How Carmarthenshire County Council is using its online services to provide financial support to residents
Rising energy and food prices, coupled with economic uncertainty, have people understandably concerned about their finances during the cost-of-living crisis.
It can be hard to know where to go for support, which is why it is more important than ever for local authorities to create clear communications and contact processes that guide residents who need advice or feel like they might be entitled to support or reductions in council services.
At Carmarthenshire County Council, we launched our ‘Claim What’s Yours’ process in the autumn of 2021 which enabled our residents to access the financial help they need and may not know they are entitled to. The message behind this to our community was clear: we know how difficult it is when you need support but don’t know where to turn – we want you to know that we are here for you. Since the Claim What’s Yours process launched, we have helped 800 people access support that they may not have been aware they are entitled to, such as reductions in Council Tax, free childcare, and rent assistance.
Creating the right framework
The objective of the ‘Claim What’s Yours’ project was to provide support and advice to anyone who required it, ensuring that people get the right help at the right time.
In 2020, Carmarthenshire County Council went live with its redesigned and updated Self-Service Portal Hwb, which was built on the govService platform provided by Granicus. The solution provides citizens with better access to services.
The Hwb Advisers Team in Customer Services and ICT worked together to build an online process to create the ‘Claim What’s Yours’ service, which is backed by a dedicated team of Hwb Advisers who are fully up to speed on the range of financial benefits available.
The Hwb Advisers can help and understand that everyone’s situation is different. They are available to listen and help residents apply for the support, services, and money that they could be entitled to.
We continue to work together to revise the process to ensure that our Hwb advisers can adapt to the changing needs of our residents as new financial benefits become available. Currently, we have a team of 5 Hwb advisors based at our 3 main Hwbs within our 3 main towns – Ammanford, Carmarthen, and Llanelli.
Leveraging our expertise
The Hwb advisors, an established experience team providing and delivering service for numerous departments within the authority, are ideally positioned to identify people who require help. In addition, they have a wide knowledge of external organisations and the services to refer people to, along with numerous access points, making it easy and simple for people to get in touch.
Referrals to the Hwb advisors can be made in several ways. They can be picked up by front-line staff, other internal departments, or through partner organisations. Customers can also self-refer with a dedicated referral form designed for anyone to use. The wide range of options means we can offer this service to as many people as possible.
We have also developed a dedicated ‘Claim What’s Yours’ page on our website where we are continually adding new partners to the page as the project grows. Within each tab is a link that the customer can click on to follow up should they wish to do so, and the ‘Help from the Advisor’ link if they feel they want assistance. These tabs have also been grouped into categories for the customer to identify and once selected, the number of tabs is reduced to include only the relevant ones for them.
We’ve worked towards creating a transparent process for residents. Once the ‘Help from an Advisor’ referral form is completed, the case is raised and allocated to one of the 5 Hwb advisors.
The Hwb advisor will contact the customer for a detailed discussion, via the preferred method of choice selected by the customer. This can be over the phone, face-to-face, or by email.
The project team has also developed a detailed form via the Case Viewer function in our platform that guides the officer and captures all the information. This form then produces a detailed list of all the areas that the customer may need help with, providing a visible workflow.
The Hwb advisor will work their way through this list with the customer, taking ownership of any service that is delivered by the authority and making referrals to external partners. Each case is looked at on its own merit and there is no time limit to the case. Some people can be helped quickly and all they need is to be routed in the right direction, while others are more complex and have multiple needs, requiring more support and help.
Each case is supported and followed up on a regular basis until our assistance is no longer required; the case is then closed.
We want all our residents to feel like they have a place to go if they are facing financial concerns. To date, we have advised over 800 residents and supported them where we can.
As we move forward in 2023, we are looking to expand the ‘Claim What’s Yours’ project by increasing the number of Hwb advisors and expanding our areas of support.