Over recent months, life has evolved almost beyond recognition.
The way we live and the way we work has changed at a faster and larger scale than we could ever have imagined.
Nowhere has this been more evident than within local government. Local authorities across the UK are facing a myriad of challenges, with regulatory and societal changes happening almost daily. In just two weeks, local authorities have been inundated with over two million new benefits claims. They are also facing the challenge of handling many thousands of business rate grant disbursements and many have had to implement a home working model overnight.
At Capita, our local government team support local authorities all year round, both with the provision of technology to facilitate their day-to-day operations and with the personnel required to bolster teams.
Bringing resilience: Protecting staff and the move to home working
The switch to home working was one of the first implications of the UK government’s strategy to help slow the spread of Covid-19. While for traditional desk-workers this was an almost seamless transition, transferring the 2,300 people supporting local governments from Capita’s local government offices across the country to home working arrangements was a huge undertaking, requiring extensive network changes, technology tests and adaptations to systems and applications.
In Coventry, this involved building an entirely new technology platform to support our 300 contact centre staff, enabling them to access their desktop software and applications while working remotely. A project estimated to take nine weeks was completed in the space of only seven days.
In just over two weeks, Capita’s local government contact centres had changed their operating models to be based on home working. This large-scale flexibility and adaptability means that provision of services for local government – and therefore the citizen recipients – has not been interrupted or affected.
Better outcomes: Supporting local government with the disbursement of business rate grants and safeguarding vulnerable children
At Capita, our support for local authorities spans many services. A key area of support we provide is around benefits, through both the development of specialist software and tools, and our benefits resilience service, providing resource and capacity for claims processing departments. Our specialist claims processing and management software and benefits resilience service are utilised by more than 170 of the UK’s 418 local authorities.
Over the last few weeks, our work to support local government has evolved and expanded. Local councils have been inundated with enquiries and claims requests, yet the claims teams dealing with these requests have remained static or at reduced capacity due to Covid-19 related rules.
The increased burden on capacity can be alleviated with our benefits resilience service, providing 2,600 highly experienced and skilled benefits claims assessors; a dedicated contact management team; expert knowledge and insight and a range of service delivery models – all offered at scale, on-demand and on flexible terms.
In addition, with in excess of 40% of councils using our systems to operate council tax, housing benefit and business rates services, our customers have relied on us to quickly create the means for them to adapt to the changing regulations. Within 12 days, we implemented the government changes to all of our customers enabling them to apply the updated Retail Discount Scheme and issue the Small Business Grant Fund and Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund payments to qualifying business.
With schools not currently recording attendance in school-based systems such as SIMS, education authorities suddenly have zero visibility of school attendance information. For vulnerable children their attendance at school is a key safeguarding measure as teachers get daily face to face contact with those children and can report any concerns to the local authority. Without creating any additional work for schools, we quickly adapted our software to allow this vital data to be imported into Capita’s One Education system, which now allows our customers to identify vulnerable children who are not attending school and therefore focus their safeguarding efforts on those most in need.
Using technology: Embracing innovation and fast-tracking technology
Having to deliver services with limited resources is nothing new to local authorities, which is why we’ve developed technology to help ease the burden. Many existing Capita customers will be familiar with (and, indeed, use) our digital forms for revenues and benefits – these intuitive self-serve forms are encouraging citizens to shift to more cost-effective digital channels as they increasingly see the benefits of a 24/7 service.
But where we can really make the difference, particularly in the current landscape, is with flexible automation to reduce the amount of manual processing and checking of claims.
Our revenue and benefits automation tools enable councils to more easily process the huge increase in volumes of housing benefit claims, council tax reduction claims and changes in circumstances that would otherwise be at risk of long delays. These tools mean claims can be processed for the most vulnerable members of a community within a day.
To make it as easy as possible to get started, we’ve designed our automation as an ‘off the shelf’ solution, which can go live within days. Available as a straightforward monthly subscription, we’re offering the service free of charge until the end of July 2020.
We have also responded to the rapidly changing needs and strain put upon local government benefits teams by exploring other ways technology and innovation could support. This led us to fast track the development of a new customer advice bot – with the team creating and deploying the new software within only 10 days.
This next-generation solution helps local authorities to triage in-bound calls relating to benefits and business rate grants and provides answers to general enquiries from citizens where call agents aren’t immediately available. The advisory bot is available both online and via telephone, making it accessible to as many citizens as possible, providing 24/7 support across a range of Covid-19 related queries around benefits, council tax and business grants.
Our advisory bot was piloted with Bexley Council, where it supported with over 1,192 calls and helped to reduce call volume by 25% within the first week. The solution is now being rolled out to authorities across the UK.
During the Covid-19 crisis, our local government and public services are facing increasing pressure and unforeseen demand. By bringing together Capita’s people, our 30+ years of experience working with local authorities and our new technologies and innovations, we have been able to support local authorities as they work to keep operations running effectively and efficiently, providing critical support to communities and citizens. During times of national crisis, it becomes even more important for those citizens to have a positive, seamless and beneficial experience.