Networking is a key part of our Benefit and Budgeting Calculator steering group

Networking is a key feature of our Benefit and Budgeting Calculator steering groups

We held our latest Benefit and Budgeting Calculator steering group in January and welcomed many of our local authority, housing association and independent organisations clients from across the country to our office in Westminster and via weblink. In this blog post we summarise what was discussed and give an insight into the conversations held. Read what happened at the previous steering group here.

Objectives of the Benefit and Budgeting Calculator steering group

  1. Share best practices of using a benefit calculator to give effective support to people
  2. Update users with details of recent features and functionality upgrades, and discuss planned developments
  3. Listen to how the calculator can be developed to help users meet their objectives

First up, we heard from two clients who told the group how the calculator helps them to achieve their organisation’s objectives. We then moved on to discuss the changes made to the calculator since the group last met, and the developments planned for the future,

Cheltenham Borough Homes uses the Benefit and Budgeting Calculator to help boost income and tackle illegal money lending

Grant Bailey, the Benefit and Money Advice Team Leader at Cheltenham Homes, gave a presentation on the use of the calculator by his team. Cheltenham Borough Homes (CBH) is successfully campaigning to raise awareness of the dangers involved in illegal money lending via its ‘Cheltenham Says No’ campaign.

Grant’s team uses the Benefit and Budgeting Calculator from Policy in Practice to help customers identify money they may not be claiming, in order to boost their income. They also look at outgoings and try to see where any savings might be possible.

Using the Benefit and Budgeting Calculator the team can often spot where someone is paying more than expected to service a debt. They are trained to have brave conversations with customers and the software helps; using the compare scenarios functionality built into the software, shown below, the advisor can show a customer, using simple graphics, how their household’s finances would differ if they didn’t have to pay back a debt they suspect is from an illegal money lender. This supportive conversation can encourage a customer to report a loan shark to the National Illegal Money Lending Service who can write off the illegal debt.

Grant said, “What you’re trying to show, initially, is that if they got help to get this situation addressed, then they’d have more money in their pocket. We’re aware that some people are intimidated so they won’t release information but we hope that they will try to get help themselves.”

As well as the advisors who use the calculator in face to face conversations, customers can make a calculation themselves. On average, just under 400 calculations are completed each month.

Our calculator gives The Guinness Partnership internal alignment and holistic support for tenants

Nadine Burns, the Customer Support Team Manager for the Guinness Partnership shared how the calculator is used as part of the holistic support offered by Guinness to their tenants.

The Guinness Partnership uses the Benefit and Budgeting Calculator as a multi-functional tool, across multiple teams including; Lettings, Customer Support, and Customer Accounts. The calculator has helped the teams to provide joined up customer support which results in maximisation of tenant’s income (they have claimed back over £200,000 from the DWP for unclaimed Severe Disability Premium) and therefore less risk to tenancies and rental income. At the heart of their success was the ability for all teams to agree to wholeheartedly using the calculator, driving a cultural shift across multiple departments.

New features and functionality introduced

Some significant enhancements have been introduced to the calculator since our last user group in July 2019 and this was an opportunity to reflect on these changes.

1. The style and functionality of the tooltips have changed

Accurate, helpful advice is provided within the calculator via the tooltips functionality. The tooltips are designed to guide advisors and provide relevant policy background; it was interesting to hear from the group how the tooltips also act as a very useful on the job training aid for newer advice staff. The information contained within the tooltips is a combination of knowledge from our policy experts and recommendations from users, as well as organisations such as the DWP and Citizens Advice.

Previously accessed by selecting an information button, the tooltips have undergone a major enhancement and now automatically appear when the user hovers over a question. The group was very positive about this change and commented on how the improved accessibility helps an advisor to complete an assessment quickly and accurately, whilst also giving them better access to the relevant policy background.

2. Comprehensive coverage for 16-18 year olds

At the steering group we presented the new functionality to help people aged 16 – 18. This is a complex area in benefits as responsibility for supporting people aged 18 and under may lie with DWP or Social Services. The calculator now asks questions to determine eligibility for independent support and also provides guidance as to which agency is likely to provide this support.

New questions to determine eligibility for support for people aged 16-18 are now live in the calculator

3. Speed enhancements deliver faster calculation results

Daniel Whitston, our Chief Technology Officer, presented the huge range of changes that had been going on behind the scenes and that may not be automatically visible to users. These include a number of security enhancements and major developments that have resulted in a significant increase in speed. The calculator is now over a minute faster when undertaking a standard assessment. This had been noticed by users and they were really pleased with the increased speed, particularly given how this helps with face-to-face customer support and production of assessment printouts.

Looking forward

We presented our ideas for forthcoming changes which were discussed and enhanced by the Benefit and Budgeting Calculator steering group. This process is really important for us in ensuring that the calculator meets the forthcoming requirements of users.

The group identified the following developments as priorities:

  1. Increased functionality of the Universal Credit Calendar, including outgoing debts and bills and highlighting the best time to apply for Universal Credit. This will be required for managed migration to ensure that customers maximise ongoing income
  2. Improved search functionality. The group discussed methods of finding the right version of saved cases including the display of free text “tags” on cases that have multiple variations
  3. Enhanced management information and reports. Including the display of outputs in an excel format to allow users to simply identify and target customers that would benefit from assistance or notification of change.

Changes identified by the user group have now been added to our internal plans for the next three months. These include expected changes in April 2020, including updates to all local council tax schemes, increased functionality of the Discretionary Housing Payment module, inclusion of costs of work to the change in employment modelling tool, and the ability to view a breakdown of the next month’s UniversalCredit in addition to average Universal Credit payments.

As usual, we found the discussions with our users extremely helpful. It assisted us to prioritise forthcoming change, to understand how the calculator is being used to assist low-income households, and to understand further how it assists with the sustainability of tenancies. After such a good meeting we braced the cold winter evening and the meeting carried on over a few drinks at a local pub.

Next steps

  1. View the slides from the steering group here
  2. The next Benefit and Budgeting Calculator steering group will be held on Thursday 18 June. If you are already a calculator client please reserve your place here.
  3. If you are not yet a calculator client and would like to know more about how the tool helps councils, housing associations and other support organisations to grow the financial resilience of the people they help please email hello@policyinpractice.co.uk.
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