Ensuring everyone has access to work

Written by Malcolm Canvin, Product Manager, DWP Digital

In DWP Digital we strive to make complicated services better for our users. Access to Work is a good example of this, where we’re providing a service that helps disabled people and people with health conditions to get or stay in work, by providing a grant to pay for the support they need to do this.

There are two different aspects to Access to Work, ‘Application’ and ‘Claims’. We get around 45,000 applications and receive around 170,000 claims a year from these users.


Claiming Access to Work

Our ‘Claims’ process was a clerical paper-based process that relied on a physical signature (pen on paper) and the postal service. Building an online claims journey to address this issue is something we’re working on right now. This is where the service user or employer pays in advance for the adjustment and then claims the money back in arrears, an arrangement that works like a pre-agreed expenses claim. 

This is the journey where users will see the most transformation, they’ll be able to go into a new digital portal, verify their identity, upload evidence digitally and see submitted claims. They’ll also be able to see how much grant award they have left and allow employers to counter sign the claim. DWP agents will be able to pick up the claim digitally, process and pay it.  

We’re about to move into a private beta phase for the new online claims service. This means initially people will be selected and invited to take part. We’ve had 3 digital teams working on various aspects of the end-to-end service to ensure we are delivering against the most important priorities across the whole piece. This has entailed a degree of cross-team working and coordination which has been helped by one vision, a shared roadmap, common tooling and working from a single backlog. Once this is fully tested and we’re confident that the service is running efficiently, we’ll move into public beta, where anyone who is getting Access to Work will be able to make their claim online. We expect this to happen before the year end if everything runs to plan. 


Applying for access to work

We currently have a separate user journey for our online ‘Application’ process that, technically, meets the GDS standards. However, we’re continuously iterating and improving our services, as something that began as a minimal viable product in 2017, doesn’t necessarily meet the needs of our current users today.

So, reforming this older digital application journey is something that we needed to do. Put simply, the user applies for the grant, the application is accessed, and a grant award is agreed. 

For example, a person with a visual impairment takes a new job in a location with no public transport. That person could apply for Access to Work to help them cover the cost of taxi fares to and from work. The grant could also include help with the cost of accessible IT kit to allow the person to carry out the job. How that happens for the user is the crux of what we are doing. 

We’re taking a modern digital application back to basics and putting users at the heart of the services we’re redesigning today. By bringing in the pain points – real issues our users are facing in accessing the service, for example not having a choice of channel for application – we can prioritise what we’re working on and the changes that will be of most benefit. So that, not only will the redesigned service meet our user needs, but it will also meet the needs of what we want the service to be in the future. 


Future plans to improve the service

Access to Work is a discretionary grant, rather than a benefit, so there are limitations on how we administer that. We’ll always need a real person to make decisions, so we’re never going to fully automate it or make it an agent-less process and that’s ultimately a good thing as each application and each user will be considered on their circumstances on a case-by-case basis.

Beyond this we’re looking at a far broader transformation roadmap that addresses legacy systems. Upgrading to a modern form of nonrelational data bases, we’re replacing excel trackers and all sorts of small systems with interchangeable micro-service architecture. We’re replacing the back-end legacy system, effectively building a full case management functionality and all the tech stack that goes with that to redesign the existing online application. 

The Access to Work service will really feel transformed from a user perspective, it will be more accessible, users will have a choice of channels to access help and it will be much faster to go from application or claim through to payment. For digital specialists working in DWP Digital it’s really exciting stuff.

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