Value for Money Review of the Provision of Information by the Department of Social and Family Affairs and of the Provision of Social Welfare Related Information by the Citizens Information Board


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Executive Summary - Chapter One

Introduction

The Public Service Management Act, 1997, and the Comptroller and Auditor General (Amendment) Act, 1993, set the background for Value for Money Reviews as a fundamental component of the drive for better value for money and optimal efficiency in the allocation of resources both at Departmental level and within Departments.

Information Services within the Department of Social and Family Affairs (DSFA), together with the Citizens Information Board (CIB), which is funded by DSFA, were selected as one of the Value for Money Reviews to be undertaken within the period 2006-2008.

The Terms of Reference for the review were agreed by the Policy Committee of the DSFA and a Steering Group lead by a Project Manager was formed to carry out the review. The review covers the three year period 2005 – 2007 and examines direct and indirect expenditure by DSFA and CIB in the provision of information on welfare schemes under the following areas: Channels, Publicity, Customer Feedback, Coordination and Other.

The review involved a complex data gathering exercise of material from various areas within the Department and from CIB in relation to the resources allocated to the provision of information under all channels. The objectives, nature, associated costs and outcomes of all the activities were examined. This review brings together data from all areas of DSFA and CIB which have not previously been presented together and this is the first time that DSFA has collated the full costs associated with delivering information to the public throughout the Department.

In the main the review found that there was no overlap between the information provision functions provided by the DSFA and the information role of CIB in relation to social welfare information. Although both organisations provide information through walk-in, phone, and website channels the context and scope of the information is very different. CIB provide general information on all public services, including social welfare, and uses the Department‘s information unit and services as a source of information and refers customers to the Department for more complex or claim specific information needs. CIB operates as an independent source of information and advice where members of the public go to in advance of submitting a claim to a public body or to verify information they have received from a public body. It offers an advocacy service for those who may experience difficulty dealing with a public body due to literacy or a physical or mental disability. The outreach Citizen Information Service (CIS) provides an outreach service through its network of over 250 locations throughout the country. It also provides an information service to DSFA customers in rural areas where often there is no local Social Welfare or Branch Office.

The central information unit in the Department provides a LoCall telephone service 1890 66 22 44 and e mail service but no longer provides a walk in service. The walk in service is provided through the network of local and branch offices throughout the country. Although information is provided to customers in these locations it is not their primary function and therefore their work is very different to that of the Citizen Information Centre (CIC). In addition, the central information unit in the DSFA undertakes a number of corporate specific functions (e.g.) customer service, translation service, corporate advertising (office closures, recruitment) that must be provided within the Department. The DSFA remains as the definitive information service for all welfare customers and it is clear that there is a distinct role for the CIB and the DSFA in the provision of social welfare information to members of the public. The continuing challenge is to ensure that there are no overlaps or gaps in the provision of this information.

It should be noted that other than routine advertising (office notices, recruitment), the campaigns undertaken by the Department are specifically in relation to new schemes or schemes changes. These campaigns always promote the Citizen Information Service (CIS) and Citizen Information Phone Service (CIPS) as a source of additional general information. The CIB advertising promotes the Citizen Information brand and its corporate identity; therefore, it does not overlap with the DSFA advertising.

The information booklets produced by the DSFA are in respect of each scheme and may include the application form necessary to apply for the scheme, whereas the CIB publications are in relation to (a) a signposting to a Citizen Information Service or (b) information booklets for all public services for a particular persona such as the elderly or children. The CIB utilise DSFA booklets in assisting customers apply for schemes and services.

The Department has worked with the CIB in order to ensure that there is no duplication of information booklets and has ceased the publication of SW110 Directory of Services for the Ill and Incapacitated as the Citizen Information Board provide a similar directory and the information can be found on their website. The DSFA and CIB both need to have separate websites as they are separate corporate entities and will have separate corporate information and functions which they provide to the public. The development of on-line services for DSFA customers will require the Department to provide a safe and secure website to allow customers to apply online for pensions etc. safe in the knowledge that their personal information is secure. However, the DSFA website 'www.welfare.ie' syndicates social welfare information from the CIB website 'www.citizensinformation.ie' in order to avoid any duplication of work and costs.

In relation to the information grants budget administered by the Department, this funding has been provided primarily for once off funding and the Department reviewed the application procedure in 2006/2007 and introduced new procedures in 2007. This was to ensure that there was no duplication of funding. In some instances the request for funding was referred on to the CIB. The core funding provided to a number of organisations is under constant review and funding has now been discontinued in some instances. In addition, the Department stopped publishing the SW65 ―"Guide to Unemployment" as the INOU are provided with funding to publish the ―"Working for Work" publication which is also part funded by the Department of Education and Science and FÁS and the contents are reviewed by the Revenue Commissioners prior to publication.

The Department works with the CIB and other organisations to minimise any overlaps or gaps in information however, where any overlaps were indentified or in order to avoid potential overlaps, the review has made recommendations such as centralising of information grant funding to voluntary organisations. The review found that the objectives and information strategies of both organisations remain valid in ensuring that customers continue to get information as they need it. The recommendations outlined in the report are also based on each organisation maintaining their current separate structures and information service functions. The review itself has been overtaken by time and events as processes and practices within DSFA and CIB have changed in the period since 2007. Developments in line with some of the recommendations contained in this report have already commenced and therefore this review also reinforces and validates the strategy being followed. The Terms of Reference for the review, and where they are addressed within the report, are outlined in Chapter One.

Last modified:11/03/2010
 

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