Last month, Alan Rider, Roxanne Asadi, Katie Lee, Josephine Farr and I visited Dagenham One Stop Shop in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. We wanted to see first-hand how a local authority helps users to complete digital transactions and hear from staff and users about how the process works.
What Dagenham One Stop Shop does
Dagenham One Stop Shop is located in Dagenham Library and is one of two centres that Barking and Dagenham Council operate to help customers interact with the council digitally.
Customers can visit the One Stop Shop with queries on a range of council services - both digital and non-digital - from free school meals, to parking permits and making bill payments. A growing number of council services in Barking and Dagenham are being made available digitally through a system called ‘My Account’, an online portal which enables customers to access services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support applications
One service currently offered through ‘My Account’ is for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support applications. Barking and Dagenham has developed an end-to-end process for claimants to apply for these benefits digitally, which also allows them to have any assessment interviews at a single location.
Claimants who visit the One Stop Shop with a query about their Housing Benefit or Council Tax Support application are encouraged to complete the transaction digitally by themselves, either at home or from one of the self-service computer terminals available in the centre.
However, if a customer is unable to use the service digitally themselves, potentially because they lack digital skills or confidence, the centre offers a form of support it calls ‘mediated self-serve’. This is where a member of staff helps the user to complete the digital transaction and provides additional support if they get stuck.
Once the claimant has completed their transaction digitally, they get a printed receipt which confirms what documentation they need to support their application. At this point, a meeting with a benefits assessor is arranged, who goes over the application with the claimant, identifying and correcting any errors before submitting the application for payment.
Completing the first part of the transaction digitally provides a great service to claimants compared to using a paper-based process, while also helping them become more used to transacting online. The digital service provides the claimant with an estimate of how much Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support they may be entitled to, allowing them to plan in advance. The whole process now means that payments can normally be processed much more quickly than before and reduces any errors in applications, ensuring that claimants are paid what they’re entitled to.
The One Stop Shop can also notify central government departments, such as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), when claimants report any changes in their circumstances. This saves claimants time, as they don’t have to tell different bits of government about the same change multiple times, and reduces the probability of benefit overpayments or underpayments.
What we will take away from the visit
It was great to speak to staff and see them supporting customers to transact digitally with their local authority. The face-to-face support provided meets the needs of users and showcases the benefits of transacting with government online.
We are currently developing a cross-government procurement route for assisted digital, in conjunction with the Crown Commercial Service (CCS). Our visit really highlighted to us that any support that we develop needs to be available on a local level and be accessible to all.
A big thank you to Nick Lane and the team at Dagenham Library for arranging such an interesting and productive trip for us. We hope to find and share more great examples of how government already supports people who are offline or have low digital skills. We’ll continue to write about these on our blog.