Inter-Departmental Report On The Development Of An Integrated Social Services System


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Published: August 1996

This report is available for Purchase.

CONTENTS

1. Introduction

2. Conclusions and Recommendations

3. Background

4. Integrated Social Services System (ISSS)

5. Underlying Principles

6. Public Service Identifier - RSI Number

7. Computerisation of the General Register Office (GRO)

8. Social Services Cards

9. Means Assessment

10. Disabled Persons Maintenance Allowance (DPMA)

11. Supplementary Welfare Allowance (SWA)

12. Payment Methods

13. Delivery of an Integrated One-Stop-Shop Customer Service

14. Costs and Benefits

15. Implementation

LIST OF APPENDICES

1. Terms of Reference and Members of the Committee

2. Integration Short Term Schemes (ISTS) System

3. Information Technology Developments in a Social Welfare Context

4. RSI Registration System

5. Inventory: Transfer of Data/Use of RSI No.

6. Data Protection Issues

7. Analysis of the Questionnaire on Means Tested Schemes
Annex A - Schemes
Annex B - Eligibility Criteria
Annex C - Client Identification Table

8. List of Sources on Means Recording System

9. DPMA: Numbers and Expenditure

10. Expenditure on SWA

11. Current Payment Methods

12. Recipients by Scheme and Method of Payment

13. Household Budgeting

14. Sub-group report on the Development of a One-Stop-Shop
Appendix A - Integrated Social Services System Members of a "one-stop-shop" Sub-Group
Appendix B - Issues
Appendix C - Entitlement by Customer Group

15. Integrated Information, Advice and Referral Service -Tallaght and Ballymun

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Chapter 1 - Introduction

1.1

The lack of integration between the various social services of an income related nature administered by Government Departments and State agencies has been a matter of concern for some time.

1.2

On 21 December 1993 the Government approved, in principle, the development of an Integrated Social Services System (ISSS) which would provide a more integrated approach to the administration, delivery, management and control of statutory income support services.

1.3

An Inter-Departmental Committee was set up, chaired by the Director General, Social Welfare Services, Department of Social Welfare and included representatives from the Departments of Social Welfare, Finance, Health, Enterprise and Employment, Education, Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Environment, Agriculture and Food, Revenue Commissioners and representatives from Local Authorities, FÁS, the Tax and Social Welfare Committee, the Health Boards and the Legal Aid Board. The terms of reference and members of the committee are given in Appendix 1.

1.4

The Committee's work was undertaken against a background of:

  • concern expressed by the Minister for Social Welfare that the interaction of the various state support services was not sufficiently transparent, nor fully understood by many people;
  • the increasing emphasis on improving customer service and the need to include all Government Departments and State Agencies in the integration of the delivery of income support services;
  • comments by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on the lack of deliberate and planned interaction in the provision of social services;
  • the initiative on strategic management launched by the Taoiseach which focused on developing the public service with particular regard to value for money and customer service issues.
1.5

The Committee decided to set up a number of groups to examine and report on various aspects of the development of an ISSS e.g. the development of a 'one-stop-shop' and the transfer of the Disabled Persons Maintenance Allowance (DPMA) to the Department of Social Welfare (DSW).

1.6

The National Social Services Board (NSSB) gave a presentation to the Committee on the issues and difficulties encountered by customers in their dealings with social service providers.

1.7

Submissions to the National Economic and Social Forum (NESF) and the NESF Report No 6 - Quality Delivery of Social Services, were also of assistance to the Committee.

1.8

In considering funding mechanisms, the Committee agreed that the cost of implementing the proposals and recommendations contained in the report should be borne by the relevant organisations responsible for their development.

Chapter 2 - Conclusions and Recommendations

This Chapter brings together all of the conclusions and recommendations contained in the report.

2.1 General
  1. The general principles underpinning the development of an Integrated Social Services System are:
  • Improved customer service;
  • Maximise the use of resources;
  • Better integration of services;
  • Simplify systems and procedures;
  • Build on core competencies;
  • Capture data once and early;
  • Greater focus on staff as a resource. ( paras 5.1 - 5.29)
  1. In considering funding mechanisms, the Committee agreed that the cost of implementing the proposals and recommendations contained in the report should be borne by the relevant organisations responsible for their development. (paras 4.14 - 4.19/ 14.1 - 14.4)

The following are the specific conclusions and recommendations of the Committee.

2.2 Public Service Identifier - RSI Number

In view of the various benefits associated with having a unique public service identifier the Committee recommends that:

  1. The RSI number should be the standard identifier for the sharing and transfer of personal information between public service agencies. ( paras 6.6 - 6.7)
  2. The allocation of an RSI number should be triggered by the registration of birth on the General Register Office computer system. ( para 6.5)
  3. In exchanging information, security arrangements should be reviewed and strengthened to ensure that the confidentiality of client data is fully preserved. ( para 6.13)
  4. Legislative changes should be enacted to allow for the RSI number to be adopted as a unique public service identifier. ( paras 6.28 - 6.33)
  5. 'Specified purpose', as defined in the Data Protection Act, should be revised to encompass public service bodies. ( paras 6.28 - 6.33)
2.3 General Register Office (GRO)

Many tangible benefits would accrue from the computerisation of GRO data. The Committee recommends that:

  1. The computerisation of the registration of births, marriages and deaths should be accelerated as a matter of priority. (paras 7.1/ 7.7 - 7.9)
  2. The re-organisation and implementation of new registration procedures should proceed in tandem with computerisation. ( paras 7.10 - 7.11)
  3. The necessary legislative provisions should be enacted to facilitate the computerisation of the GRO records and also to enable appropriate access by State bodies to registration data. ( paras 7.12 - 7.13)
2.4 Social Service Card

With the advances in technology generally and the acceptance and use of card technology the Committee recommends that:

  1. The use of the Social Services Card should be expanded across the public service to -
  • support customer identification;
  • speed up access to social services;
  • support new electronic payment options;
  • provide secure access to personal information. ( paras 8.5 - 8.11)
  1. Consideration should be given to including a photograph of the customer on the social service card to facilitate identification. ( para 8.14)
  2. The public service should be actively involved with the private sector in the setting of national standards for smart card technology. ( paras 8.15 - 8.19)
2.5 Means Assessment

In view of the number of separate means tests and the need to make the assessment of means easier to understand, the Committee recommends that:

  1. Customers should be formally advised of the sources and value used in assessing means. ( para 9.5)
  2. All State Agencies involved in means testing should endeavour to simplify the assessment of means, subject to the constraints imposed by the differing objectives/principles of schemes, the differing needs of different client groups, and Exchequer costs. ( paras 9.14 - 9.20)
  3. There should be a central means database for the recording of details of all means tests, with all agencies having access to it. ( paras 9.21 - 9.28)
  4. Customers should only have to undergo one means assessment if a number of claims are made around the same time. Means assessments should have a 'best before date'; this would not preclude a change in means before that date, if changes in circumstances come to light. ( para 9.25)
  5. Changes in means identified by one agency should trigger a review of entitlements by all other agencies where the customer has a claim. ( para 9.27)
  6. With the creation of a central means database there is no compelling reason to set up a central means assessment agency. This matter should, however, be kept under review. ( paras 9.29 - 9.34)
  7. Review and control procedures must be developed and implemented for all means tested schemes. ( para 9.35)
2.6 Supplementary Welfare Allowance (SWA)

The Committee recommends that:

  1. The SWA scheme should provide a residual and support role within the overall income maintenance structure. ( para 11.5)
  2. A review of the respective roles/overlaps between DPMA, UA and SWA payments currently paid to people who are sick, but have no entitlement to benefit, should be undertaken. ( paras 11.28 - 11.29)
  3. DSW should operate an interim payment system with appropriate accounting mechanisms. ( paras 11.30 - 11.31)
  4. A formal independent appeals system should be provided. ( paras 11.32 - 11.33)
  5. Review and control procedures should be similar to all other DSW schemes. ( paras 11.34 - 11.37)
  6. SWA should be computerised as part of the ISTS system to provide improved control and management information. ( paras 11.38 - 11.41)
  7. A standard national application form should be introduced. ( para 11.42)
  8. Consideration should be given to the transfer of the SWA scheme to the Department of Social Welfare. ( para 11.43)
2.7 Payment Methods

The Committee recommends that:

  1. Customers should be offered the widest choice of modern payment methods together with a household budgeting facility to assist them manage their income on a weekly basis. (paras 12.1 - 12.2/ 12.17 - 12.21)
  2. Consideration should be given to creating a service wide payment platform. (paras 12.8 - 12.10/ 12.14 - 12.16)
  3. Consideration should be given to a joint approach to negotiation with the various payment agencies. ( para 12.11)
  4. Electronic payment media to be used where possible. ( para 12.12)
2.8 One-Stop-Shop

There is a need for greater integration of services provided by income support agencies to customers. The Committee recommends that:

  1. Where possible a single local contact point for customers should be provided which would be the gateway to the full range of social services. (paras 13.1 - 13.2/ 13.10 - 13.22)
  2. A 'customer first' approach should be adopted. ( paras 13.5 - 13.9)
  3. New customer service initiatives should be co-ordinated to ensure that there are no overlaps or duplication. ( para 13.3)
  4. An electronic information system should be developed to support the dissemination of information. ( paras 13.11 - 13.12)
  5. To ensure the successful operation of an integrated one-stop-shop the training of staff will be vital. ( para 13.23)
  6. Assessing customer satisfaction will be key to delivering a quality service. ( para 13.24)
  7. The initiatives underway in Tallaght and Ballymun should be extended, where possible, to other locations. ( paras 13.25 - 13.30)

Chapter 3 - Background

3.1

Over the last number of years more and more individuals, as well as state and voluntary organisations, have been highlighting the administrative deficiencies which exist in the provision of income support and other services to the public.

3.2

There are strong indications from customer surveys and other sources, that individuals are experiencing difficulties and confusion when trying to find their way around the maze of schemes and services, which have been designed to meet their varying needs, and as a result they may not be receiving all that they are entitled to receive.

3.3

A particular problem which is frequently mentioned is the lack of integration within and between the various Government Departments and State Agencies which administer social services of an income related nature e.g. Departments of Social Welfare/Education, Health Boards and Local Authorities.

3.4

The Public Service has to ensure that customers are able to navigate their way through the services which are available to them and that those services are accessible at a convenient location(s). Otherwise, individuals will not be able to exercise their right to those services.

3.5

Government, too, is seeking improvements - in administrative efficiency and effectiveness, in creating the capacity and the flexibility to respond to changing needs and circumstances, delivering a quality customer service, containing fraud and promoting services that are appropriate, timely, accessible and equitable.

3.6

Different organisations use different customer identifiers, which makes it difficult for individuals and organisations to enquire on claims or transfer data across schemes.

3.7

A framework must therefore be developed which will use and share the strengths of social service organisations to address the perceived administrative deficiencies - the focus being on purpose, process, and people.

Chapter 4 - Integrated Social Services System (ISSS)

Why ISSS

4.1

The provision of social services has, in general, two fundamental features viz:

  • adjudication of entitlements, to a pension, medical card, etc., based on statutory or other agreed criteria;
  • cash payments or payment in kind, order books, electronic fund transfer systems, free travel passes, medical cards, agriculture grants, education grants.
4.2

Yet, the processing of various social service supports, designed to meet the need of customers, are carried out independently, both within and between Departments and Agencies. This is neither a recipe for good service delivery, management and use of resources, nor programme control.

4.3

An example of the lack of integration between services can be illustrated by examining what a person, who is unemployed and claiming unemployment assistance, must do if they are aware of all available services:

  • make an application to DSW for unemployment assistance and undergo a (DSW) means test;
  • apply to the local Health Board for a medical card and undergo a (Health Board) means test;
  • apply to the relevant Local Authority office to have his/her differential rent adjusted, or apply to the relevant Health Board Centre for Rent Allowance or Mortgage Supplement, and undergo a (Local Authority) or (Health Board) means test. In many instances a person may not be aware of all available services.
4.4

It is likely that all three offices will be in different locations and s/he will have to repeat the same story at each location as well as at each means investigation. The criteria for deciding a persons means can vary from scheme to scheme and this is a source of frustration for an individual when trying to understand why s/he is qualified for one scheme, but not another.

What is ISSS

4.5

ISSS is a framework for the development of an integrated approach to the:

  • administration,
  • delivery,
  • management, and
  • control,

of income support services.

ISSS Objective

4.6

The basic objective of ISSS is to introduce greater coherence into the provision of the various social services by making them:

  • more co-ordinated;
  • simpler to understand;
  • more efficient;
  • easier to manage;
  • more accessible and user friendly;
  • more amenable to re-targeting/re-focusing.
4.7

Such an approach would improve service to customers and efficiency within the service delivery systems, while contributing to greater programme control and review of schemes and services to customers.

4.8

The ISSS would enable the interactions of various schemes to be more easily assessed, and the development of options to redress any imbalances identified. It would permit greater flexibility and responsiveness in the overall package of assistance to needy persons/families.

Main Platforms

4.9

The following measures are the main platforms for the development and delivery of an ISSS:

  • introduction of a unique identifier across Departments and Agencies involved in the provision of social services;
  • development of integrated systems e.g. information, means, processing, payments, to provide a flexible framework for future business development. Appendix 2 gives a description of an Integrated Short Term Scheme (ISTS) system to support the administration of unemployment, sickness and supplementary welfare allowance claims;
  • development of an integrated 'one-stop-shop' customer service;
  • the creation of a central means database;
  • co-ordinated expansion of payment methods and household budgeting facilities;
  • computerisation of the General Register Office (GRO);
  • issue of plastic cards for security and payment automation.

ISSS - Technology

4.10

Information Technology (IT) is not simply a utility like power or telephones but a resource to redefine business scope through redesigned business processes and restructured business networks. It is a fundamental enabler in creating and maintaining a flexible business network.

4.11

In an ISSS context, IT tools will enable and indeed, may force us to see our business differently. The key is to leverage IT - hardware, software, tools, communications and their interfaces, to deliver an economic, efficient and effective service.

4.12

IT will make it feasible to implement co-operation on the required scale among the participating organisations. The main aspects of IT which are central to this are:

  • Telecommunications;
  • New developments, such as the Internet and Smart Cards;
  • Electronic Data Interchange (EDI).
4.13

An overview of each of these developments and their potential for the delivery of an integrated social service is given in Appendix 3.

Costs and Benefits

4.14

The development and implementation of an ISSS can only be achieved over a period of time and as resources permit. In considering appropriate funding mechanisms the Committee was of the view that the cost of developing and implementing the various proposals and recommendations should be borne by the relevant organisation responsible for their development. In this way ISSS proposals, including the costs and benefits, would be co-ordinated and linked with other developments within each individual organisation. It is vital, from an ISSS perspective, that these and future initiatives are developed in a co- ordinated manner if we are to maximise the potential benefits.

4.15

A number of the proposed initiatives are already in the process of being developed in stand alone mode by the relevant organisations. It was decided not to cost those projects which have started as the required funds have already been allocated. It is not possible to develop detailed costings for the remaining projects at this stage. This will only be possible as the various initiatives are planned at a detailed level. The figures, where given, are therefore tentative.

4.16

The infrastructural investment in staff training, telecommunications, VDUs, storage and processing is significant. However, against this must be measured the current inherent administrative cost inefficiencies.

4.17

ISSS provides an opportunity to minimise the costs of developments, by sharing resources, expertise etc. and avoiding duplication of effort, while realising all the benefits. In addition, it provides the opportunity to realise significant efficiencies across a whole range of organisations involved in the evaluation, authorisation and payment of government subsidies - e.g. Health Boards, Local Authorities, Grant Bodies, Agricultural and other agencies and Government Departments.

4.18

Some benefits are more difficult to quantify - better quality data, timeliness of data, secure identities. In addition, there will be benefits to people as means tests which will have a 'best before date' can be re-used by other agencies thus cutting out much of the red tape inherent in the current system. The 'best before date' would not, of course, reduce the need to confirm that the current assessment is still valid, or preclude a change in the means before that date, if changes in circumstances came to light.

4.19

Finally, there are benefits to be achieved in identifying the impact of the full range of state benefits which arise as a result of a persons particular circumstances. The development of an integrated approach, which will allow for a better overall view of how State benefits interact in particular cases will form a valuable input to policy development.

The Challenge

4.20

ISSS proposes a framework to reorganise the delivery of income support services with the help of information technology. The 'human face' of service delivery must also be enhanced to the benefit of both customers and staff.

4.21

The challenge is to view State services as a common enterprise and to create the climate to enable this to become a reality.

Chapter 5 - Underlying Principles

5.1

The general principles and criteria which underpin the development of an ISSS, the issues addressed, and proposals made, are:

  • Improved customer approach;
  • Maximise use of resources;
  • Better integration of services;
  • Simplify systems and procedures;
  • Build on core competencies;
  • Capture data once and early;
  • Greater focus on staff as a resource. All of these principles are interlinked.

Improved Customer Approach

5.2

With the advent of legislation aimed at promoting the rights of the consumer in the last decade, customer expectations have altered to a significant degree in all their dealings with both the public and private sector. This is particularly true when they come into contact with the multiplicity of public service agencies involved in the provision of income support services. Customers are better informed than heretofore, are becoming much more aware of their rights and expect to be dealt with in a prompt, efficient and courteous manner. They do not want to be perceived as coming 'cap in hand' when they are claiming what they are rightfully entitled to claim.

5.3

A new improved customer approach must:

  • put the 'customer first' - the customer becomes the focus;
  • put the emphasis on meeting the customers needs;
  • organise the delivery of the service from the customers perspective rather than the organisation(s);
  • consult customers;
  • provide the customer with a means of redress;
  • be capable of measuring the performance of each organisation in the area of service delivery.
5.4

The aim should be to inform and advise the public on their entitlements with a view to ensuring that they receive those entitlements on time, with the minimum of fuss and inconvenience, whilst also ensuring adequate controls are in place to safeguard public money.

5.5

Services should be planned, managed and delivered to meet customers needs effectively, efficiently, courteously and with the minimum of intrusion into their private lives. They should be simple, streamlined and as accessible as possible. All of this cannot be achieved unless the customer becomes the focus of each individual organisation and their views are sought and acted upon.

Maximise use of Resources

5.6

All of the agencies involved in the provision of income support services have staff, accommodation and computer systems available to assist them in the delivery of services. Almost all of the money needed to provide these resources comes from the public purse and the total expenditure runs into millions of pounds per year. Because of a lack of integration between the agencies involved there is duplication of effort involved in administering the schemes e.g. each agency carries out its own means test. Duplication of effort also means duplication of cost. The practice has also been that each agency very often has its own office in the same town or district.

5.7

An underlying principle of ISSS is that organisations should, where possible, share:

  • data;
  • accommodation;
  • computer systems;
  • staff resources;
  • training facilities.
5.8

To achieve this will require a new climate, new ideas, innovation, flexibility, and change.

Better Integration of Services

5.9

There is no statutory body that a member of the public can go to in order to find out the full range of entitlements they may be entitled to in a given situation e.g. a lone parent may be entitled to lone parents allowance from DSW, medical card from the local Health Board, accommodation from the Local Authority and rent allowance from a different section of the Health Board.

5.10

A member of the public may not get information about other entitlements unless s/he asks the right question. Every effort must therefore be made to provide an integrated service to the public.

5.11

The National Social Services Board (NSSB) provides information to the public across the broad range of social services at offices, including Citizens Information Centres, throughout the country. At a minimum other statutory bodies should aim to provide a similar service.

5.12

With the more widespread use of technology, opportunities are available to integrate schemes, systems, and services across divisional lines and boundaries. Technological developments must therefore be maximised to get the optimum return on investment and resources.

5.13

There is a need to integrate functionally separated tasks into unified work processes to embrace the 'complete service' maxim instead of the task/grade approach.

5.14

An underlying principle of ISSS is to ensure that a member of the public can obtain his/her full range of entitlements, in particular income support, by calling to one office in their area.

Simplify Systems and Procedures

5.15

The many schemes and services of an income support nature have grown in an incremental way over the years in response to social and political initiatives.

5.16

While each scheme has been designed to meet a particular need, the overlaps and interdependencies with other schemes are not always fully apparent. When changes have been made either to provide or restrict access, the level of complexity has sometimes increased, making it difficult for both administrators and the public.

5.17

There is a growing awareness that existing schemes, services and procedures are complex, interactions are not understood e.g. implications of taking up a part-time job, leading in many cases to either non-disclosure or non-take-up of various options and opportunities.

5.18

There is a need to:

  • make systems as simple as possible for all involved;
  • simplify processes in order to give people easier access to income support services;
  • simplify eligibility and entitlement rules within constraints imposed by the differing policy objectives and public finances;
  • introduce uniformity between schemes and services where this is consistent with the different policy objectives of such schemes;
  • streamline operational procedures across Agencies.
5.19

While the aim is to simplify and streamline systems and procedures we must also consider the reasons for complexities in all schemes e.g. to provide for specific needs of customers which would otherwise not be met. The cost to the Exchequer in addressing this issue must also be considered as this will affect the timeframe over which the simplification and streamlining can take place.

5.20

In any event, the objective must be to ensure that no matter how complex the underlying rules, that information is conveyed to the people in a clear, concise and appropriate manner.

Build on Core Competencies

5.21

To achieve the many benefits - service, monetary, quality, etc., requires that we exploit the depth, breadth and wealth of each organisation, its systems, its people, their talents and knowledge.

5.22

Each organisation has developed expertise and competencies in different areas over the years. This knowledge and expertise must be made available to any other public sector organisation where it is required. We must aim to eliminate inflexibility and break down barriers to enable this to happen.

5.23

In order to determine where relevant expertise and competencies lie we must establish closer links between the various organisations. These links will allow us to build and use competencies to complement each other, create mutual dependence and trust between organisations, and leverage the diverse resources to provide a platform for an enhanced social services system.

Capture Data Once and Early

5.24

Accuracy, completeness and timeliness are the basic principles of quality data. The highest costs incurred in any administrative system are the costs associated with re-work i.e. having to re-visit a particular claim or application because of the initial lack of accurate data.

5.25

In order to ensure that claims/applications can be processed in an efficient manner, and that up-to-date data is available when needed, we should ensure that relevant data is captured at the earliest appropriate opportunity.

5.26

The first time that a person comes into contact with social services is when his/her birth is registered. It is important that as part of this process the allocation of an RSI number is triggered. This will enable secure identities and relevant relationships to be set up. The computerisation of the GRO will facilitate the triggering of the allocation of an RSI number at birth registration and allow events to be linked over a persons lifetime e.g. births, deaths and marriages.

5.27

At every contact with a person, personal data should be confirmed to ensure that it is correct and up-to-date. Where necessary the relevant up-to-date data should be captured and updated.

5.28

If a person has cause to claim from a number of agencies she should only have to give the information once. State agencies should have mechanisms in place to share this data. This is particularly true where means tests are involved, as a person, at present, may have to provide the same information a number of times.

Greater Focus on Staff as a Resource

5.29

The success of the ISSS initiative will depend to a great extent on the staff of the various organisations involved. There must be a greater focus on staff as a resource and particularly front-line staff. Staff selection, training, placement, consultation, motivation, welfare, including working conditions, are therefore vital.

Chapter 6 - Public Service Identifier - RSI Number

Introduction

6.1

A key requirement for the development of an Integrated Social Services System is the standardisation of the RSI number as a unique public sector identifier. Having a unique number which facilitates the capture, sharing and transfer of data is the lynchpin of the ISSS.

6.2

The issues in relation to making the RSI number a unique identifier for public service organisations are dealt with in this chapter.

Revenue Social Insurance (RSI) Number

6.3

In April 1991, new registration arrangements were introduced to ensure the reliability of the RSI number as a unique identifier for both Revenue and Social Welfare purposes. An outline of the current registration procedures is provided at Appendix 4.

6.4

The procedures currently in place are designed to ensure that a person receives only one RSI number and will retain this number throughout life. If a person forgets or loses his/her RSI number, and as a result seeks a new number, a search will be carried out to trace his/her original number. Also a woman's number no longer changes on marriage.

6.5

As part of the current strategy, as soon as persons become known to DSW, normally when Child Benefit is claimed in respect of them as a child, an RSI number is allocated. However, with the proposed computerisation of the General Register Office (GRO) data and the introduction of new computerised registration procedures - see chapter 7, it is recommended that the allocation of the RSI number should be triggered by the registration of birth.

Corporate Information Management (CIM) Group

6.6

The Corporate Information Management (CIM) Group which was set up to examine the standard definition of data in the civil service, recommended that:

  • the RSI number should be the standard identifier for the valid transfer of personal information between public service agencies;
  • in exchanging information, Departments should ensure that the confidentiality of client data is fully preserved.
6.7

This Group stressed the advantages of a unique personal identifier which would enable citizens to communicate with Government Departments and Agencies with greater ease and would allow them to obtain access to a number of different services from a single point of contact.

Wider Use of the RSI Number

6.8

The RSI number is currently used for the transfer of data between a number of different organisations and a number of other areas have also been identified for possible future transfers. An inventory of existing and planned uses of the RSI number is provided at Appendix 5.

6.9

It is proposed that the use of the RSI number should be extended as follows:

  • to facilitate the transfer of means, payment and other data between organisations;
  • as a unique identifier for all healthcare purposes;
  • as a student identifier in Department of Education databases;
  • as a means of access to GRO data by other Departments and offices.

Benefits of the RSI Number as a Public Service Identifier

6.10

The main benefits of more widespread use of the RSI number as a public service identifier are:

  • Administrative efficiency and effectiveness;
  • Flexibility and responsiveness to changing needs;
  • Quality customer service;
  • Fraud prevention;
  • Equity.

Administrative Efficiency and Effectiveness

6.11

There are many State Agencies involved in the provision of social services of an income support nature and this has led to a situation whereby several Agencies are separately asking for similar information, e.g. means details, in order to determine a persons various entitlements. By -

  • capturing data once only;
  • sharing this data with other social services providers;
  • aligning complementary services and
  • integrating and co-ordinating service delivery,

significant reductions in administrative costs can be achieved.

6.12

The potential benefits of this approach apply to:

  • public sector organisations - through eliminating duplication of effort and release of resources to perform other tasks and duties;
  • citizens - they tell their story once and do not have to supply the same information on multiple forms;
  • private sector - supply information once to the public sector.
6.13

In order to preserve the confidentiality of client data it will be necessary to review and strengthen security arrangements when transferring data within or between organisations.

Flexibility and Responsiveness to Changing Needs

6.14

In the current environment of constant change, both administrative and information systems must be flexible and responsive. With the change in family structures, the capacity to be able to reflect different family entities and relationships is important.

6.15

The public service is also being asked to be more effective in its plans. This will require more comprehensive and integrated information on sectors, groups, activities, etc.

6.16

A key area where better information could enhance public policy is in the area of Education/Training/Employment Support Services. For example, if in respect of young people coming on to the live register it was possible to determine at what stage they 'left' the education system, it would enable better targeting of resources and programmes to meet their needs.

Quality Customer Service

6.17

The public service must provide a quality service. One of the key elements of this is the accessibility and availability of services for citizens or businesses, at a single point of contact - the 'one-stop-shop' concept.

6.18

In a number of other countries there is growth in the use of 'information kiosks' in public areas (shopping malls, libraries, etc.) providing access to a wide range of information/services to clients. To do this effectively requires the capability to navigate transparently between databases.

6.19

A quality service can only be guaranteed if the key criteria for good information are complied with - accuracy, completeness, timeliness. Again, the sharing of data is a prerequisite.

Fraud Prevention

6.20

The prevention of fraud and abuse with consequential savings for the taxpayer, requires the association of relevant information from a number of sources.

6.21

For example, total income is needed for taxation and means testing purposes; total information on State benefits being received is necessary to ensure compliance with statutory requirements and to eliminate overlaps and gaps in services.

6.22

Constant vigilance is required to ensure that available funds are spent in the most effective manner possible to meet the needs of individuals and their families who depend on the income support systems.

Equity

6.23

Equity demands that people in similar circumstances should be treated the same way. It is important that Departments and Agencies are seen to be responsible and accountable in the disbursement of funds. It is equally important that the rules governing entitlements are applied in a fair and equitable manner so that people with similar needs receive similar levels of income support.

6.24

It may be that in some cases, customers are not receiving their full entitlement to benefits and that a more proactive approach to identifying such cases should be pursued. This is particularly so where entitlement to one benefit brings automatic entitlement to others. This could be facilitated by triggering action in one area based on criteria in another.

6.25

In the last few years changes have been introduced to ensure that all private companies who have dealings with the public service provide a tax-clearance certificate before they are awarded a contract. It can also be argued that those in receipt of State benefits, whether an employer, self-employed, social service customer, should also be expected to have their tax affairs in order. Otherwise, it is unfair on those who comply with the law.

Non-standardisation

6.26

The lack of a unique public service identifier gave rise to the situation where second level pupils can have two different identity numbers - an RSI number allocated by DSW and a student identity number allocated by the Department of Education. Both numbers are similar in format which in effect means that the Department of Education is issuing identity numbers to students which are identical to RSI numbers issued to different individuals by DSW.

6.27

This is a potential source of confusion for people and could result in students erroneously claiming from DSW under another persons RSI number. This is a major control issue and the longer this process continues the greater the risk.

Data Protection Issues

6.28

Improving administrative efficiency and effectiveness, creating the capacity to respond to changing needs and circumstances, improving the quality of customer service, containing fraud and promoting equity are important in any State service. Also extremely important are the objectives of data protection and it is important to achieve a balance between these, sometimes conflicting, objectives.

6.29

The Data Protection Commissioner has expressed concerns about the wider use of the RSI number as a public sector identifier. These concerns arise mainly from the provision of the Data Protection (DP) Act that data -

"shall be kept for one or more specified and lawful purpose",

"shall not be used or disclosed in any manner incompatible with that purpose or those purposes'.

6.30

In addressing this issue the ISSS Committee drew on the work of the Inter- Departmental group, organised by the Department of Finance, which had been set up to examine the more widespread use of the RSI number as an identifier on public sector information systems.

6.31

The Inter-Departmental group in consultation with the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) considered the implications of nine key data protection principles and the need for balance between the potential benefits to be gained from more widespread use of the RSI number and the risks to privacy caused by such use. The report on this aspect of their examination, giving both the civil service and Data Protection Commissioner's views, is at Appendix 6.

6.32

While a considerable level of agreement was achieved with the DPC the Inter-Departmental group suggested that further work in this area might best be progressed under the umbrella of the ISSS Inter-Departmental Committee.

6.33

The ISSS Committee is of the view that:

  • the existing provisions of the Data Protection Act provide effective mechanisms to control information flows and will be strengthened with the implementation of the new EU Directive currently being discussed;
  • a degree of integration between various schemes and processes already exists whereby entitlement to one scheme acts as a passport to other schemes;
  • the principle of capturing data once and early is a foundation principle of ISSS;
  • the adoption of a public service identifier and the associated collection, sharing and exchange of data does not diminish in any way the role of each organisations data controller. It will in effect call for greater vigilance on the part of the controller;
  • legislative changes should be enacted to allow for the RSI number to be adopted as a unique public service identifier to overcome the data protection issue;
  • 'specified purpose', as defined in the Data Protection Act, should be revised to encompass public service bodies and the necessary legislation enacted;
  • the relationships within the ISSS are effectively interlinked i.e. they are all income support related;
  • the proposal is for the public good whether it is service delivery, equity, or control of public expenditure;
  • the developments in other countries where a more pro-active approach is being adopted should be considered viz., the Danish Government's report on the Information Society states that "no data, which has already been given to one public institution by citizens or companies, should be requested by another one"
  • cognizance should be taken of adverse comments from the public and voluntary organisations to the effect that persons are asked to provide the same information many times to public service bodies when applying for schemes, grants or services;
  • the public do not differentiate between the various State agencies;
  • the separation of functions, within and between organisations, is organisation related not customer service driven.

Conclusions and Recommendations

6.34

In view of the various benefits associated with having a unique public service identifier the Committee recommends that:

  1. The RSI number should be the standard identifier for the sharing and transfer of personal information between public service agencies. ( paras 6.6 - 6.7)
  2. The allocation of an RSI number should be triggered by the registration of birth on the General Register Office computer system. ( para 6.5)
  3. In exchanging information, security arrangements should be reviewed and strengthened to ensure that the confidentiality of client data is fully preserved. ( para 6.13)
  4. Legislative changes should be enacted to allow for the RSI number to be adopted as a unique public service identifier. ( paras 6.28 - 6.33)
  5. 'Specified purpose', as defined in the Data Protection Act, should be revised to encompass public service bodies. ( paras 6.28 - 6.33)

Chapter 7 - Computerisation of the General Register Office (GRO)

Introduction

7.1

To underpin the RSI number as a unique identifier the computerisation of the General Register Office data - births, deaths and marriages, is a necessity. RSI numbers should be allocated at the earliest suitable stage, ideally triggered by the registration of births. The computerisation of the GRO will facilitate this process.

Benefits

7.2

Many tangible benefits would accrue from the computerisation of the GRO. The main ones being:

  • more accurate and timely data;
  • timely maintenance of data;
  • improved search facilities;
  • improved statistics;
  • better use of resources;
  • automatic production of certificates;
  • eliminate duplicate keying of data;
  • improved security and access to data;
  • help to eliminate 'traffic' in birth certificates;
  • staff savings;
  • control savings.
7.3

Linking the computerised GRO information with the information on the DSW's Central Records System, would give the following benefits:

  • enhance data integrity;
  • eliminate potential misuse of data;
  • maintain a more up-to-date record of a persons status;
  • provide greater capability in the area of control;
  • birth information will provide the basis for secure identification of customers;
  • birth information will be captured and made available electronically and will therefore eliminate the need for customers to supply birth certificates for themselves, spouses, and children, to various Departments/Agencies and thus speed up the processing of claims;
  • marriage records will enable DSW establish family relationships and thus speed up the processing of claims;
  • marriage records will enable cross-checks to be made with Lone Parents records. Pilot exercises, on a clerical basis, indicate that substantial programme savings can be achieved in this area;
  • details of deaths will ensure that pensions are not being paid for deceased persons, eliminate the fraudulent encashment of pension books and that those entitled to a death grant and/or survivors pension are so notified and personal records are updated with date of death.
7.4

The benefits outlined above would be of particular importance to all income support Agencies.

7.5

Other Departments/Agencies have expressed an interest in using the data captured from the computerisation of the registers:

  • Central Statistics Office (CSO);
  • Foreign Affairs - Passport Office;
  • Justice - Aliens Office, Gardai;
  • Environment - driver licences;
  • Civil Service Commission;
  • Enterprise and Employment;
  • Health;
  • Education;
  • Revenue.
7.6

In addition to the benefits and savings, the construction of an effective database for planning purposes will be a substantial, albeit unquantifiable, benefit achieved through this initiative.

Computerisation of the GRO

7.7

A working group was set up by the Department of Health, with representatives from the Departments of Finance and Social Welfare, Central Statistics Office and the General Register Office, to oversee the computerisation of the GRO data starting with current data.

7.8

The second phase of the project commenced in August 1995 and an external consultant has been employed to assist the Department of Health project team.

7.9

Some key issues to be addressed as part of the initial stage are:

  • review of previous proposals;
  • phasing to ensure the early realisation of control savings;
  • linking of birth, marriage, and death data. This is critical to underpin identity, data integrity and family relationships/profiles;
  • the parallel reorganisation and implementation of new registration procedures;
  • access to data;
  • necessary legislative amendments to facilitate the computerisation/re-organisation of the GRO.

Current Registration Procedures

7.10

There are 313 registrars of births, marriages, and deaths in Ireland. While the current procedures have served the State well, there is a need to modernise registration procedures and the operation of the GRO supported by technology, in order to maximise the use of resources and meet the needs of citizens and other State agencies.

7.11

Proposals to reorganise the GRO and the registration procedures have been drawn up by GRO management and the Department of Health and will be implemented as part of the overall computerisation project.

Legislative Requirements

7.12

An Inter-Departmental committee, under the auspices of the Department of Equality and Law Reform, is now reviewing the existing legislation governing the registration of births, marriages, and deaths. The Committee's brief is to advise on creating a more streamlined legislative framework for the registration system generally, including the operation of the GRO itself.

7.13

The advice of the committee will form one input into the new legislation on births, marriages and deaths which is being prepared under the direction of the Minister for Equality and Law Reform. The objectives of the proposed legislation will be to put in place a legislative code adapted to suit modern needs and conditions, which will facilitate improved service to the public and enhance administrative effectiveness. Access to registration data by State bodies will be an important issue influencing the legislation.

Conclusions and Recommendations

7.14

Many tangible benefits would accrue from the computerisation of GRO data. The Committee recommends that:

  1. The computerisation of the registration of births, marriages and deaths should be accelerated as a matter of priority. (paras 7.1/ 7.7 - 7.9)
  2. The re-organisation and implementation of new registration procedures should proceed in tandem with computerisation. ( paras 7.10 - 7.11)
  3. The necessary legislative provisions should be enacted to facilitate the computerisation of the GRO records and also to enable appropriate access by State bodies to registration data. ( paras 7.12 - 7.13)

Chapter 8 - Social Services Card

Introduction

8.1

A person is usually notified of his/her RSI number at age sixteen approx. when a social services card bearing the RSI number is issued to him/her. In conjunction with the introduction of new registration procedures it was decided that a new more durable registration card should be introduced. It was decided to use a plastic card, called a Social Services Card, to replace the cardboard card formerly issued to customers at registration.

8.2

The Social Services Card is being introduced on a phased basis. Initially, it is being issued to young people in the 16 to 23 year age group. Social Service Cards have also been issued to certain unemployed persons who are being paid by a new payment method introduced in conjunction with An Post and to certain cheque recipients to assist them when cashing their cheques in banks. In total, some 1 million cards have been issued to date. It is proposed to issue cards to the remainder of the adult population over the next few years.

Description of the Card

8.3

The Social Services Card is a standard plastic card similar to the type used for banking purposes. It has a magnetic stripe and a signature strip. It also bears a hologram. It conforms to international banking standards from the point of view of physical dimensions, layout of data, content of data and security features. There is a well established infrastructure for this type of card in Ireland.

Data Stored on the Card

8.4

The persons name and RSI number are printed/embossed on the front of the card. Also printed/embossed is the Primary Account Number (PAN). The PAN consists of an Issue Number (obtained from the International Standards Organisation), the RSI number and a card number. The details encoded on the magnetic stripe are the PAN, the persons date of birth and sex.

Purpose of the Card

8.5

As well as providing a permanent and convenient record of a person's RSI number, the card gives a person easier identification and therefore faster access to social welfare services, and supports new electronic payment options being made available to social welfare customers.

8.6

The card has various uses, e.g. identification when claiming social welfare benefit, taking up a job, seeking a tax-free allowance certificate, drawing cash payments.

8.7

With regard to payments, the card acts as a signature based verification system to support cheque and postdraft payment encashment, and to make electronic payments in Post Offices.

8.8

At present, a signature based verification system is operated for the electronic payments, but it is planned to introduce Personal Identity Numbers (PIN) in the near future.

Potential Uses and Benefits

8.9

It is intended to continue to encourage the expanded use of the card. The card will be used for free travel, to gain secure access to personal information, and for self-service in general.

8.10

Other uses envisaged for the card include use by Revenue, FÁS and other social welfare related services, provision of secure direct access by the client to his/her record, possible automatic capture of some claim transactions and capture of employment data by employers.

8.11

It is envisaged that the card will eventually play a central role in the integration of all services for the client (DSW, FÁS, Health Boards etc.) and the setting up of integrated One-Stop-Shops.

Future Developments of the Social Services Card

8.12

The key area of application of plastic card technology in previous decades has been in the area of banking; initially, with credit cards and later with debit cards. A number of 'de facto' industry standards in relation to magnetic stripe contents became world (ISO) standards.

8.13

Magnetic stripe technology is still the main technology facilitated in Ireland. Chip technology will overtake the magnetic stripe, but the standards are still emerging in the chip card area, and the infrastructure is still practically non-existent. Incorporation of a chip on the card will occur when the infrastructure develops adequately to exploit it. When a chip has been incorporated, it is planned to exploit the potential to carry multiple services on the card.

8.14

The card has the capacity to include a photograph of the owner and consideration is being given to implementing this feature in the near future for persons who are entitled to free travel passes from DSW. The next logical step would be to include a photograph on the card for all users which would be a major control and security aid in identifying persons.

Smartcards

8.15

The Public Service including DSW are keeping fully abreast of the developments in card technology. DSW are already active in the standardisation area, and are playing a leading role in encouraging the development of the Irish infrastructure, to allow for flexible delivery of public services as well as commercial services.

8.16

The standards defined so far for the smart card cover such areas as physical characteristics and chip position. The later standards however make interoperability more likely by covering important areas such as file structure.

8.17

A comparison of magnetic stripe and smartcard technologies could be summarised as set out below:

Magnetic Stripe:-

Smartcard:-

  • is cheap;
  • has low data capacity;
  • is well standardised;
  • is not secure except online;
  • has a very extensive infrastructure
  • is not cheap;
  • is capable of high data capacity;
  • is partly standardised;
  • is secure online and off-line;
  • has hardly any infrastructure in Ireland
8.18

For the smartcard to really take off in a country it needs an infrastructure. This is more likely to occur if there is a concerted co-ordinated effort by all sectors.

8.19

The Department of Social Welfare has been involved in establishing a working group under the aegis of the National Standards Association of Ireland (NSAI) to progress standards in the plastic cards area and smart card standards in particular. This group, which now includes representatives from all of the sectors - banking, utilities, transport, communications, local authorities and government departments - has identified a need for the type of co-ordinated effort referred to above. The group is seeking support to carry out a project to define a blueprint for a card infrastructure which would support all sectors. Such a development would facilitate the migration to smartcards in Ireland and would greatly increase everyone's ability to deliver services using cards.

EU Dimension

8.20

With the removal of frontiers, great importance is now being placed on the delivery of public services throughout the EU. For example, under EU legislation a person can claim social welfare benefits in one country on foot of social insurance contributions paid in another country. To facilitate speedy processing of claims an Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) network is being constructed to allow exchange of the necessary Social Security data. A reliable RSI number, with positive and secure identification, is an essential element in this process. Various initiatives are being pursued by the EU in relation to cards and DSW will continue to play a leading role in these developments.

Conclusions and Recommendations

8.21

With the advances in technology generally and the acceptance and use of card technology the Committee recommends that:

  1. The use of the Social Services Card should be expanded across the public service to -
  • support customer identification;
  • speed up access to social services;
  • support new electronic payment options;
  • provide secure access to personal information. ( paras 8.5 - 8.11)
  1. Consideration should be given to including a photograph of the customer on the social service card to facilitate identification. ( para 8.14)
  2. The public service should be actively involved with the private sector in the setting of national standards for smart card technology. ( paras 8.15 - 8.19)

Chapter 9 - Means Assesment

Introduction

9.1

The objective of means assessment is to determine a person's entitlement to payments and/or services across the broad range of income support schemes and services. In this context the main issues considered in this chapter are:

  • determining entitlements;
  • results of means assessment questionnaire;
  • duplication of effort across organisations;
  • simplification of means assessments;
  • central means database;
  • means assessment agency;
  • review and control.

Determining Entitlements

9.2

Eligibility for certain schemes, grants and services is largely dependent on a person's means. To determine entitlement, it is therefore necessary to carry out an assessment of a person's means prior to making a decision on the claim or application. Means can be derived from a number of sources such as income from employment, self-employment, farming, shares, capital, etc.

9.3

An application form is completed for each scheme/grant, by the person and forwarded to the relevant organisation(s). As well as providing personal details concerning themselves and family members the person also provides particulars of his/her financial circumstances.

9.4

In most instances this information is validated in an interview with the customer, either in the office or by home visit. Confirmation of details given may subsequently be sought from the relevant financial institutions or other bodies on foot of authorisation from the customer.

9.5

Following confirmation of information supplied means are assessed according to administrative guidelines and/or legislation and a decision on entitlement made. In some organisations the person who carries out the means assessment decides the claim, whereas in others the two functions are split. Normally, but not always, people are informed of the details of their assessment.

9.6

Each section within an organisation holds details of investigations which pertain to the claim being administered in their area. However, other sections within the public service may not be aware that an investigation has been carried out and will therefore initiate their own investigation.

9.7

The assessment of the same means data can often differ from scheme to scheme both within and between Agencies. While such differences may suggest a lack of consistency to the public, they are the consequence of policies intended to maximise social equity within scarce resources. Such differentiation can be a significant source of confusion/irritation for some customers - especially where claims have been made to different organisations e.g. DSW - Unemployment Assistance, Health Boards - Rent/Mortgage Supplements, Local Authorities - Differential Rents. It must, nevertheless, be recognised, that achieving consistency in means assessment between schemes could have a very considerable Exchequer cost and could be in conflict with the policy objectives of these schemes. "Consistency" and "simplicity", when carried to extremes, could result in an integrated and costly approach to the alleviation of need.

Means Assessment Questionnaire

9.8

Each Government Department/Agency involved in means testing was asked to complete a questionnaire in respect of each income support scheme administered by them. An analysis of the replies is provided at Appendix 7.

9.9 The following are the main findings:

  • there are a variety of means tests carried out by Departments and Agencies and within the various organisations; the method of calculation and assessment being determined by the type of scheme;
  • the criteria for determining eligibility vary across schemes with the most common being financial, medical, residence and age;
  • similar information is collected by each organisation, and scheme sections within each organisation;
  • the right of appeal does not exist across all schemes nor is the appeal always carried out by an independent Agency where such right exists.

Duplication of Effort

9.10

There are 11 different Public Service organisations involved in the provision of income support services. Many of the social services are interlinked, or entitlement to one acts as a passport to another. Yet customers must:

  • apply to various Agencies or make multiple applications to the one Agency for schemes, grants, and services;
  • tell their story many times;
  • provide similar information to each Agency;
  • visit a range of offices in their locality and/or apply in writing to head-office section(s).
9.11

This leads to a situation where, for example, if a person is unemployed and claims have been made to different organisations s/he will be interviewed on a number of separate occasions to obtain information which may already be available within the organisation or provided to another Public Service organisation.

9.12

If a person's means change and s/he is in receipt of various income supports then each organisation, if it becomes aware of the change in circumstances, carries out their own review and re-computes the means. There are no formal lines of communication for one organisation to inform another when they become aware of a change in circumstances. If the customer fails to inform them then for many organisations it is unlikely that they will ever know.

9.13

Having several means investigations/assessments carried out by different organisations to obtain the same information is neither efficient, effective nor economic. Neither does it reflect well on the State sector nor is it conducive to good customer service.

Simplification of Means Assessments

9.14

The different schemes were set up to provide for particular needs and the guidelines/legislation on the assessment of means for each scheme were framed with those needs in mind. If claims are made for a number of different schemes the rate of means assessed can vary from scheme to scheme. As people are not always made aware of the sources and guidelines used in the determination of their means the difference in assessments can be a source of frustration and confusion.

9.15

There can be valid reasons why means are assessed differently across the range of schemes as each scheme was developed to address particular needs and complexities were built in to ensure that the particular needs were met. However, it has to be acknowledged that these complexities can make the schemes difficult for staff to administer and for the customer to understand how assessments are computed.

9.16

The main differences between the various assessments relate to how different sources of means (e.g. income, capital) are treated, the period of assessment, and assessment of spouses income.

9.17

Assessment of capital varies from scheme to scheme e.g. if a customer has capital and is claiming unemployment assistance then 5% of the first £200 is assessable whereas for Lone Parents the first £200 is not assessable.

9.18

The period over which means are assessed varies considerably e.g. current income, the twelve months prior to the claim, the last complete tax year, the succeeding twelve months etc. Consideration should be given to moving to a common period of assessment across all departments. With better communication facilities and better integration of services there is no reason, other than policy reasons, why the period of assessment should vary across schemes.

9.19

The method of assessment of spouses income in determining entitlement varies between schemes. Consideration should be given to standardising the method of assessment across all schemes.

9.20

The identification and quantification of 'income' should be standardised. In other words, irrespective of what scheme is involved, the definition of what constitutes 'income' and the way in which it is computed should be the same. Clearly, for policy reasons, the manner in which this computation is subsequently used, for instance in terms of disregards or supplements, could continue to vary from scheme to scheme.

Central Means Database

9.21

A computer system to record details of means investigations, known as the Means Recording System (MRS), was developed and implemented in DSW in 1992. The Health Boards were consulted during the development to ensure that it would be suitable for their needs. To date over 140,000 means assessments have been recorded.

9.22

The individual sources and amounts of the customer's means are recorded following an investigation or interview. The system provides for the recording of means, under a number of headings, for the client and his/her spouse, partner or parents and also in respect of other household members. A full list of sources is given at Appendix 8.

9.23

It is necessary that these sources are recorded in a standardised format so that they may be used by all sections to determine means rates across all means tested schemes.

9.24

The system aids the establishment of a client and/or household data-bank on the Central Records System (CRS), which can be used by all Agencies. It also makes it easier for staff in Head Office and local offices to deal with enquiries from the public or public representatives by providing up to date information on individual cases without having to retrieve the relevant case files.

9.25

It allows for the recording of 'best before dates' which gives an indication of the potential 'shelf life' of the investigation. The 'best before date' would not, of course, reduce the need to confirm that the current assessment is still valid, or preclude a change in the means before that date, if changes in circumstances came to light.

9.26

It facilitates the selection of cases for review and provides valuable background information in advance of proposed investigations or reviews of existing cases. It is also of value when performing means tests on other family members in the same households as it helps to avoid duplication or non-disclosure.

9.27

If a change in means arises out of an investigation by one organisation, then each other organisation, where the customer has a claim, should be automatically notified to re-evaluate their claim. This will ensure that each organisation becomes aware of changes which can then be acted upon.

9.28

The system design is sufficiently flexible to allow a wide range of future developments. It is planned to develop expert systems to assist in the calculation of a person's means.

Means Assessment Agency

9.29

In conjunction with the setting up of a central means database the question of a single agency being responsible for all means assessments was also considered.

9.30

Two options were considered in relation to the setting up of the agency:

  • one of the current organisations to carry out means assessments on behalf of all agencies, or
  • set up an independent autonomous agency.
9.31

The main benefits of having one agency responsible for all means assessments, whether an independent body or an existing organisation, would be:

  • to ensure that means assessments were only carried out when warranted;
  • to provide for consistency and uniformity in assessments.
9.32

The main disadvantages are that it would:

  • take some of the responsibility away from the scheme owners and their organisation for ensuring that the claim is processed in the shortest possible time;
  • create a 'paper trail' within and between organisations;
  • possibly delay the carrying out of means assessments;
  • cause problems such as files going missing etc.
9.33

A central means assessment agency would also take away the ability to carry out on-the-spot investigations and decisions which occur in certain circumstances, e.g. interim unemployment assistance, as the customer/claim would have to be referred to the central means agency. This would lead to degradation in service and would clearly be unacceptable both from the customers and organisations perspective.

9.34

The Committee feel that uniformity and consistency in the assessment of means will be addressed by the creation of a central means database to which all agencies have access. The setting up of a means assessment agency would not have any 'added value' in achieving this aim and there is, therefore, no compelling reason to set up a central means assessment agency. However, the Committee consider that this should be kept under review and recommends that it be examined at a future date when the central means database has been in operation for some time.

Review and Control

9.35

All schemes, grants and services must be subject to review and control to ensure continued entitlement, correct level of payment, and that all terms and conditions pertaining to the scheme are being met.

9.36

The control measures associated with each scheme will vary, but a menu of control measures should be available for use in the review and control of each scheme. These would include desk reviews, home visits, office interviews, mailshots, etc.

9.37

It is also necessary to ensure that Departments and Agencies are seen to be responsible and accountable in the disbursement of funds and that available resources are spent in the most effective and equitable manner.

Conclusions and Recommendations

9.38

In view of the number of separate means tests and the need to make the assessment of means easier to understand, the Committee recommends that:

  1. Customers should be formally advised of the sources and value used in assessing means. ( para 9.5)
  2. All State Agencies involved in means testing should endeavour to simplify the assessment of means, subject to the constraints imposed by the differing objectives/principles of schemes, the differing needs of different client groups, and Exchequer costs. ( paras 9.14 - 9.20)
  3. There should be a central means database for the recording of details of all means tests, with all agencies having access to it. ( paras 9.21 - 9.28)
  4. Customers should only have to undergo one means assessment if a number of claims are made around the same time. Means assessments should have a 'best before date'; this would not preclude a change in means before that date, if changes in circumstances come to light. ( para 9.25)
  5. Changes in means identified by one agency should trigger a review of entitlements by all other agencies where the customer has a claim. ( para 9.27)
  6. With the creation of a central means database there is no compelling reason to set up a central means assessment agency. This matter should, however, be kept under review. ( paras 9.29 - 9.34)
  7. Review and control procedures must be developed and implemented for all means tested schemes. ( para 9.35)

Chapter 10 - Disabled Persons Maintenance Allowance

Introduction

10.1

The Disabled Persons Maintenance Allowance (DPMA) scheme was introduced on 1 October 1954 to enable Health Authorities to pay a maintenance allowance to disabled persons, with a mental or physical handicap, over 16 years of age who were unable to provide their own maintenance in the community, and whose relatives were unable to maintain them.

10.2

Currently, there are approximately 31,000 recipients of DPMA. A breakdown of numbers and expenditure by health Board is given at Appendix 9.

10.3

Recipients of DPMA are usually entitled to medical cards and may also be entitled to free travel, free electricity allowance, free television licence, free telephone rental allowance, vouchers under the free fuel scheme and vouchers under the EU social assistance butter scheme.

10.4

The need to integrate the Disabled Persons Maintenance Allowance (DPMA) scheme into the mainstream DSW schemes, has been recognised for some time and has been highlighted by many groups representing people with a disability.

10.5

The transfer of responsibility for the administration of the DPMA scheme to DSW was recommended by the Public Service Advisory Council and the Commission on Social Welfare, who also referred to similar recommendations in the Green Paper on Services for Disabled People (1984).

10.6

The former Minister for Social Welfare announced his intention to transfer the scheme to DSW in his address to the Irish Wheelchair Association in April 1993.

ISSS - DPMA Sub-Group

10.7

A sub-group of the ISSS Committee comprising representatives from the Departments of Finance, Health, Social Welfare, and Health Boards, was set up to look at all the issues pertaining to the integration of DPMA into DSW schemes and systems.

10.8

The issues to be addressed by the group were:

  • Legislation;
  • Administrative framework;
  • Payment systems;
  • Categorisation of clients;
  • Customer service;
  • Medical Assessment/Criteria;
  • Technology;
  • Links to other health services;
  • Costs;
  • Other.
10.9

Following the Government decision to transfer the scheme to DSW, responsibility for addressing the above issues has been subsumed by the 'DPMA Transfer' project management team ( see 10.11).

Transfer of Responsibilities to DSW

10.10

The basis of the transfer of responsibility for the DPMA scheme to DSW is the Government decision of 29 November 1994 which stated that 'the responsibility for the operation and administration of the scheme be transferred from the Department of Health to the Department of Social Welfare from 1 July 1995'.

10.11

The transfer of DPMA from Health Boards to DSW is complex and requires detailed consideration. Accordingly, an Inter-Departmental committee comprised of representatives from the Health Boards, Departments of Health, Social Welfare and Finance has been established to oversee the transfer.

Other Health Board Schemes

10.12

Other schemes administered by the Health Boards are Domiciliary Care Allowance, Infectious Diseases Maintenance Allowance and Blind Welfare Allowance. These payments are not linked to DPMA and it is not proposed that they will form part of the scheme transfer at this time. However, as they are classed as income maintenance schemes consideration should be given to their transfer to DSW when the DPMA transfer is completed.

Chapter 11 - Supplementary Welfare Allowance (SWA)

Introduction

11.1

The scheme is provided for under Sections 170 to 191 and 266 to 269 of the 1993 Social Welfare Consolidation Act. Under Section 266 of the Act, determination of applications for SWA are a matter for the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Health Board. This power is delegated (under the 1970 Health Act) to the Superintendent Community Welfare Officers (SCWOs).

11.2

The Minister for Social Welfare has no function in relation to the day to day matters (apart from the appointment of Appeals Officers - Section 267). Section 175 of the Act confines his function to "general direction and control of the scheme".

Administration and Financing of the Scheme

11.3

The scheme is administered by the eight Health Boards under the general direction and control of the Minister for Social Welfare. All of the expenditure involved, including the administration costs, are borne in full by the Department of Social Welfare.

11.4

The scheme is managed on a daily basis by the Community Welfare service - approximately 44 SCWOs and some 455 CWOs plus administrative staff, who operate under the direction of the Programme Manager for Community Care in each Health Board.

Purpose of the Scheme

11.5

The main purpose of the scheme is:

  • to guarantee a standard basic minimum income;
  • to provide a residual and support role within the overall income maintenance structure. Currently, this has extended to providing assistance for those who do not qualify or are awaiting payment under other State schemes;
  • to provide supplements where the basic income is insufficient or to meet certain needs such as rent, mortgage interest, diet, heating and other needs;
  • to provide once-off payments in exceptional circumstances;
  • to provide financial assistance in emergency situations.

Eligibility

11.6

Any persons in the State whose means is insufficient to meet his/her needs and those of their dependents is entitled to SWA. Entitlement is determined in accordance with the legislative provisions and administrative guidelines issued by the Department of Social Welfare.

Types of Payments

11.7

The scheme provides for a variety of payments. These are outlined below.

Basic Payments

11.8

There are two categories of claimants. The first category are people who fail to meet the conditions for entitlement to a weekly social welfare payment, e.g. 'sick no entitlement' cases.

11.9

The other category are clients who have applied for a social welfare payment and are awaiting a decision on their social welfare payment.

Supplements

11.10

A weekly addition may also be paid to a person who is receiving a basic payment, or some other Social Welfare or Health Board payment, if his/her means are insufficient to meet their needs and they have specific weekly expenses e.g. rent, mortgage interest, special heating needs, dietary, or other expenses. The main expenditure is in respect of rent supplements.

Payment for Exceptional Needs

11.11

A Health Board may make a single payment of SWA, to meet an exceptional need, to people who are in receipt of a social welfare or health board payment. These payments are made on a once-off basis for expenses such as essential household equipment and clothing.

Urgent Needs

11.12

In exceptional circumstances, a Health Board may pay SWA to those normally excluded from receipt of the allowance e.g. those in full-time employment. Such payments usually arise as a result of natural disasters such as floods or fire.

Back-to-School Clothing and Footwear Allowance

11.13

The Back-to-School Clothing and Footwear Scheme was introduced in 1990 to assist families on social welfare type payments. The scheme operates from the beginning of June to the end of September each year. The rates payable from June 1995 are £40 in respect of qualifying primary school children and £55 for post-primary school children.

11.14

In 1994 some 114,000 households received payments under the scheme in respect of 270,000 children at a cost of some £10.9m. The 1995 provisional outturn is £12.3 million in respect of 271,000 children.

Expenditure on the SWA Scheme

11.15

The scheme has experienced a rapid increase in expenditure and take-up, especially in recent years. Expenditure has increased from £42.6 million in 1988 to £121 million in 1994.

11.16

A breakdown of expenditure is given in Appendix 10 as outlined in the following tables.

Table 1 shows expenditure on the SWA scheme for years 1988 to 1994 and administration costs as a % of total expenditure.

Table 2 gives a make-up of the 1994 outturn for SWA.

Table 3 gives a breakdown of the 1994 allowances figure between basic payments, supplements, exceptional needs and urgent needs payments.

Table 4 shows estimated expenditure on rent and mortgage supplements for years 1989 to 1993 and provisional expenditure for 1994.

Table 5 shows a breakdown of gross social welfare expenditure for 1994.

Table 6 shows the number of recipients of the various SWA payments for seven of the eight Boards, who are operating the new statistical system, for the month of October 1994.

Explanation of Increased Expenditure on SWA

11.17

SWA expenditure has increased in recent years due to the following factors:

Budgetary: In recent years special increases in excess of the rate of inflation have been provided to SWA recipients.

Live Register: Increases in the live register has increased the client base for SWA payments for supplements and exceptional needs payments.

Number and Cost of Rent and Mortgage Supplements: Increased expenditure on rent and mortgage supplements can be attributed to a number of factors including increased unemployment, the de-institutionalisation of the health services, reductions in social housing provision up to 1992, the increased number of lone parent families and the demand led nature of SWA rent supplements (See Table 4).

Clothing and Footwear Scheme: The clothing and footwear allowance scheme was introduced in 1990. Expenditure increased from £5.4 million in 1990 to £10.9 million in 1994.

Administration Costs: Administration costs were capped in 1988 and since then, any increase in this area, apart from the annual inflator applied, requires the sanction of the Department of Finance.

Issues Currently Facing the SWA Scheme

11.18

The following issues have been raised in relation to the operation of the SWA scheme.

Lack of Uniformity

11.19

There is a very high level of discretion in the administration of the SWA schemes with individual CWOs required to make decisions, very often at short notice, in relation to a customer's entitlement. In exercising discretion, CWOs are required to have regard to administrative guidelines issued by DSW. However, it is inevitable, that where there is a high level of discretion and a large number of officers administering the scheme, that there will be some lack of uniformity in decision making.

11.20

While many of the provisions of the administrative guidelines were generally known, the fact that they had not been published gave rise to a perceived secrecy relating to the conditions for entitlement to discretionary payments such as exceptional needs payments and supplements. This is being addressed by the commitment to publish all guidelines on SWA.

11.21

An Advisory Group under the chairmanship of the Department of Social Welfare with representatives of the eight regional Health Boards was set up to review all aspects of the SWA scheme with a view to achieving consistency in the operation of the scheme.

11.22

The Group has concluded a review of Exceptional Needs Payments (ENPs) and Diet Supplements and published new guidelines in September 1995. All Social Welfare regulations covering the administration of SWA have been consolidated and guidelines will be published at the earliest possible date.

Quality of Service

11.23

The SWA scheme is administered within the HB Community Care Programme of Community Welfare Services which is a conglomeration of income supports - medical card scheme, DPMA, IDMA, Nursing Home Grants, Blind Welfare Allowance, Mobility Allowance. Factors which impinge on the quality of the service under SWA are:

  • Inefficiencies within other DSW and HB income maintenance schemes impinge on SWA and can hinder its effectiveness;
  • Policy changes or administrative arrangements in other health and welfare areas can immediately impact adversely on SWA through increased demand on the service. In the mid 1980s when Health Services were cut back, the SWA service became the fall-back for maternity supplies and travel to hospital and in DSW with the increase in the live register customers awaiting decisions on claims had to rely on SWA;
  • The standard of accommodation available has an impact on the demand for SWA supports e.g. furniture, cookers etc.;
  • No computerised support which effectively means a stand-alone paper based system.
11.24

The quality of service, as compared with other Social Welfare schemes, is therefore affected by many factors outside the control of the Health Boards and their staff.

Increase in Costs - Housing Supports

11.25

The rise in the cost of SWA housing supplements has been a cause of concern for some time.

11.26

Following a Government decision in July 1994 the "Review Group on the Role of SWA in Housing", consisting of representatives from the Departments of Health, Environment, Finance, Local Authorities and Health Boards, was set up under the chairmanship of DSW to examine the role of SWA in housing provision. The group presented their report to Government in December 1995.

11.27

Section 116 of 'A Government of Renewal' proposes that all social housing supports will be administered by Local Authorities. An inter-Departmental committee under the Chairmanship of the Department of the Environment with representatives from the Departments of Finance, Health and Social Welfare is in the process of being established to examine the major issues involved in transferring the administration of rent and mortgage supplements to the Local Authorities.

Using SWA as a Basic Payment Mechanism

11.28

As mentioned earlier there are two categories of basic payments. The first is where a person fails to meet the conditions for entitlement to a weekly social welfare payment. This would include those who are sick but do not qualify for sickness benefit either because they do not satisfy the contribution conditions or they have exhausted their current entitlement.

11.29

Currently, people in this situation may qualify for payment of SWA under the 'sick no benefit' category. However, as matters stand, they are required, on the one hand, to renew their applications on a weekly basis while, on the other hand, they are not subject to the Medical Referee regime which operates in relation to disability benefit. As a way of addressing these concerns, consideration should be given to reviewing present arrangements for those who are unable to work due to illness or infirmity and who are without an insurance based entitlement. This review should also include the respective roles/overlaps between DPMA, UA and SWA payments.

11.30

The other category are clients who have applied for a social welfare payment and are getting a basic SWA interim payment pending a decision on their social welfare payment. This involves a person applying to two separate bodies for a basic payment, completing two forms, possibly undergoing two means tests, with all the administrative overheads, plus the recoupment to the relevant Health Board of moneys paid on account of the benefit claimed.

11.31

While this practice has been mostly eliminated in the greater Dublin area, the remainder of the country still operates this system. This is a waste of resources. It is recommended that the Department of Social Welfare operate an interim payment system with the necessary accounting mechanisms.

SWA Appeals

11.32

The SWA appeals system has generated considerable criticism in recent years. Serious inadequacies have been highlighted by the Ombudsman's office and other groups such as FLAC and the Combat Poverty Agency, who have recommended that SWA appeals be included as part of the Social Welfare Appeals system.

11.33

To address these concerns an examination of SWA appeals was undertaken by DSW and it has been decided that the Social Welfare Appeals Office will be given a role in SWA appeals.

Control

11.34

Claims and payments under the SWA scheme must be subject to the same level of control as all other Social Welfare schemes. As the administration of the scheme is mainly manual, the level and type of controls that can be applied is restricted.

11.35

The proposals that all SWA claims use the RSI number as a customer/claim identifier and the computerisation of the scheme as part of the new Integrated Short-Term Scheme (ISTS) system will dramatically alter this position. Firstly, the data held on CRS will be at CWO's disposal to validate identities, family profiles, work and claim history, and secondly it will share the same database as all other short-term schemes, thus eliminating dual claiming, etc.

11.36

While this will provide a more secure foundation for deciding and paying claims, it will not take away from the need to conduct spot checks, periodic reviews of both the basic entitlement and the means assessment, by desk review, desk interviews, home visits, and mailshots.

11.37

All control activities in the SWA scheme should be monitored and co- ordinated as applies to all other DSW schemes.

Computerisation

11.38

Difficulties have been experienced in securing adequate statistical and financial information from Health Boards. These difficulties arise because the scheme is not yet computerised and the collection of data is an entirely manual task.

11.39

Computerisation of the SWA scheme is to be taken on board by DSW in the context of the introduction of the ISTS system (See 11.35 above and Appendix 2). In the longer term full computerisation of the scheme will provide the necessary management information.

11.40

However, the problem of producing better data in the interim was addressed by the Supplementary Welfare Allowance (SWA) Policy Section of DSW. A system for collecting and analysing data was developed by DSW in consultation with CARA Computers and the Health Boards in late 1992.

11.41

The system is now fully operational in seven of the Health Boards while the remaining Health Board has integrated SWA payments into its accounts system from which similar data can be extracted.

Administration of the SWA Scheme

11.42

The Health Boards currently administer the SWA scheme on an agency basis for DSW. It is administered on a daily basis by Community Welfare Officers (CWOs) who are also responsible for carrying out means tests for DPMA claimants. As each Health Board is a separate body there are all the problems inherent in eight separate bodies administering the scheme e.g. different application forms in each Health Board.

11.43

Recent customer surveys carried out by DSW indicate that customers do not differentiate between Health Boards and DSW with regard to the administration of various income support schemes. When the transfer of DPMA to DSW is completed consideration should then be given to the transfer of the SWA to DSW.

Conclusions and Recommendations

11.44

The Committee recommends that:

  1. The SWA scheme should provide a residual and support role within the overall income maintenance structure. ( para 11.5)
  2. A review of the respective roles/overlaps between DPMA, UA and SWA payments currently paid to people who are sick, but have no entitlement to benefit, should be undertaken. ( paras 11.28 - 11.29)
  3. DSW should operate an interim payment system with appropriate accounting mechanisms. ( paras 11.30 - 11.31)
  4. A formal independent appeals system should be provided. ( paras 11.32 - 11.33)
  5. Review and control procedures should be similar to all other DSW schemes. ( paras 11.34 - 11.37)
  6. SWA should be computerised as part of the ISTS system to provide improved control and management information. ( paras 11.38 - 11.41)
  7. A standard national application form should be introduced. ( para 11.42)
  8. Consideration should be given to the transfer of the SWA scheme to the Department of Social Welfare. ( para 11.43)

Chapter 12 - Payment Methods

Introduction

12.1

The co-ordinated expansion of payment methods together with household budgeting facilities is one of the main platforms of an Integrated Social Services System.

12.2

Implicit in providing a comprehensive, flexible and customer friendly service is that all income support agencies should offer their customers the widest choice of modern payment methods together with a household budgeting facility to assist them manage their income on a weekly basis.

Current Methods of Payment

12.3

At present, each agency operates their own payment and reconciliation systems with all the costs associated with them - printing of payment orders, cheques, books etc., transaction costs, development and maintenance costs etc., and has separate contracts and agreements with security printers and financial institutions.

12.4

The payment methods operated by DSW are cheque, postdraft (paper/electronic), books of personalised payable orders, electronic fund transfer (EFT), postal voucher and cash. The Department's broad policy on payment methods has been to eliminate all cash payments, which is nearing completion, to move to electronic payment media where possible and to offer its customers a choice, albeit limited, of payment method. Currently, the bulk of DSW customers are paid at post offices. A household budgeting facility is also offered to DSW unemployed customers who are paid by postdraft at post offices.

12.5

The most common method of payment, outside DSW, is by way of cheque/payable order encashable at post offices and other outlets e.g. banks, shops, etc. A brief description of the various payment mechanisms is provided at Appendix 11; a breakdown of payment by scheme and payment method is given at Appendix 12.

Reconciliation Systems

12.6

One of the main benefits arising out of the introduction of new payment methods is that they all incorporate a computerised reconciliation system. Consequently, information regarding the cashing of payments is available at an early stage and problems relating to payment or payment instruments can be identified and more quickly resolved.

Integration of Payment Systems

12.7

With the transfer of the DPMA scheme to DSW and the computerisation of the SWA scheme as part of the Integrated Short Term Schemes (ISTS) system the bulk of income support payments will be generated by DSW systems.

12.8

Currently the payment methods available to a person is dictated by whether they are in receipt of a short-term or long-term scheme payment. It is planned to develop a common payment platform which will support all payment methods. The aim is to improve operational flexibility in the range and type of payment outlets and provide customers with a choice of payment method; the emphasis being on electronic payment media.

12.9

While this platform will provide benefits in terms of reducing administration, production and reconciliation costs, it is considered that additional savings could be achieved by having a service-wide payment system which would allow all Departments and Agencies provide the full range of payment options. This could be achieved by having one Department/Agency responsible for generating payments or by out-sourcing to a payment utility.

12.10

At operational level, the generation of a payment has two distinct stages - authorisation and payment/reconciliation. With technological support there is no difficulty in separating these two processes with the authorisation process remaining with the relevant Department/Agency.

Payment Service Agreements

12.11

Each income support Agency has separate payment agreements with financial institutions. The key to reducing payment charges incurred by the various Agencies is getting a reduction in the 'fee per transaction' charged by the various institutions. Consideration should be given to a joint approach to negotiation with the various payment agencies.

Future Developments

12.12

The trend in the banking industry is to move to electronic payment media. This offers greater security, reduces the risk of loss and the overheads associated with paper payment media.

12.13

However, for those customers receiving income support payments it is expected that progress in this area will take some years, with continued reliance on paper based media for the bulk of payments.

Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT)

12.14

EBT is a payment service similar to Electronic Fund Transfer (EFT) - see Appendix 11, but operated from a central account through Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) and similar type devices and available at a wide range of outlets including supermarkets, shops and other retail outlets. Unlike the EFT facility, funds are retained in the central account until drawn down in full by the customer.

12.15

Developments in computer technology and in the development and use of 'plastic cards' such as 'magnetic stripe cards' and 'smart cards' will facilitate the introduction of this type of facility over the next few years. The Department of Social Welfare has been approached by various consortia proposing such developments. Developments will be monitored by the Department with a view to making the best use of these facilities when they become available.

12.16

As well as opening up a wide range of payment outlets for customers such as supermarkets and shops, the potential benefits include spreading the payments base in the event of industrial action in post offices and introducing an element of competition.

Household Budgeting

12.17

This scheme is marketed, administered and operated by An Post and allows recipients of social welfare payments to have up to 25% of their weekly payments deducted and paid to various utilities towards rent, gas, ESB, telephone bills etc.

12.18

At present, the facility is only available to recipients of unemployment payments who are paid by postdraft at a post-office. Customers who are paid via financial institutions have the facility through their own accounts.

12.19

In April 1995 there were 7,621 people participating in the household budgeting scheme. With over 150,000 unemployed clients paid weekly through the postdraft system - all of whom are eligible to have deductions made under the Household Budgeting Scheme, it is clear that the scheme is well below its potential; the trend is, however, upwards and the expectation is that this will continue. A table showing progress is at Appendix 13.

12.20

The feasibility of extending availability of the facility to social welfare pension clients who receive their payments by way of books of personal payable orders is currently being examined by DSW and An Post.

12.21

A number of approaches have been made to the Department to include other companies, such as those involved in Life Assurance, in the scheme. This is also being examined by DSW and An Post.

Conclusions and Recommendations

12.22

The Committee recommends that:

  1. Customers should be offered the widest choice of modern payment methods together with a household budgeting facility to assist them manage their income on a weekly basis. (paras 12.1 - 12.2/ 12.17 - 12.21)
  2. Consideration should be given to creating a service wide payment platform. (paras 12.8 - 12.10/ 12.14 - 12.16)
  3. Consideration should be given to a joint approach to negotiation with the various payment agencies. ( para 12.11)
  4. Electronic payment media to be used where possible. ( para 12.12)

Chapter 13 - Delivery of an Integrated One-Stop-Shop Customer Service

Introduction

13.1

To improve social service delivery there is a need to put an end to the current fragmented benefit-by-benefit Department/Agency, approach.

13.2

What is proposed is that information and advice about the whole spectrum of income maintenance schemes, grants, and all associated services be provided, where possible, at a convenient location in a One-Stop-Shop environment. The aim being to:

'provide a single local contact point for customers which would be the gateway to the full range of social services provided by the State'.

13.3

There are a number of other initiatives taking place within the public service in relation to the development of One-Stop-Shops. These should be built on where appropriate, while at the same time all new developments should be co- ordinated to ensure that there are no overlaps or duplication of effort.

13.4

A sub-group of the ISSS Committee examined the development of a One- Stop-Shop within an integrated social service context. In terms of the sub- group assignment "improving service delivery" was taken as being the scope of their task. The sub-group report is at Appendix 14; a summary of the main points follows.

A Process Approach

13.5

The key to the delivery of an integrated One-Stop-Shop social service is to view the service from the customers perspective rather than from an organisation viewpoint. This means taking a 'process oriented' approach rather than focusing on a task, job, or structure of a particular organisation.

13.6

Taking a process approach and the customer as the focus, functionally separated tasks should be integrated into unified work/claim processes. This would bring many benefits in terms of efficient use of resources and providing a personalised service.

The Customer

13.7

Our customers are people who are employers, employees, unemployed, sick, old, lone parents, carers, children, disabled, self-employed, tenants and householders. They want easy access to co-ordinated services and to be treated with respect.

Customer Flows

13.8

A survey of customers was carried out by DSW, EHB, some Local Authorities and the NSSB, in order to get an indication of the incidence of referrals between Agencies i.e. 'referred from' or 'referred to' another agency. The results of the survey show that there is a high level of referrals from one agency to another. In the case of the NSSB survey, carried out at a number of Citizen's Information Centres (CICs), the results show that some 18% of customers had already been to a Statutory Agency and highlights the need for an independent information service.

Areas of Concern

13.9

The main areas of concern in relation to service delivery, have been identified as:

  • lack of information, advice, and directed referral;
  • lack of an integrated approach within and between agencies;
  • complexity of rules and regulations;
  • client centred service;
  • changes in customer circumstances/scheme rules;
  • quality of service;
  • customer charter of rights.

Integrated One-Stop-Shop

13.10

The services to be provided in the one-stop-shop should encompass the whole social service arena. These are:

  • Information/Advice/Directed Referral;
  • Schemes, Grants, and Services - Income Maintenance;
  • Employment Support;
  • Voluntary Sector;
  • Decisions Review;

An outline of each of these follows.

Information Advice and Directed Referral Service

13.11

It is vital that an electronic information system which supports the dissemination of information and is easy to maintain and update is available to enable the statutory, independent, and self-help services provide a comprehensive service.

13.12

There should be three types of information services available to the public:

Integrated Service - One-Stop-Shop: An integrated service should be provided by statutory bodies, as part of their day-to-day operations, and available at all points of interaction with the public. It covers:

  • general information, advice, and directed referral;
  • assistance in completing claim forms;
  • acceptance of claims;
  • claim specific information etc.;
  • enquiries regarding composition or non receipt of payments;
  • explanations on claim entitlement/decisions;
  • giving advice on entitlements having regard to a persons circumstances - work history, claim history, means, etc.

Independent Service: It is important that customers who require an independent view/assessment of their circumstances or feel 'threatened' by State Agencies should have a facility available to them where they can discuss their problems in confidence and get:

  • help and advice;
  • general information;
  • help filling forms;
  • clarification of decisions by Statutory Agencies;
  • assistance in replying to letters or requests for information.

The National Social Services Board (NSSB) is the ideal platform for the delivery of this service.

Information Kiosks: There is a growing trend in other countries of providing information/services to the public through 'Information Kiosks' in shopping centres, libraries, etc. Such a facility would encompass all Government Agencies and services. There is a need to co-ordinate all such developments to ensure that common standards and interfaces are used and eliminate overlaps or duplication of effort. An inter-departmental group, led by Central IT Services (CITS) of the Department of Finance, has been established to consider the steps necessary to achieve the necessary co-ordination. EU funding to pilot the development of an 'Information Kiosk' has been obtained by DSW through its participation in a development under the ACTS (Advanced communications and technology systems) research programme.

Schemes, Grants and Services

13.13

The provision of income support services has two main features:

  • the determination of entitlements to benefit, pension, grants, etc.;
  • cash payment or payment in kind, such as free travel passes, medical cards.
13.14

As the use of technology and computerised systems has increased, lines separating functions has blurred, creating new opportunities and challenges where work can be organised on a horizontal - customer, as opposed to a vertical - task/grade, basis.

13.15

A fundamental change in the way social services are delivered is proposed. Instead of the present fragmented approach on an Agency/scheme basis, it is recommended that all primary claims and related services be dealt with as part of the one claim process.

13.16

For example, when an application is received for, say, Unemployment Benefit/Assistance, entitlement to all related schemes and services e.g. medical card, rent/mortgage subsidy, should be an integral part of the claim process. In this way the customer and his/her needs are the focus rather than the particular scheme/grant/service.

13.17

This means moving from the current task/grade approach to claim processing and decision making, to one designed to meet the customers needs. This will entail that staff process work in a more integrated cross-benefit manner; this in turn will require a shift in emphasis from specialist claim processing to a more broadly based 'customer needs' service.

13.18

Any review of entitlements arising out of a change in rules/regulations or circumstances would also encompass the whole range of schemes/services.

Employment Support

13.19

The aim of this area would be to provide an integrated information service to support those in employment and to assist the unemployed get back into the workforce. This embraces information on Labour law, DSW law, Taxation, services for the unemployed e.g. the job facilitation service, back-to-work allowances, education, training and liaison with FAS. All information to be disseminated should be agreed in advance with the appropriate body to ensure it is correct and up to date. This service would dovetail with and complement, where appropriate, the services provided by the Local Employment Service.

Voluntary Sector

13.20

There are many voluntary bodies involved in the social service area. They play a key role in providing support services and community and group development opportunities at local level.

13.21

Because of the diversity of Government schemes and programmes there is a need for a contact point at local level where local groups/organisations can get advice and information. Issues such as the availability of grants, making an application for grants, getting publicity for various local initiatives would be dealt with by this area.

Decisions Review

13.22

There is a need to have a review process available as a means of redress/review of claim/service decisions. What is envisaged is that if a person has cause to query/appeal any decision in relation to any social service/scheme then a review of the decision would be undertaken and an explanation given to the person. This process would not interfere with a persons right to appeal but should be the first step in the appeals process.

Staff

13.23

Greater focus on staff as a resource, in particular frontline staff, will be the key to success in implementing the One-Stop-Shop. Staff resources - selection and training, and ensuring that the correct mix of skills are available and maintained, and that staff have the necessary knowledge and expertise will be of vital importance.

Quality Service

13.24

From the outset the aim must be to deliver a quality service. To ensure that this is achieved and maintained a system of quality control must be put in place to evaluate and monitor the service on an ongoing basis. Staff and customers should be part of any review of service levels.

Testing the Concept - Tallaght and Ballymun

13.25

A properly organised and resourced information service is a critical step in establishing the One-Stop-Shop customer service. It was decided to 'test' the concept of the delivery of the proposed Information, Advice and Directed Referral service in Tallaght and Ballymun.

Tallaght

13.26

In Tallaght, a collaboration between the Eastern Health Board (EHB) and DSW in the new DSW Tallaght Local Office is expected to commence in the near future, with a view to testing the concepts of delivering an integrated Information, Advice and Directed Referral service. This exercise will enable inter-departmental and inter-agency partnerships to be established and assist in identifying and resolving any teething problems/issues.

13.27

The office will be geared to providing a comprehensive service to customers whether they call in person, telephone or write to the office. Currently the proposals are to:

  • accept all claims for DSW or EHB schemes and provide help to customers when completing application/claim forms;
  • update client/claim details where there is a change in circumstances during the course of a claim;
  • give customers a comprehensive information service in relation to all schemes either in person, on the telephone or by post;
  • advise customers, making claims, of potential entitlements (if any) to other DSW and Health Board schemes as well as any other agencies schemes/services which might be relevant to them;
  • provide a follow-up and contact service, in particular where there are delays, dissatisfaction with the decision given, or where the customer wishes to lodge an appeal;
  • provide directed referral to other organisations; at a minimum, customers should be given a contact name and address and the opening times of the service. Where possible an appointment should be made;
  • advise on job opportunities, Community Enterprise schemes, training and educational opportunities. These will be dealt with through DSW's Job Facilitators, liaison with FAS, Local Employment Service and local contacts with employers.
13.28

Over time it is intended to broaden the range of services provided to incorporate other State services, such as Local Authorities, Education grants, Revenue information etc. The office will become a single local contact point for all contacts with State agencies for customers in the Tallaght area.

Ballymun

13.29

In Ballymun, it was decided to try to improve and add value to the current on- the-ground co-ordination. It is not possible to carry out the same type of test in Ballymun as in Tallaght as the required accommodation is not available. However, all of the relevant agencies, DSW, EHB, Dublin Corporation, FAS, are located in or close to Ballymun Shopping Centre and a number of initiatives have taken place:

  • the Managers of each of the agencies meet on a monthly basis with a view to achieving greater co-operation and co-ordination within and between the various services;
  • each Agency provided the other Agencies with information packs containing all their information leaflets;
  • a directory of services has been prepared giving details of services available in the area, hours of opening, services provided, contact names etc. and distributed to staff in each agency;
  • a directory of all organisations and their services in the Glasnevin North/Ballymun area is being prepared for issue in early 1996;
  • access to DSW's Infosys system is being provided to Dublin Corporation's Branch Office in Ballymun;
  • Ballymun SWLO is now using the NSSB three-drawer information system to provide information to customers.
13.30

Appendix 15 provides a full progress report on developments in both locations.

Conclusions and Recommendations

13.31

There is an need for greater integration of services provided by income support agencies to customers, the Committee recommends that:

  1. Where possible a single local contact point for customers should be provided which would be the gateway to the full range of social services. (paras 13.1 - 13.2/ 13.10 - 13.22)
  2. A 'customer first' approach should be adopted. ( paras 13.5 - 13.9)
  3. New customer service initiatives should be co-ordinated to ensure that there are no overlaps or duplication. ( para 13.3)
  4. An electronic information system should be developed to support the dissemination of information. ( paras 13.11 - 13.12)
  5. To ensure the successful operation of an integrated one-stop-shop the training of staff will be vital. ( para 13.23)
  6. Assessing customer satisfaction will be key to delivering a quality service. ( para 13.24)
  7. The initiatives underway in Tallaght and Ballymun should be extended where possible to other locations. ( paras 13.25 - 13.30)

Chapter 14 - Costs and Benefits

Introduction

14.1

As mentioned in Chapters 1 (para 1.8) and 4 (para. 4.14) the Committee agreed that the cost of developing and implementing the various proposals and recommendations outlined in the report should be borne by the relevant organisations responsible for their development.

14.2

A number of the proposals and recommendations are already in the process of being developed and implemented ( 14.5 to 14.9) , and have not been costed as part of the development of an ISSS. They are mainly being developed as stand-alone projects by the individual agencies.

14.3

The costs and savings of the remaining recommendations are, in so far as they capable of being costed, given below ( 14.10 - 14.31) . Most of the figures are conservatively based but the Committee are in no doubt that the savings achieved will, at a minimum, equal the costs. It should be borne in mind that the costs outlined are indicative and it is felt that more refined costings would have to be carried out as part of the implementation planning process.

14.4

In general, the benefits are more difficult, and in some instances impossible, to evaluate. They arise from improved control, increased administrative efficiency and effectiveness and from a greater return from the investment in computerisation by all the agencies involved. This stems, in the main, from access by each agency concerned to a wider means database. While the benefits of this are, no doubt, considerable, they would be difficult to quantify.

Projects Underway

Computerisation of GRO

14.5

The second phase of the project to computerise the GRO commenced in August 1995. A consultant has been employed to assist with the project. It is intended that the civil registration process will also be reviewed and amended as part of this project. The allocation of the RSI number as part of the birth registration process, the linking of births, deaths and marriages and access to GRO data by other organisations are of strategic importance to the development of an ISSS and it is important that they are also addressed by the project team.

14.6

There is a group, under the auspices of the Department of Equality and Law Reform, examining the legislation governing the registration of births, deaths and marriages. As registration procedures are, to a large extent, governed by legislation it is vital for the successful completion of the computerisation project that the necessary legislation is put in place.

14.7

Programme savings will immediately accrue once the GRO data is computerised and other organisations have access to the data. Establishing links between birth, marriage and death will be vital to enable the early identification of potential cases for review and thus control savings.

Disabled Persons Maintenance Allowance

14.8

Following a Government decision, responsibility for the administration of the Disabled Persons Maintenance Allowance scheme is being transferred to the Department of Social Welfare; it is hoped to complete the transfer in 1996.

Supplementary Welfare Allowance

14.9

The SWA scheme is being computerised as part of the second phase of the development of the Integrated Short Term Scheme (ISTS) System by DSW and it is expected to commence implementation in mid 1996.

Projects to be Undertaken

Means Recording System

14.10

The largest number of means assessments in any given year are carried out by DSW - assistance schemes, and Health Boards - SWA and DPMA. Community Welfare Officers (CWOs) in Health Boards will have access to DSW systems for SWA purposes from 1996 when the Integrated Short Term Schemes (ISTS) System is implemented. The main costs in providing access to the Means Recording System e.g. terminals and communications for CWOs will, therefore, have been met.

14.11

Where access is to be provided for other Agencies such as Local Authorities, it is estimated that each connection would cost £5,000 approximately. Allowing for an average of 6 links per Agency - 35 agencies, the cost would be £1m. The actual level of expenditure will be dependent on the number of connections required and will be a matter for the relevant Agency.

14.12

There will be some system development costs estimated at £100,000, mainly for the development of expert systems to assist in the calculation of means. As there will be a requirement to store extra records and data it is estimated that additional storage costs of the order of £100,000 will arise.

14.13

Training in the use of the system will also be necessary at an estimated cost of £.3m.

14.14

As most income support agencies have the same client base it is reasonable to assume that administrative savings will immediately begin to accrue as soon as an agency starts using the MRS. It will not be necessary to carry out means investigations where there is a current assessment and the 'best before date' is still valid, thereby freeing up staff. This is one of the examples of a greater return by the agencies involved from their investments in computerisation.

14.15

Even where means need to be revised and updated, the system will provide a useful starting point for this process. Also, payment can be made on the previous means assessment until such time as the new assessment is finalised, thereby saving investigative and administrative staff time and costs to an estimated value of £1m.

14.16

The sharing of data outlined above will ensure greater efficiency in the deployment of resources, both administrators and investigators, in the assessment of means across all organisations. In DSW, this will enable an increased level of claim reviews and employer inspections to be undertaken. Based on previous experience in this area it is estimated that there is potential for additional savings of £2.5m from these activities.

14.17

The automatic triggering of scheme reviews will ensure that people receive their full and correct entitlements across organisations. This will lead to increases, for some, and decreases, for others, in the level of payment but based on experience it is felt that there will be a net decrease in the overall level of payments.

14.18

The more widespread use of the MRS will also ensure that the correct details - personal, family, and income, are being used in the calculation of means thus ensuring that decisions are based on the most up to date and accurate information available. This should result in less administrative time being spent during the life of a claim in remedying errors and misinformation.

14.19

In summary, the costs of extending the use of the MRS as a common means database across all agencies are estimated at £1.5m with savings amounting to £3.5 annually.

Information System

14.20

The cost of developing an electronic information system across the Public Service is provisionally estimated at £2m. However, as most organisations within the Public Service are now in the process of developing their own information systems most of these costs will be incurred in any event. The major elements of expenditure would be hardware, software, communication links, outsourcing and training.

14.21

The Central IT Services Unit in the Department of Finance are co-ordinating studies, on behalf of the Civil Service, on the possibility of making Government information available on the Internet. These studies will form an input into the development of an electronic information system and should result in a reduction in costs due to sharing of expertise, hardware, software development and communications.

14.22

Some of the main savings would be qualitative, e.g. better customer service, rather than quantitative. There would be quantifiable savings in relation to paper, printing, and updating information and these savings would have to be assessed by each individual Department/Agency. There would also be considerable benefits from the economies of scale achieved from the greater integration of computer systems used by the participating agencies and their access to a wider and improved database.

Payment Methods

14.23

When payment methods are standardised across Agencies it should be possible to reduce the overall costs by entering into common contracts with the various financial institutions, security printers etc.

14.24

The question of introducing Electronic Benefit Transfer in the future is currently under consideration. There are a number of difficulties to be overcome before it can become a reality but if introduced it will lead to greater benefits accruing.

RSI Number

14.25

There will be some costs arising from the adoption of the RSI number as a unique public sector identifier. These costs will mainly arise in relation to using the RSI number as the main record 'key' in administrative and computer systems. A Department/Agency review would have to be undertaken to identify the cost implications.

14.26

Some claim/application forms will also have to be amended, but as these are ordered on an annual or biannual basis making changes should not incur major additional costs.

One-Stop-Shop

14.27

The development of One-Stop-Shops will require a radical restructuring of the way in which Government services are delivered. Ideally, in major centres of population there should be one location where people can get information and advice on all Government schemes/services and submit claims or applications for such schemes and services.

14.28

This does not imply that claims/applications would be processed at this location. With the recent and continuing advances in technology and communications it is possible to provide an 'information and claim taking' service at one location with the processing carried out elsewhere. This would mean that more applications would be completed correctly in the first instance which would result in administrative savings in the processing of claims.

14.29

While some Government offices in the major centres of population could easily be adapted, and others with some modification or refurbishment could be upgraded to provide the services of a one-stop-shop as outlined in the report, there would still be a need for new premises to be acquired in a large number of areas to provide the proposed services. In addition, the current hardware and telecommunication facilities in most centres would not be suitable. A major investment in accommodation and electronic hardware will therefore be required. However, in view of the developments already underway or planned in Departments/Agencies costs would be incremental in many instances. While actual costs could only be determined as part of the implementation in each centre, it is estimated that an investment of the order of £10m would be required.

14.30

It is anticipated that the staffing needs for One-Stop-Shops will be met from within current resources but this may not be possible in all cases. There is, therefore, potential for an increase in staffing levels which would have to be assessed on an ongoing basis.

Implementation

14.31

It is proposed that a management group be set up to co-ordinate the implementation of the recommendations in the report. Secretarial resources will be required to co-ordinate the various strands and activities. The estimated cost of the resources is £.1m.

14.32

To maximise the benefits of ISSS and assist in the implementation process it will be necessary to publicise events by way of local launches, seminars etc. Costs are estimated at £.5m across all agencies.

Chapter 15 - Implementation

Introduction

15.1

To implement the various proposals and recommendations requires an upfront commitment from all the Departments and Agencies represented on the Committee. Being realistic, progress can only be made on an incremental basis as changes have to be introduced without impacting on the delivery of service to customers and as resources permit.

Approach

15.2

The timeframe for the integration of services will be five to six years. A two phased approach to the implementation of the proposals and recommendations is proposed -

  • short to medium term, and
  • medium to long term.
15.3

By adopting this approach the necessary foundation can be laid to enable the timely implementation of all the recommendations.

Short to Medium Term

15.4

This is a critical phase as the objective is to create the building blocks with which to build an Integrated Social Services System. The success of ISSS therefore impinges on making progress on each of the items outlined below.

15.5

The short to medium term phase should be of one to two years duration. As mentioned in Chapter 14 some of these are already underway, but it will be the responsibility of the inter-agency management group to ensure that the various projects are developed and implemented in a co-ordinated manner. Outlined below are the main areas and recommendations requiring attention during this period:

(a) Public Service Identifier

  • Submit proposals to Government for the use of the RSI number as a public service identifier.
  • Assuming approval is given, each Department and Agency to develop and implement procedures to amend forms, leaflets and systems to enable the capture, storage and retrieval of data using the RSI number.
  • Enact the necessary legislation.

(b) Means Recording System

  • Continue the population of the means recording system database.
  • In conjunction with the computerisation of the SWA scheme CWOs to be given read/update access to the means recording system; procedures for update access to be discussed and agreed.
  • Develop expert system modules to support the calculation of means.
  • Provide access to the means recording system by other Agencies.

(c) Information Services

  • Test the concept of delivering an integrated Information, Advice and Referral service in Tallaght, involving DSW and EHB initially; other Agencies to be included on a phased basis.
  • Continue the co-ordination process in Ballymun.
  • Support the development of an Independent Information service.
  • Develop an electronic information system to support the provision of information to the public.

(d) Social Service Cards

  • Consider use of PIN numbers.
  • Play active role in setting standards for emerging card technology.

(e) Appeals

  • A formal appeals system for SWA and DPMA schemes, to be provided by the Social Welfare Appeals Office.

(f) DPMA

  • Transfer of responsibility for DPMA to be completed.

(g) GRO

  • Liaison with group responsible for the computerisation of GRO Data and the implementation of new registration procedures;

(h) SWA

  • Computerisation of SWA scheme.
  • Consideration to be given to integrating SWA into DSW schemes, and transferring responsibility for day to day administration of SWA to DSW.

(i) Means Assessment

  • Commence alignment of assessment of means factors having regard to budgetary and other constraints.

Medium to Long Term

15.6

Assuming progress is made on all the items outlined above, the focus in the medium to long term should be to build on this platform.

15.7

While an assessment of progress will be made on an ongoing basis, it is proposed that a formal review be undertaken at the end of the first year which will act as the basis for future plans. Depending on the progress made plans can be adjusted for future phases as necessary.

Next Steps

15.8

There are a number of legislative and organisational issues that need to be addressed to give effect to the systems proposed. Detailed proposals will have to be drawn up for each project as it moves forward.

15.9

The Strategic Management Initiative process with the emphasis on better co- ordination of services across Departments and Agencies now provides the opportunity to progress the various recommendations and issues outlined in the report.

15.10

Because of the cross Agency nature of the proposals the Committee feels that a management group should be set up to co-ordinate any issues that arise. The group could also be involved in setting priorities, agreeing targets and plans with each agency, monitoring progress, and assisting in the general implementation of the recommendations in the report.

Last modified:13/10/2008
 

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