Derby City Council launches digital discretionary award tool

A new customer-facing online tool, known as the SDA Gateway, has been introduced by Derby City Council.

It’s hoped the new tool will encourage residents to apply for discretionary awards to deal with financial crises online, and allow the council to tailor its crisis support around the needs of each individual ahead of the rollout of Universal Credit.

Due to a range of ongoing welfare reforms, such as the benefit cap, the number of people contacting the council with severe financial difficulties is ever-increasing. Each of them has their own set of unique circumstances and requires specific help to get the support they need.

Discretionary awards assist with a range of short-term financial issues including the costs associated with rent, council tax, utility bills, food and white goods. Until now, the application process has been quite complex as it involved three separate awards – the Discretionary Housing Payment, the Local Assistance Scheme and Council Tax Hardship.

Derby’s SDA Gateway reduces this complexity significantly by combining these into a single entity. Aside from the obvious efficiency savings, it also allows the council to involve specialist case workers when appropriate.


Three key components

The new process has three key components – customer-facing forms, processing, and ongoing support. Essentially, the customer applies online and the council then processes the award and identifies whether the customer is also in need of any additional help. By doing this, the council is able to address the underlying cause of the crisis, rather than just treat the symptoms.

Cllr Baggy Shanker, Cabinet Member for Governance and Finance said: “Our Welfare Reform Team carry out need assessments to identify the customer’s priority needs and refer them to a wide range of specialist agencies such as counselling, money advice, alcohol and drug dependency support, housing, digital skills, banking, welfare rights and employment support. Our focus is to work with customers to support them in becoming more financially independent and removing barriers to employment.

“With individual discretionary awards we were less able to identify the underlying challenges that resulted in customers regularly using these short awards instead of a longer term more sustainable plan.

“We are currently preparing for the full roll out of Universal Credit and other associated welfare reforms and by introducing this service we are helping customers be better prepared.”


Partnership approach

To implement the Gateway, the council partnered with Empowering Communities, a not-for-profit social enterprise that specialises in collaborative technology. Practitioners at the council had already been using the E-CINS system from Empowering Communities to offer joined up multi-agency case management and the SDA Gateway streamlines its workflow even further.

Director of Finance, Martyn Marples, hopes that the SDA Gateway will help other councils to improve the way they provide help for those that genuinely need it the most.

“The work we have achieved with Empowering Communities in piloting the SDA Gateway could pave the way for lots of other local authorities to rethink how they administer discretionary awards.

“With budget cuts across all local authorities and constant pressure to reduce expenditure but increase support, the Single Discretionary Award Scheme and SDA Gateway provides us with an opportunity to help manage demand, make best use of limited funding and deliver a service to customers that helps make a difference.”

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