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Rising economic uncertainties demand smarter, faster and more collaborative solutions. It’s never been more important for local authorities to safeguard those who are vulnerable and ensure they get the financial support they’re entitled to as quickly as possible.
But the scale of the task faced by councils is huge, reflected in ever rising Universal Credit (UC) claims. Many are having to take on more staff to cope with the increasing demand.
However, Chorley Council’s Revenues and Benefits team found it was in a good position to cope with its 100% increase in UC claims, as they were able to optimise the automation processes that they had already introduced with Capita for other services to cope with the new pressures.
As a result, the team ended 2021 achieving their strongest ever performance while delivering a better, faster and more efficient service for more citizens than ever before.
Automation in partnership
Chorley council took a phased approach to adopting automation, beginning its partnership with Capita in 2019 for e-claims.
Following that success, the authority then worked with the team at Capita to introduce automation to its Universal Credit (UC) claims. In 2019, the council was receiving approximately 19,500 UC claims a year and, by October 2020, had managed to fully automate 56% of all of them thanks to the technology.
When the Covid-19 pandemic began, the number of claims rocketed to more than 33,000 a year in 2020 and further increased to more than 40,000 in 2021.
Without automation, Stephen Lyon, Systems Manager (Customer Services) at Chorley and South Ribble councils, reflected how it “would have been difficult for the team to keep up with such demand”, potentially leaving financially vulnerable people waiting too long for financial support, which could have had a devastating impact.
But now claims are dealt with faster and more efficiently than ever before. And, crucially for citizens, they receive decisions from the council the same day it receives their data from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) – eliminating any delays to them receiving the financial support they’re entitled to.
Automation achievements at Chorley and South Ribble include:
- Ensuring 90% of citizens now receive a decision from the authority on the same day as the council receives their UC data from DWP.
- Fully automating over 90% of all UC change in circumstances claims.
- Fully automating over 40% of all new council tax claims, with no manual input required, after introducing automation for new UC claimants in 2021.
- Saving significant time for assessors who can manage cases much faster than they could pre- automation.
- Enabling improved overall team performance processing UC claims during the pandemic.
Expanding automated technologies across council partnerships to serve more people
The positive impact of automation at Chorley Council was so significant that, when the authority entered into a shared services agreement with South Ribble Council in March 2022, automation was introduced there – again, with equally significant results.
Within 24 hours of going live, South Ribble had achieved 70% automation. Similarly, the team has automated 40% of their council tax claims.
Reflecting on how automation has transformed the way councils serve local people, Stephen Lyon commented:
“The fact that people are making a Universal Credit claim means they’re financially vulnerable and we want to make sure that we get help and support to them as quickly as possible.
There’s no doubt in my mind that automation enables us to deliver an excellent for our communities.
We also know that automation has identified people who would have ordinarily been missed, either because they didn’t know they were eligible to claim, didn’t want to claim, or they simply weren’t able to complete the paper claim forms.”
Giving hope and confidence for the future
The last few years have seen so much change, but Stephen is confident that automation will put both authorities in the very best position to meet new challenges head on, as he further added:
“For us, automation has removed barriers for our staff and for the people we serve. There are incredible gains to be had from it, which we have experienced ourselves, and those gains will only become greater as the technology develops.
We are assured that, in a world where everything seems to change constantly, automation gives us the best opportunity to meet new changes and challenges efficiently without burdening our communities with unnecessary delays.”
Reflecting on their plans going forward, he concluded:
“We’re ambitious for the future. Over the next 18 months we will roll out automation across our revenues services in both authorities, specifically council tax moves, exemptions and discounts, which we believe will have a big impact on the way we are able to deliver this service for our communities.”