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Anglia Revenues Partnership needed an automation solution to reduce their yearly manual workload of 4,000 VEP alerts. We developed and beta-tested the product while working hand-in-hand with one of their local authorities to create a solution that met their specific needs and continue to work alongside ARP to continually improve and enhance the solution.
Anglia Revenues Partnership (ARP) provides revenue and benefits services for five local authorities: Breckland, East Cambridgeshire, East Suffolk, Fenland District and West Suffolk. ARP serves over 300,000 households across the five councils, collecting £413m per year in council tax and paying out £45m in council tax support and £118m in housing benefit. Their combined caseload comprises over 64,000 households.
Finding efficiency through automation
People’s earnings and pensions can fluctuate, particularly if they are paid overtime or are on zero or flexible hours contracts. The Verify Earnings and Pensions (VEP) alerts service is a joint Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and HMRC initiative that compares actual HMRC earnings and pensions data with DWP SHBE (Single Housing Benefit Extract) data to identify cases where the amount of earnings or pensions being used are potentially incorrect.
DWP funds local authorities to review and update earnings or pension amounts and calculate claimants’ entitlements to housing benefit using the VEP alerts service, which can be a resource-intensive activity.
Failing to identify and act on these changes quickly can result in overpayments that are equally resource- intensive, costly and difficult to recover.
Currently ARP receives over 4,000 VEP alerts per year – and before automation these took around 36 hours a week to process manually for ARP to achieve the 100% target completion rate set by the DWP.
When we came on board, ARP was working with an alternative automation provider to streamline their processes. In the meantime, we worked with West Suffolk (WS) to develop a VEP alerts software solution of our own. By automating their more straightforward earnings VEP cases, ARP was able to devote more time to complex cases and focus on vulnerable customers.
Automation enabled quicker and more accurate processing, reducing the need for customer contact and for verification – removing common pain points and improving their overall experience.
Key impact of our partnership:
- the new automated processes save time and resources
- phased collaborative approach to shape a product that meets client’s specific needs
- easy-to-use dashboard and quick improvements and fixes enabled outside of usual software release calendar
- completion rate of 93.1% vs non-automated 77.7%
- better access and functionality for online customers
A sustainable and bespoke solution
With West Suffolk, we tested and implemented elements of the process in a phased approach, using the council’s own customers’ live data to conduct beta testing. West Suffolk chose to focus on updating earnings with an ongoing average within a tolerance of 25%. This falls in line with ARP’s earnings procedure and reviewing and updating the average within this tolerance provides a fair and consistent approach.
Once the basics were achieved in these areas, we designed more complex cases and system rules, with ARP suggesting improvements to help us shape a product that met their specific needs. We continue to roll out enhancements to improve and extend the existing product’s capabilities.
Our VEP alerts solution is built around a new technology stack using the Azure cloud. A purpose-designed WebApp reads and translates the data from the VEP alerts and then uses APIs to create the appropriate changes in circumstances (CiC) records in the revenues and benefits system. The software scans the data for any changes and then uses a wide range of local authority-defined parameters to ensure full control over decisions as to which changes should be processed and from what date. Importantly, it manages whether ARP focuses on correcting just the current payment period or includes retrospective periods – which might result in over- or underpayments.
The automation process updates and reassesses entitlement for each case, notifying the VEP alerts system of the outcome for reporting to DWP. Cases which cannot be processed based on these set parameters are flagged for review within the dashboard.
Providing a user-friendly, simple dashboard
The VEP alerts solution includes a new, easy-to-navigate dashboard enabling ARP to review outcomes and deal directly with cases needing manual intervention. With our support, ARP’s team managers are trained to manage and monitor the dashboard, enabling shared services to manage automation more effectively.
The WebApp solution also enables more frequent improvements and defect fixes than a traditional software release cycle would. This supports our programme to incrementally enhance performance, tweak software, make quick fixes and automate more cases.
Faster VEP completion rates and processes
Using our product, West Suffolk’s VEP alerts completion rates quickly outstripped those of the other councils within the partnership still using the competitor’s solution. For example, West Suffolk’s completion rate was 93.1% compared to Breckland’s then-not-yet-automated 77.7% – moving West Suffolk from the DWP’s bottom quartile to the top quartile. Our automation solution helps West Suffolk to achieve resource savings of 0.5 FTE and there is potential for more if other processes, such as pension data, can be included in automation.
By October 2022, the product was tested and ready for full deployment, so ARP decided to roll it out to its other four local authorities.