‘When the coronavirus hit, we accelerated, because the citizens were struggling’ – how DWP revamped the budget lending department
The team working on the provision of a new digital service for the government budget lending department “was asked to speed up work” when the Covid-19 pandemic struck last year, according to product owner Sharron Wise.
Loans, issued by the Department of Work and Pensions, are available to citizens who have received certain benefits – income support, job search allowance, employment and support allowance and pension credit – for at least six months.
Offered as an interest-free loan repayable over a period of up to two years via automatic deductions from benefit payments, applicants could receive up to £ 812. This money is offered to cover short-term emergency expenses such as buying household gold, moving, or funeral expenses.
Despite the fact that the service is clearly intended to serve people with urgent needs – never more than last year – it previously took up to eight weeks to process requests.
Wise tells PublicTechnology that the recent overhaul, and the concomitant abandonment of an underlying legacy system, took place under the banner of a simple mission statement: “pay loans faster”.
PublicTechnology: What the Loan Budgeting department – and why is it important to those who use it?
Sharron Wise: Budgeted loans are interest-free loans that are repayable from the granting of benefits. They are designed to help people, who have received a qualifying benefit for at least six months, with intermittent expenses that are considered difficult to budget. For example: furniture or household items; clothing and footwear; rent in advance or moving expenses; home improvements, maintenance or security; travel expenses within the United Kingdom; help in finding or starting a job, including childcare costs; maternity or funeral expenses; and the repayment of hire purchase (HP) or other debts that have been incurred to pay any of the above.
Number of budget loan requests made each year
Average time required for users to receive a decision
Additional users that DWP hopes to enable through an update due in March 2021
The Loan Budgeting service supports some of DWP’s most vulnerable citizens in times of unforeseen financial need or when an unforeseen life event occurs. The intention of the policy is to help them avoid hardship and risky forms of borrowing. Loan budgeting is a priority service line, processing 1.4 million requests per year.
Here are some of the reasons our customers told us why they needed online service:
Most of us are in dire need of money when making these demands.
If everything was online, you would email to offer it, and I would go back online to accept it, it should be easier.
It would be better on the Internet; I would have had the information without having to call.
What was the catalyst for its redesign and where did the process start?
The catalyst for the service redesign was to dramatically improve the customer journey. When the coronavirus hit, we were asked to speed up work as citizens struggled even harder. They told us that it was more difficult to seek help from friends or family members as more and more people were struggling financially. People also cited the rules of social distancing and isolation, such as having to pay for a taxi or public transport when they had previously been offered a lift.
Using agile methodologies during the discovery period, the team identified the biggest issues. Citizens told us the process was taking too long and they couldn’t afford to wait
The coronavirus also had a significant impact on the team, as we moved to remote working from home. However, the team adapted quickly, adopting different working methods, to provide a solution as quickly as possible to meet users’ needs.
The intention of the policy is to help users avoid hardship and risky forms of borrowing; Loan budgeting is a priority service line
By adapting our user research plan, we continued to work with a wide range of key stakeholders, engaging in conversations and design work, to develop a prototype that we were able to test with users. This gave us crucial feedback to allow us to iterate and verify that we were meeting their needs.
Taking into account the requirements of security, fraud and technical constraints, we identified what our minimum viable product should look like so that we can begin to develop.
What role have colleagues played in the policy and the implementation in the process?
Throughout the project, the digital grants and loans team worked closely with a wide range of key stakeholders, including policy, legal, strategy, service design, digital automation and l telephony efficiency, intelligent automation garage and operations colleagues. Without the sharing of knowledge, cooperation, unwavering belief and support, it would not have been possible to rethink loan budgeting. As Product Manager I would like to say a huge thank you to all of our truly amazing colleagues for helping us transform the service.
What benefits did you hope to gain from the overhaul – and to what extent were they achieved?
Our problem statement was simple: pay off budgeted loans faster.
With the overhaul, we have transformed the service by drastically reducing the time it takes to receive the loan from six to eight weeks to five days using a completely agentless service. We have fully met all of the key performance metrics we established at the outset to measure the success of the service.
Customers have told us: “I am so impressed with how quickly this service is applied online; the service is excellent – I am totally blind and it is fully accessible on both my laptop and my iPhone; [and] I found this service flawless, extremely easy to use and took less than a minute from start to finish ”.
Time taken to process requests using the old system
“ Pay off loans faster ”
The simple problem statement behind the service redesign
Average time during which loans are now received by users
How difficult was it to move away from the legacy system?
Extremely difficult; however, the team had a very patient and talented Solutions Architect who had an amazing way of explaining even the most complicated architecture. He worked diligently with our colleagues at the Smart Automation Garage to design the best possible solution in the shortest time possible.
How did the DWP allow users to securely verify their identity?
We were able to securely verify the identity of the customer by comparing the data to existing systems. We have also obtained permission to use a one-time code to allow them to access the service.
When the coronavirus hit, we were asked to speed up work as citizens struggled even harder; they told us it was harder to ask friends or family for help as more and more people were struggling financially
How important was the GOV.UK Notify platform in achieving the service transformation?
The introduction of GOV UK Notify to issue update notifications, including a unique security code that the citizen used to access their digital loan offering, was critical to the success of the service. We are currently working with the Pensions Department to reuse our Notify component.
What is the next step for the loan budgeting service and how could it be improved or reiterated in the future?
The team is currently working on the 25% of customers who exit the digital process as a business or technical exception. This book, which is due out in March 2021, will allow us to put 250,000 more citizens on the digital journey.