Our BetterOff preview last week was a great success with delegates coming to the Library of Birmingham from all parts of the country to see, hear and interact with the new benefits and employment solution that LookingLocal has developed with Kirklees Council.
Steve Langrick from Kirklees started proceedings with a background as to where the thinking behind BetterOff had come from; primarily that the council needs new ways of building and delivering services in light of financial pressures and the added opportunity that digital offers. A new Kirklees customer-service video gave a broader picture of their ‘digital first’ approach and the ability to blend a face-to-face environment with digital services.
The financial element was paramount, with a welfare advice budget of nearly £1.75m a year facing a 30% reduction 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.
With Level 1 (‘those able to self-serve’) and Level 2 (‘those who need a degree of support’) claimants making 70% of all claims, a digital solution with embedded web-chat and a high level of guided support and associated information was seen as the right approach. During Steve’s presentation and the following questions, there was a lot of agreement in terms of the financial situation councils found themselves in, the BetterOff approach as well as the need to ensure that vulnerable people were not excluded or left behind.
LookingLocal’s Lianne Viney then took up the microphone to take delegates through an overview of the product, picking out some of the functionality particularly around bringing together benefits and employment in the same solution and the compatibility with the DWP approach and systems. Then in seven smaller table based groups, the detail of BetterOff was demonstrated, debated and discussed.
The tables covered everything from usability to how it interfaced with housing benefit, Universal Credit and DWP systems, co-dependency of forms and multiple claimants to the same benefit process, the different rates of digital access and skills that still exists, as well as ideas around the job journal and the complexity of the appeals process.
Key to the BetterOff technology is the integration with entitledto’s assessment tool, which gives claimants the capability to work through their circumstances and find out which benefits they may be able to claim. Bringing this functionality into the solution enables claimants to compare their benefit entitlement to any job they are looking at or applying for, as well as leading them to the right forms to complete.
Just after lunch entitledto’s Phil Agulnik gave a great headline summary of the Summer Budget that had just been delivered and how it affected claimants and the changes local authorities would need to make around the delivery of benefits. Then we demonstrated BetterOff’s capability to co-browse; enabling a web-chat advisor not just answer questions when they hit a problem, but to actually see their form and help them complete it in real-time. Think webchat + Google Docs for benefit forms.
The co-browsing feature opened up further debate around information providers, how third parties could deliver advice, as well as raising the bar around levels of digital completion with lower overheads.
The afternoon session carried on looking at the detail of BetterOff; varied discussions continued covering the real-life guided content written by benefit advisors supporting the range of benefit forms (all the high volume benefit forms have been developed for BetterOff with further ones to follow) to video content to help claimants. Plus a few more areas in addition to the childcare, tax credit, transport and back-to-work/interview advice were all noted and will be fed into the content development pot.
Overall the technology was rated 8/10 by delegates – which is a great start seeing as we are still in development – and the main benefits were seen to be the self-service approach, the financial savings, the plain English guidance, but - crucially for many - the bringing together of employment and benefits into one setting. Issues were also highlighted around the effort required to change existing working practices and systems, as well as claimant communication, education and digital skills.
With this added insight from 30+ local authorities, we will refine BetterOff over the summer, as deployment for Kirklees is currently scheduled for September 2015. We heartily thank all delegates for their participation, thoughts and insight, as this collaborative approach is crucial to the development process both for Kirklees and other local authorities looking to address the same issues.