OFA: Digital Self-Service at Surrey Anouska Howells-Cook, Business Support Manager at Surrey County Council, spoke to us about Surrey’s experience of implementing the OCC Online Financial Assessment tool (OFA).
Why did Surrey implement the OFA?
Prior to the OFA rollout, Surrey’s would offer in person visits, or telephone assessments. A shift towards digital self-service at the council began in 2017. The software really tied in with the council’s vision of transforming the customer journey by moving services online. The OFA gives customers the opportunity to decide how and when they want to provide financial information.
“It enables residents to see where they stand financially when seeking care”
As well as helping to advance the council’s digital strategy, the module has brought about several benefits at Surrey:
- Reducing backdated charges
Processing financial assessments swiftly means that the council has reduced the need to bill backdated charges.
- A decrease in travel costs
Dramatically cutting down the number of in-person visits has been of enormous benefit to the council.
“Travel costs at the council have hugely decreased, as the need for officers to conduct in-person visits has been reduced. Surrey County Council covers a vast area, and travelling to visit customers could take finance officers up to an hour. Team members would arrive for scheduled appointments to discover that either nobody was at home, or key information was not to hand. Implementing the tool has reduced the drain on resources this could potentially lead to. Continuing to use the software, even post-pandemic, is absolutely a real focus for Surrey.”
What has been the reaction been at Surrey?
Clear and timely information for service users
Financial assessments are sent to customers prior to services starting, and they are asked to complete the online form within five days. After the form is submitted, one of the team members at Surrey will request that evidence is provided too. The OFA gives a clear indication to customers as to how much they are likely to contribute. It provides a means of informing people about charging policies, capital thresholds and disregards before services begin. The team at Surrey aim to speak to the service user within 24 to 48 hours of the OFA being submitted, so that they can have timely conversations with customers about client contributions. This is to verify the information they’ve provided, make sure it is accurate, and confirm the charge. The OFA provides an invaluable step in the process.
Impact on council staff
The council team of approximately 50-60 staff members generally received around 500 referrals per month. Throughout the pandemic the council removed all visits and focused on the OFA. Approximately 70% were online, and 30% were telephone assessments. Service heads within the team have however not decreased due to the changes. The move online has simply freed up some of the team to shift their focus, and work on debt management instead. Staff buy-in levels at the council were high, despite the change in approach for the assessment team. Surrey has even worked with internal IT resources to create a robot that accepts the submitted
results into ContrOCC.
“Being able to redirect resources away from in-person visits has allowed Surrey to focus on giving benefit advice and getting the financial assessments right first time. Accurately assessing the charges has certainly sped up the decision for adult social care colleagues who need an answer quickly as to whether a customer should be a self-funder, full cost, or should pay a contribution. Internal coworking within the council has improved, as social care colleagues can receive information in a timelier way.”
How did Surrey promote the tool?
The council collaborated extensively with the voluntary sector, emphasising the benefits and potential for improvements to the customer journey. A soft launch took place in October 2017, where Surrey promoted the OFA to customers and highlighted the advantages of being able to complete the assessment at their convenience. Face-to-face visits and telephone assessments were still offered as a back-up during this time.
In 2018 the council ran a large-scale campaign to promote take up. This included:
- Visiting social care teams
- Attending team meetings in hospitals
- Putting posters up on public transport
- Radio adverts
- Social media posts and videos
The council appointed OFA champions to spread awareness of the campaign. The team distributed postcards detailing key information and outlining the benefits of the OFA. Next, the council analysed the entire customer journey, from the point that the assessment form was sent out. Some customers did not return the form, and some were unable to log in. Process improvements were introduced to iron out potential problems. The launch campaign and subsequent analysis of the customer journey has helped to make online assessments the default solution.
Reflections on using the OFA tool during the pandemic
Since the onset of the pandemic, the OFA has been presented as the first port of call for customers.
“It can be completed anywhere, on any device, including iPads, laptops, computers, and android systems.”
Uploading evidence within the tool is simple, or customers can email it to the council afterwards. For Surrey, client computer literacy levels have not proved an obstacle to launching the software. 70% of the residents have an advocate, such as a son or a daughter, and the OFA has been of huge benefit to them.