Online self-service financial assessment for social care

This project was designed to speed up and support individuals to complete financial assessments for social care and reduce failed care packages. Follow-on funding was provided for the development of explanatory videos to be included in the online forms.


Financial assessment form help - screen shot
Financial assessment form help - screen shot

Lincolnshire County Council received Social Care Digital Innovation Programme (SCDIP) funding in 2018 to build two digital platforms. BetterOff is a benefits checker service that enables people to understand what social care benefits they are eligible for and how to apply. BetterCare was designed to support people to complete adult social care financial assessments online. After the BetterCare pilot was built in this first round of funding, the team spent time updating the costing calculations within the tool. These revisions were completed, and the tool was ready to be rolled-out to the public at the time of writing this case study.

The challenge

In Lincolnshire, the extensive time taken to complete an adult social care financial assessment can mean that care is often in place for months before the recipient is aware of how much they will need to contribute to the cost. This can lead to dropout once the cost is known, with up to 19 per cent of cases not being progressed when the individual learns the outcome of the financial assessment. The previous arrangements for financial assessment gave little control or visibility of the process to the individual and there were often complaints and queries about delays. Often people would only partially complete the necessary information and a lot of time was spent following up with individuals to allow their assessments to be completed and processed. Lincolnshire County Council decided to explore alternative options for carrying out a financial assessment to address these issues.

Key aims and achievements

  • Reduce the number of failed care packages due to the length of time the process was taking.
  • Videos make the form more user-friendly and easier to complete.
  • The council should spend less time following-up with individuals about their information, freeing up staff time.

Follow-on funding

Follow-on funding was provided for this project to build on the work done to develop BetterCare and to share the learning and product with other councils. The funding was granted to enable the team to produce a series of video animations to assist the user in completing the online financial assessment. The intention was that these informative videos would improve the quality of responses and the form completion rates.

Activities

The project team had considered producing written explanations and instructions for the online form, but decided that these could become extremely lengthy and therefore unhelpful or confusing for users.

The team worked with development partners Looking Local to create the animated videos, basing their focus and content on first-hand experience gained during the pilot launch of the BetterOff service in Lincolnshire, which included supporting video content. They designed approximately 20 different animations, which are placed throughout the online form. These videos focus on sections of the form that were perceived as particularly difficult to complete, as well as explaining why certain information is being requested from the individual.

Part of the focus of the follow-on funding was on sharing the product and best practice with other councils. The team conducted webinars with interested local authorities, allowing them to see Lincolnshire’s implementation of the product, hear about the business case, and learn about the benefits of the new approach to financial assessments for care.

Benefits

The move to digital financial assessments was intended to provide clarity about exactly what information is needed, speed up the process of completing the form and being assessed, and reduce the number of failed care packages due to the length of time the process was taking.

The addition of video animations to the online BetterCare form was intended to ensure that information is input correctly by the individuals completing the assessments. The online form is also designed to flag when information is missing entirely. Incorrect and missing information were significant issues when the forms were paper-based and often meant that council staff had to spend time following-up with people to confirm details. The videos make the form more user-friendly and easier to complete, explaining what information is needed and how to input it.

These new digital features benefit the council and those completing the financial assessments by reducing errors and therefore speeding up the financial assessment process considerably. As a result of these developments, the council would have to spend less time following-up with individuals about their information, thereby freeing up staff time.

The BetterCare system is going to allow people to get their assessments done quicker. It’s going to help people have a better understanding of their own circumstances and how it relates to their care and support.

Lincolnshire County Council’s Adult Care Lead Practitioner

Measuring success

The project team noted that it was difficult to truly measure success at this point as the service was not yet live. However, they did note several different methods for measuring impact going forward.

The team will be able to monitor the number of forms being processed and waiting times for financial assessment to be completed. The number of failed care packages at the end of the financial assessment can also be measured and will hopefully decrease as a result of this project.

They will also be able to measure the ability of the council to process financial assessments on first receipt, thereby measuring the success of the tool in reducing the need to follow-up with individuals regarding missing or incorrect information. This time saving is expected to manifest in allowing staff to be redeployed into different areas. The council’s strategic partner Serco have identified a number of potential ‘gateways’ for this re-engagement and this is something that can be measured. Serco can also measure the cost of processing financial assessments.

The team is also considering measurement of the customer experience to analyse whether the new online service and the additional explanatory videos are viewed positively by its users.

Challenges and lessons learned

  • Stakeholder buy-in: The project team noted the importance of getting the buy-in of the Serco finance teams, their strategic partners for the project. They had to invest time at the start of the project to ensure that Serco understood the benefits of digitising the financial assessment form and assure them that this would be a useful system to have in place going forward.
  • Technology foundations in place: It was noted that the council did not initially have the IT systems in place to facilitate the automation that they were implementing. The project team suggested that a key lesson learned was ensuring that the appropriate foundations for a project are in place before commencing development.
Impact of Covid-19
 
  • The team were aware of other adjustments being made for social workers as a result of the pandemic. They were therefore reluctant to roll out a new product when social care staff were dealing with lots of change and challenges already. The team also saw people involved in delivery of the product being redeployed for the pandemic response.

Future potential

When developing the instructional videos for the online form, Looking Local were eager to ensure that these were standardised and not specific to Lincolnshire. The information included in these videos was therefore designed to be relevant and transferrable for any other local authority that might want to utilise the product in future.

The product was shared with other councils at learning events and was very positively received. The team had one council approach them directly to ask for further information. Looking Local rolled the product out to several other councils and the team have seen some authorities working on their own versions.

Within Lincolnshire the digitisation of this service encouraged consideration of other potential areas for development. As a result of this project, the council was considering creating a digital social care self-assessment form with Looking Local in a similar way, including animation videos.

Find out more

Theo Jarratt: theo.jarratt@lincolnshire.gov.uk

Michael Ward: michael.ward@lincolnshire.gov.uk

Related links

Discovery phase review (PDF)

Implementation phase progress report (PDF)