Networking with other Better Off Calculator clients is a key objective of our steering group

We were joined at our July Better Off Calculator steering group by users who shared their experiences of the calculator and gave their feedback on how we can make it even better. The meeting was held on the hottest day of the year and those who were unable to travel joined us by weblink.

The heat did not deter the group from covering the main objectives in depth which were to:

  • Share best practice ideas, information and learn from other users
  • Inform users of recent and planned developments
  • Find out about users’ future plans and how the calculator can be developed to help meet these objectives

Clients share their stories

Homes for Haringey: Self-serve function supports the triaging of customers

Homes for Haringey use the Better Off Calculator to support their triage approach, ensuring the most at-risk customers are supported first. The self-serve functionality means they can manage their resources and target preventative support quicker to the most vulnerable customers. The Aster Group echoed this point and highlighted how the self-serve tool frees up their time to better target 1 to 1 support.

Utility client: Getting customers on the right tariff

One of our utility clients uses the Better Off Calculator to help switch struggling customers from standard tariffs to low-income tariffs as quickly as possible. The calculator is now used by all of their team who speak to customers on the phone about reduced tariffs. The response to the tool from frontline staff has been overwhelmingly positive. The client says this is because they see the direct impact it makes customers’ lives. This client also shared how it is empowering for their staff to learn about the benefits and help customers to maximise their income.

Merthyr Valley Homes: Illustrating the real costs of running a home for first-time buyers

Merthyr Valley Homes use the tool to run pre-tenancy affordability checks on everyone who is shortlisted for a property with them. Claire from Merthyr Valleys Homes said that it is “especially useful with first-time homeowners as they often don’t realise the costs involved with running a household”. Doing this maps out the real costs for tenants and allows Merthyr Valleys Homes to assign a risk to each applicant, ensuring that only suitable tenancies are arranged.

Aster: Using self-serve to save time on the frontline

The Aster Group said have recently delivered training across the frontline staff to increase the amount of self-serve among residents. They have put the self-serve function on their website to make it easier and quicker for customers to provide accurate calculations during the application process. Aster says the increase in self-serve gives their advisors more time to spend with more critical cases.

Affordability assessments identify when customers need support

For local authorities frontline staff use the calculator to do an affordability assessment to quickly assess whether customers should remain on social housing waiting lists or make a switch to private housing. This sets realistic goals, putting customers on the right track quicker, ultimately reducing unnecessary waiting times.

The use of affordability assessments for enforcement agencies was also highlighted as this functionality enables them to provide a consistent approach to assessing affordability helping them understand at which point people need support.

We really enjoyed hearing the feedback and learning about the varied ways that the Better Off Calculator is being used on the frontline to help our clients support their customers through a wide range of circumstances.

New developments we shared

1. Update: ‘Change your earnings’ feature flags up a potential move to Universal Credit

We’ve amended the slider feature that allows you to model changes to earnings so that now it more clearly shows whether the changes in hours could trigger a move to Universal Credit. If the case being modelled is displaying legacy benefits, the graph now shows the possible outcome for both legacy benefits and Universal Credit. The graph also supplies a note regarding the possible move to Universal Credit if hours change, which should help you advise people on the implications of taking up further work or of a change in earnings.

2. Update: Scotland and Northern Ireland welfare systems now included

The Better Off Calculator now fully models the welfare systems in Scotland and Northern Ireland. This allows advisors in these regions to give accurate advice on specific Scotland related benefit such as Carer’s Allowance Supplement, and Northern Ireland related benefits including rate relief, Rate Rebate (under Housing Benefit and Universal Credit) and Supplementary Welfare Payments.

The calculator also provides a calculation of the rate charge for each property and the likely Supplementary Welfare Payment, if this is not known. We have also updated the alerts in the ‘Information about your case’ section to include information that is specific to these regions.

3. Extending the reach of the calculator

We demonstrated recent changes to the calculator to assist advisors with more unusual circumstances. For example, we have introduced new functionality around hostel dwellers who were previously in prison or homeless, and we now assess childminders’ income from self-employment, preventing the need for a manual assessment before income is entered into the calculator.

Looking forward

Thanks to the feedback received at this session our development pipeline is now prioritised for the coming months. We will focus on enhancing the user selection of features, triage to Universal Credit support, introduce pre-tenancy capabilities as well as other important updates.

Following a practical discussion the group identified the following development priorities:

  • Production of financial information in the format of the Standard Financial Statement
  • Introduce specific additional Universal Credit award functionality. These will allow input of irregular earnings and provide the award that can be expected for the first, or next, Universal Credit payment. This will add to our current Universal Credit functionality which includes monthly assessments of eligibility and the facility to see awards for each of the following 12 months
  • Add links to information about Universal Credit regulations. This will provide ease of reference around regulations, guidance, case law and Judicial Reviews

Include costs of working into the “sliders” that allow users to easily see the impact of changing working hours. After such a useful meeting, we escaped the heat by adjourning to a local pub where our users joined us for a cooling drink, or two. We are very grateful for the time that our users put into the meeting. The user groups really help us to ensure we make the calculator meet the needs of users and, in turn, help them to assist their customers.

Next steps

  1. View the slides from the Better Off Calculator steering group here
  2. Register for our next steering group, taking place on Thursday 23 January 2020 at 15:00 to 17:30 at our Millbank Tower office in Westminster, here
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