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Carer’s Allowance – pleased to say it’s not perfect. It can be improved

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Carer's Allowance Digital Service

“Perfect”, “Can’t be improved”, “No further improvement needed” - reading through customer feedback for the Carers Allowance Digital Service it strikes me how many of our users think that there’s nothing more to do. We can pack up and go home.  Au revoir. Sayonara. Farewell!

Far be it from me to suggest these particular users are wrong, it’s just that they’re not quite right on this one. Excellent, yes. Perfect, no.

And it’s not just our users. We achieved Live Accreditation Status in November 2014 and for many people this translated as ‘job done’. Erm…no!

We haven’t ‘gone live’ in the old fashioned sense. The interpretation of go-live that applies to traditional projects is ‘go-dead’ in the context of agile. We ‘go live’ every fortnight. When we went Live there was a backlog of changes and features still waiting to be prioritised. We didn’t get to live and stop, we got to live and started doing more.

Since November we've made over 20 releases covering around 300 user stories. We haven’t done that for the sake of it, it’s in response to the needs of our users. These needs drive everything we deliver, they don’t stop, they change and evolve. We’re here to ensure that the service meets those needs.

As the service matures we've put even more focus into our analytics to identify barriers within the user journey; why are we losing so many people at the disclaimer? Why are so many people calling to find out whether we have received their claim? Why do people spend so long at certain questions?

This analysis feeds the research, the research feeds the backlog and it all contributes to continuously improving the service for users.

Here’s just a few of the many improvements delivered since live, we've:

  • moved the Disclaimer to the front of the service so users know what they are signing up to before they start – completion rates have rocketed from 60% to over 80%. Simpler for users.
  • introduced email notifications to let users know that we've received their claim resulting in reduced calls to our contact centres. Clearer for users.
  • reviewed and clarified all the questions – completion times have tumbled below 25 minutes. Faster for users.

It doesn't stop with research. We’re trialling new technologies, pushing new infrastructure and security features that will enable smoother delivery of the Departments other digital initiatives. This means more and more services will be delivered this way. Services that will work better for users.

With a satisfaction score consistently at 90% and being told we’re perfect, we’re in a happy place but this journey is far from complete. We’ll continue to do more until the service no longer needs to meet the need of its users – and that doesn't feel like any time soon.

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  1. Comment by Tim Blackwell posted on

    Having looked at this service a few times, it's clear that the guidance has changed significantly for the better in the past couple of months - at one point there was some seriously misleading text which might have discouraged people who were entitled (and whose claiming would not have disadvantaged others) from claiming.

    A few minor issues stick out:

    "The person you care for might be severely disabled and gets extra money (a premium) from these benefits:"

    There are other premiums, including any [basic] disability premium and enhanced disability premium, which the person being cared for may be entitled to. These are not affected by the carer's allowance claim.

    For pension credit, there is no severe disability premium - the equivalent provision is called an additional amount for severe disability. Using the right words matters, because claimants will encounter the correct terminology elsewhere.

    It might be better to say "might have a severe disability premium or addition for severe disability included in the working out of one of these benefits"

    More generally, it would definitely be worth re-instating an accurately written section about the effects of claiming carer's allowance on other benefits claimed by the carer - but this is not easy given the multiple interactions between benefits and tax credits in the current social security system. It would also be worth putting in a note on underlying entitlement and its relation to the severe disability premium/addition.

    Least importantly, you qualify "Jobseeker's Allowance" with "income-based", it would make sense to similarly qualify Employment and support allowance with "income-related".

    Unfortunately the general .GOV.UK information on carer's allowance at:

    is very far from accurate, especially this section:

    "Effect on other benefits
    If you get Universal Credit, it might affect how much you get from other benefits."

    This should say Carer's allowance, not universal credit

    "Any means-tested benefits you get will be reduced by the same amount you get from Carer’s Allowance. This includes:

    Housing Benefit
    Income Support
    income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
    Pension Credit
    Universal Credit"

    Even disregarding the carer premium (or addition/element) mentioned below, this may or may not be true. Housing benefit may go down, on the other hand it may very well stay exactly the same. But it's not going to go down by the same amount as carer's allowance, because excess income reduces housing benefit by 65% of the excess, not pound for pound - and because there may be interlinked changes to other benefits eg tax credits. Pension credit may or may not go down pound for pound, depending (amongst other things) upon the kind of credit in payment. Income-related employment and support allowance is missing from the list.

    "An extra amount (called the ‘carer premium’) will be included in the calculation of your means-tested benefits."

    This is called an addition in pension credit and an element in universal credit. And of course it offsets (to lesser or greater degree) losses in benefit due to carer's allowance counting as income.

    • Replies to Tim Blackwell>

      Comment by Adam Tostevin posted on

      Hi Tim - thank you very much for taking time to comment.
      We're adding your comments into our review process and will address any inaccuracies in the information provided to customers.

      As you might expect we closely monitor the digital service in terms of time users take on each question, points at which users drop-off, users refer to the help guide etc. but we also work very closely with telephony and processing colleagues to understand the impact at all points across the customer journey. All of this helps us to understand the needs of the users and areas we need to consider for improvements.

      Since the introduction of the Digital Service, and in particluar work around eligibility and the disclaimer, the number of nugatory claims has fallen sharply and continues to decline as we iterate based on user needs. At the same time we have seen a reduction in calls from customers seeking clarification so we'd like to think we're on the right track.

      However, as I say in the blog, this is an ongoing journey we will continue to improve and to iterate and your comments will add to that cycle.
      Thanks again

  2. Comment by Jonathan posted on


    Great to get such good feedback, good news for users as well as the project team! Just wondering - how do you decide when to stop iterating? When does it become time to draw a line and focus on improving another DWP service that's not in as good a place?

    • Replies to Jonathan>

      Comment by Adam Tostevin posted on

      Hi Jonathan - hopefully a pretty straightforward answer. As long as there remains a user need for the service, we will continue to deliver a service that meets that need.

      Changes are broken down into the smallest possible parts to enable frequent delivery aligned to changing needs. This removes the risk of major releases being outdated or causing disruption for users either internally or externally with wholesale change.

      We work very closely with other services within DWP (and across government), sharing information, re-using solutions and making sure that anything we learn here is available for others to learn from.

      The team delivering this service is small, not just by comparison to traditional projects it's a small team by any standards and it's delivering a national service. We achieve that by keeping our stakeholders close and working with those stakeholders to ensure DWP is delivering consistently across all its services.

      Hope that answers your question

  3. Comment by Tim Blackwell posted on

    Hi Adam,

    Just a very quick question. What research are you doing to check that users who *are* entitled to carer's allowance (without disbenefit to others) are not discouraged from claiming by your messaging? Eg immediate follow up surveys on a proportion of people who give up a claim part way through.