19 July 2012
After a four-year journey, the search for an answer to a simple question has led to new legislation being introduced in the Welfare Reform Act with significant financial benefits for councils, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and, critically, some of the most vulnerable in society.
The question asked at Sefton Council was: "Why can't we use DWP benefits information to inform social care assessments?"
The main barrier was that existing legislation prevented councils from using DWP data, resulting in councils having to separately capture the same information through home visits – which was both a nuisance for the customer and added unnecessary costs for councils.
When the Welfare Reform Act was passed earlier this year it included a number of clauses that now allow councils to access DWP information for use in social services.
At present Stockport and Rochdale Councils and the DWP's Pension Centre in Warrington are trialling a means of providing this information to councils. Indications so far are that this new process has saved money as well as helped speed up the process for these customers. Based on this success, DWP has agreed to test the feasibility of using this model to share data for financial assessments nationally.
The team at the public sector partnership iNetwork, based in Tameside Council, picked up this challenge and worked with Sefton, Tameside, Lancashire County, Rochdale, and Stockport Councils alongside the National Association of Financial Assessment Officers to find an answer.
Phil Swan, iNetwork's Director said: "Early support from within the DWP was absolutely critical and without this the initiative wouldn't have succeed.
"We were fortunate that funding was available from the North West Improvement and Efficiency Partnership and the LGA so we could develop a strong business case demonstrating the benefits for vulnerable people, potential savings of £50 million to £70 million for local government and significant benefits for the DWP itself.
"When Sir Leigh Lewis, the DWP Permanent Secretary, gave his support in 2010 things really began to motor."
Cllr Jim Fitzpatrick, Tameside Council's Executive Member for Finance, said: "This initiative has demonstrated the value that councils can bring to the public sector efficiency debate through their in-depth understanding of the needs of some of the most vulnerable people in our communities, and also their quest to stop the inefficient practice of having to collect the same information as that already held by the DWP."
DWP is currently considering the set up of back office processes in preparation for a staged roll-out and will soon begin work on a roll-out plan so that councils will have a target date for getting access to the data.
Innovative work by councils in the North West on sharing government data could save the sector millions of pounds as well as help vulnerable people
iNetwork, see link below, is a growing public sector partnership based in Tameside Council with over 150 organisations in membership across the North of England, which is increasingly operating nationally. It champions good ideas, shares good practice and ideas, enables effective procurement, engages Government on behalf of members and provides lean service improvement training.
The North West Improvement and Efficiency Partnership, hosted by Wigan Council, closed in March 2012. Between 2009 and 2012 it supported a wide range of initiatives enabling change.
29 August 2012