Better benefits service saves Colchester Council £60,000 a year

Colchester Borough Council is saving £60,000 a year with its new risk based computer system for assessing new Housing and Council Tax Benefit claims.

The system has also slashed the average time taken to assess new claims by half – from about 30 to 15 days.

The decision to invest in the new system was made after the Council did a fundamental service review of its Revenues and Benefits service.

The review’s emphasis was on improving the customer experience, but the Benefits team also had to cut costs following a reduction in Administration Grant of £70,000 per year.


Working smarter

Lynne Hutton, Colchester Borough Council’s Benefits Manager, said: “Our officers were spending a huge amount of time making all new claimants go through the full verification process, yet our fraud baseline was only about five per cent. We had to find a way to make verification less cumbersome.”

The answer was a clever new software solution called Intercept RBV. Created by Coactiva, a UK-based company, it uses the latest risk-based analytics to identify the small number of claims likely to contain frauds or errors. This means the verification process for the vast majority of other claims can be dramatically streamlined.

Ray Fielding, Coactiva’s CEO, said: “Councils across the UK need to drive down costs, improve service levels to ratepayers and reduce fraud. By using advanced computer software, Colchester Borough Council is at the forefront of this cost cutting drive in the UK.”

With Intercept RBV, each new claim is given a score that determines the level of verification it requires. For most claimants, that means simply having to provide a National Insurance number and ID.

This then frees up the Benefit team to focus on the small number of claimants whose personal circumstances require a greater degree of verification.


Plug and play

Lynne Hutton said that implementing Intercept RBV was remarkably painless. “It took days, rather than weeks, and was almost a case of plug and play. All we really needed to do was set up a URL link to Coactiva."

“The hardest thing,” she said, “was the cultural change for the officers to get used to asking for less information than they were doing the week before we went live.”

The new system has proved equally easy for the team to use. Lynne Hutton said: “When we process a new claim, it takes about two seconds for Intercept RBV to respond with the level of verification required. And if the customer uses our online e-claim service, the right evidence document is automatically generated as they go through the process.”


Better fraud and error detection

Despite initial concerns that using Intercept RBV might reduce the team’s level of fraud and error detection, the opposite has been the case.

Louisa Giddings, the Benefit team’s Investigations Manager, explained: “Of those claims that require higher levels of verification, we’re now finding a 40% discrepancy between what the customer is claiming and what our verification process reveals. That has raised our overall detection rate baseline from 5% to 7%.”

Councillor Paul Smith Portfolio Holder for Business and Resources said: “Simultaneously speeding up the customer journey, reducing costs and detecting 40% more fraud would be remarkable at any time,” he said. “But we’ve done it when our caseload is rising steeply.

“As the second biggest borough in England,” Councillor Smith continued, “we’re now processing 15,000 new claims a year, compared with 11,000 in 2008. At times like this we have to work smarter, not just harder.”