over £1.6million and specialist advice requests drop by 50%. Although the product is still in soft launch phase these are already impressive results.
The Digital Approach
After the “why”, conversation then moved onto the “what” and “how” of BetterOff, explaining the different elements of the platform, the innovation and how each area was crucial to keeping the benefit and welfare service delivering at the highest possible standard.
Before BetterOff was developed, a significant piece of analysis was done to identify the requirements needed for the platform. Kirklees identified three different claimant levels; 40% of which are able to self-serve, 30% which need some support and the remaining 30% that are considered complex or vulnerable cases that will still need face-to-face support from an advisor.
The key elements of BetterOff were then highlighted- which you can read more about here, - and the need for critical developments with the DWP around the electronic submission of forms.
Working in sight of DWP
As well as digital submission, there are plans to work with the DWP to integrate Universal Credit (UC) forms within BetterOff. As with the other forms already available in BetterOff, these would offer guidance and support including web chat and the ability for advisors to co-browse with claimants.
Future Plans - Local Benefits
One of the real beneficial uses of BetterOff is the ability to store a claimant's information during the process of completing a form. In working terms, this means that a qualified benefits advisor can work with the claimants on the parts of the form where their advice would be necessary, save the progress and then the claimant can either fill the rest of the form themselves or be assisted by a less specialised advisor. This key feature will ensure that qualified advisors time is being spent most efficiently.
The ability to save progress also means that even in vulnerable cases, an advisor can assist a claimant with a benefits form on BetterOff and store the information, saving time when it comes to reapplying for benefits. This is fundamental in assisting appeals. This feature teamed with the co-browse facility within BetterOff, underpins the Kirklees approach to digital service transformation.
After a run through of the technology led by the LookingLocal team, the talks began to round up the Kirklees BetterOff story with a view of the “now” in terms of the implementation and training of advisors.
Modern Service Delivery
BetterOff has an important role to play in the service Citizens Advice offer; all clients are different and, therefore, levels of supports needed vary. The advantage that BetterOff brings is that it allows the Citizen Advice service to provide the support and advice where it is needed most. Having 70% of claimants being able to self-serve and seek guidance from the built-in features of BetterOff, frees up advisor time and resources for the more complex and vulnerable cases.
BetterOff Kirklees is now live in two Citizens Advice contact centres, one in Dewsbury and one in Huddersfield. Claimants are able to self-serve on PC’s and can still access an advisor if needed. Telephone and face-to-face advice is also still available for those complex and vulnerable cases and will remain in place. This self-serve process has already freed up resources resulting in customers being helped more quickly and advice and guidance being channelled more effectively. Shockingly positive results have been reported so far most crucially is the fact that advisors are being able to see twice as many people in a day; increased client satisfaction levels have been reported as a result.
Citizen Advice is finding that in cases where clients self-serve they are empowered and are therefore less likely to seek support in the future.
BetterOff beyond Kirklees
This was the first ‘Show ‘n’ Tell’ day that included a talk from another local authority that’s currently implementing BetterOff; Alison Blount from Stockport Council rounded up the day by telling us how BetterOff will work in the wider transformation of the council.
Stockport is going through multiple changes throughout every department of the council, as many local authorities are. Due to the amount of cuts across multiple departments it’s no longer about small tweaks that can save little amounts but time to change the whole local authority service in order to ensure that money is reinvested where it’s needed most.
Stockport knew that it was going to transform its advice and benefits service and was going to invest in building its own digital platform. However, Stockport realised that Kirklees Council was already offering a comprehensive system liked the idea of collaborating with other councils, sharing knowledge and partners such as the DWP; it seemed the much more logical approach rather than starting from scratch.
So far BetterOff has been demonstrated to advisors at Stockport Council and has received positive feedback. Advisors like the fact that they can be involved in the development of the content and offer the same level of guidance they would normally give face-to-face but instead via the digital platform.
Stockport Council has its own plans on how it would like to evolve BetterOff, including the possibility of adding elements to the jobs journal that takes a wider picture of someone’s circumstances than just job searching to give job centres a clearer idea of why someone maybe out of work. This is the beauty of BetterOff, it can be constantly developed upon and as each local authority decides to add elements, these then are available to all other council’s using the product; a great co-operative approach.
Public Sector Sharing
Overall the day provided a great opportunity for LA’s and HA’s to come together over a challenge that we are all too familiar with. There are plans to further improve the features and functionality within the BetterOff product working with our partners throughout the UK. Development has begun surrounding the implementation of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Reduction form as well as a number of passported benefits into the BetterOff platform. We would love to hear your views and ideas on how this platform could work for your organisation.