How automation and data-sharing enabled DWP to transform the state pension service

Written by Sam Trendall on 3 December 2020 in Features
Features

After a digital and data revamp, more than half of claims are entirely self-service, product owner Vicky Coatesworth tells PublicTechnology

Credit: Adobe Stock

Even by government standards, the Get your State Pension service run by the Department for Work and Pensions is a vast and important one.

Almost one in five citizens of the UK is eligible to receive the state pension, making the online platform that allows them to claim and manage the benefit one of the most widely used in all of government.

This breadth of usage is mirrored by a wide-ranging transformation of what the DWP admits was a slow process – that many citizens could not successfully complete or, often, access at all.

The new-look Get your State Pension Service, launched in 2018 to replace the previous State Pension On Line platform, has introduced much more automation and tapped into existing government data sources to allow about three in five claimants to complete the process without any intervention needed from departmental staff.

In this Q&A, PublicTechnology asked product owner Vicky Coatesworth to tell us about the challenges and benefits of the transformation process, and how the DWP might look to further develop the platform in the future.

 

When and how did the process of digitising the Get Your State Pension service begin?
The Get your State Pension (GySP) digital service has transformed the way citizens claim their state pension. Initial deployment was in 2018 when it replaced the service known as State Pension On Line (SPOL). SPOL had limited take up with many citizens – 53% – unable to access it. Fifty per cent of citizens who did access SPOL dropped out, and those who completed their claim online took, on average, 20 minutes to complete, which triggered much contact. The experience was further compounded by confusing notifications which caused unnecessary demand on DWP as citizens made progress chasing enquiries. 


What were the key challenges or obstacles that needed to be overcome in doing so?
There was a failure to use citizen information already held and trusted by the department. This was compromised further by seeking information that was no longer needed to process a claim. The goal was to transform the citizen’s experience, increase access rates, reduce completion times and move towards full automation.

A key task was to build a digital service where take-up and satisfaction of the service would exceed that of telephony (65% and 97%). To achieve this, GySP had to be easily accessible, but at the same time secure, and had to only collect the minimum data set required to put a claim into payment.

The new service had to improve and simplify the user’s experience by maximising the reuse of data and automating all or as much of the process as possible. This enabled the citizens to self-serve, reducing DWP agent assistance and interventions regarding avoidable contact and processing, ultimately reducing the overall transaction costs for state pension claims. The new service also had to offer further departmental efficiencies through removal of reliance on aging and costly legacy IT systems. 


25% vs 75%
Digital take up of the old services compared with the new Get your State Pension service


20 minutes vs eight minutes
Average time taken to complete the two services


50% vs 90%
Proportion of users making an online claim that completed the process


What have been the benefits for the DWP in digitising the GySP service?
Digital take-up has steadily increased and currently stands at 75%, as of August 2020. To date, we have received over 700,000 claims through the online service. We have received amazing feedback on the simplicity, accuracy and speed of the GySP service as a lot of the calculations and processes have been automated removing the need for agents to physically check multiple other systems for information. Over 100,000 claims have been processed without the need for any DWP agent intervention since June 2020 – 58% of all state pension claims.  This has had a hugely positive impact on operational delivery efficiencies and benefited the wider DWP to meet new demands brought about by the impacts of Covid, enabling people to be assigned to and support other DWP priorities to support more vulnerable citizens or complex cases.

More than 80,000 cases are being maintained on the GySP service and not the old costly legacy systems. GySP was the first of the existing DWP benefits to move away from processing on legacy systems and also the first benefit to process a claim and put into payment without any DWP agent intervention. 

GySP also offers further departmental efficiencies through reuse of up-to-date accurate information enabling us to move away from expensive legacy IT systems. 
The address lookup and cleanse functionality that improved address quality meaning we could invite 96% of citizens providing them with a unique invitation code via the post has been taken and extended upon for reuse across other digital services as a common capability.


What are the benefits for claimants?
All citizen communications have been extensively researched and tested with users, resulting in a clear understanding of evidenced user needs and plain English content that is easily understood, including a new invitation to claim notification with clear instructions on how to claim. Online take up rocketed from 25% to 75% as the introduction of a two-factor authentication solution resolved online access issues. Drop-out rates were halved with around 90% of users successfully completing their online claim. This is due to a minimum data gather – as well as the service being designed to be accessible with a route to get support if needed. Reducing the
information we gather to only that which we cannot source ourselves has seen completion of the online claim go from 20 minute to an average of eight minutes with the fastest claim taking just over one minute. Citizens receive a new, fully researched and understood entitlement notice within days of completion informing them of their entitlement and their first day of payment. The performance of the service and citizen feedback has remained consistent during the life of the service, with customer satisfaction never going below 95%.

The experience of the old service was further compounded by confusing notifications which caused unnecessary demand on DWP, as citizens made progress chasing enquiries

How does Citizen Straight Through Processing work? And what are its benefits?
GySP worked in collaboration with DWP and HMRC teams to enable automatic sharing of data between departments 

When a citizen makes a claim to state pension online they access the service and provide data that we need. This acts as a trigger for the service to pull into it other data items from DWP and HMRC systems, relating to the citizen. Analysis by the team identified certain data items where further investigation or clarity was required in order to pay the citizen their correct state pension entitlement, for example our two-step authentication means by checking information provided by the citizen and information that we already hold with a third party we have a greater level of assurance from a fraud and error perspective, before confirmation of any payments to the confirmed payee.

Filters were built into the GySP service which identify citizens whose data matches with the criteria for further investigation and moves these citizen claims into the robotic and business-as-usual service on legacy IT systems. When a citizen’s data is not filtered out, it means we can accurately pay their state pension entitlement. This entitlement is processed automatically, producing a new notification, issued to the customer within days, telling them how much they are entitled to and when they will receive their first payment. 

There are several benefits to Citizen Straight Through Processing: an improved customer experience for those making the claim online: a reduction in the need for agent intervention, which frees up a valuable resource to focus on more complex and vulnerable customers; and the new entitlement notification has been fully researched and its format, with plain English content, has resulted in greater customer understanding and therefore a reduction in enquiries to DWP. 

The GySP service is cheaper to maintain than the old IT legacy systems and more adaptable to quick changes going forward as we look to continually improve the service. 


1 March 2018
Launch date of the Get your State Pension service


12 million
Number of citizens eligible to claim state pension


700,000
Number of claims processed via the new service since its launch


To what extent can the service call on existing government data to support claims – and how big a challenge was it to bring this data together, particularly from across departmental boundaries?
We have been able to successfully utilise existing engagement routes to maximise how we work in partnership with other government departments, for example HMRC, to receive automatic API data feeds to prompt and enable citizens to make an informed choice to get their state pension and subsequently if a claim is submitted, automatic retrieval of state pension amounts to accurately award and make timely payments. We have also built and extended new relationships with wider government to support us in the usage and iteration of common capabilities e.g. DWP GySP collaborated with the GDS Verify team to introduce a new level of assurance, to support the minority of citizens that could not be provided with a unique code to access the service, ensuring the service was safe and secure for all citizens to claim their state pension online. The service has also integrated with the Gov.uk Notify Service to enable more accurate and timely notifications to be produced, reducing dropout rates and avoidable contact leading to a completion rate of 87%%. During the alpha and private beta stages of service development we established that a lot of the data gathered during the claim process was not needed to award and pay state pension– and that we could source much of the information required via internal systems.

Business analysis and available data showed that many reasons for a manual intervention were due to diminishing issues and those that were due to extinguish altogether – for example Contracted Out Employment Group investigations and Reduced Rate Election cases.  

The analysis also showed that if we received certain data items from other government departments we could make more intelligent decisions using that data – for example checking for overlapping benefits, awarding cases during the period where final relevant year information is outstanding, and automation of state pension reviews. This meant when agents came to processing claims, in certain cases, the only action for them to take was to ‘confirm’ the award so it could be put into payment. 


What are some of the key ways in which the service has evolved since its launch?
From 1 March 2018 the service was available for citizens to access direct on GOV.UK and claim their state pension. The original online claim service, State Pension On Line (SPOL) was switched off.  

The introduction of GySP improved the method of creating and sending a state pension invitation letter to citizens, giving DWP more control of the content and timescales for distribution. The invitation letter, issued via GOV.UK Notify, had been extensively researched so we knew that it was clear, concise, written in plain English and fully understood by the citizen. Importantly it provided a unique invitation code which enabled easier access to the new online service.

The introduction of an address cleanse process meant we increased the number of citizens who actually received the invitation letter to claim their state pension from 65% to over 90%.

The information asked for and gathered from a citizen was streamlined to ensure we only asked for data that we did not already hold. Data requested, such as bank details and dates of birth, are validated automatically within the service.

Robotic functionality was deployed while we iterated the back-processing functionality and scaled the service. Its introduction prevented simple re-keying of data from one system to another. This protected headcount as an interim step, as transformation and automation were always the planned key enablers. 

The service evolved from a citizen data-gather to automatic retrieval of trusted information already held, and automatic processing of all claim information to allow generation of an automatic payment, with about 60% automatically processed with no DWP agent intervention. This was achieved through collaborative working with other teams in DWP, GDS and HMRC.  

Although we are actively encouraging channel shift to online services with citizens, alternative channels will continue to be available for those who can’t or won’t interact through the online channel

From December 2019, the fully automated end-to-end service began to be tested with a small selection of cases. Those cases were automatically derived from key characteristics that filtered on the type and complexity of the rules to be applied. This enabled a controlled risk-based approach to be implemented supported by a thorough test and assurance of all case types and outcomes, ahead of scaling the service and ultimately proving we had fully removed reliance on ageing legacy systems for SP new claims, as a stepping stone to the service being available to all state pension citizens – about 12 million people – to include the capability to apply and maintain any appropriate changes that could impact the state pension. 

Although we are actively encouraging channel shift to online services with citizens, alternative channels will continue to be available for those who can’t or won’t interact through the online channel. The GySP service will provide that improved cross channel experience as it continues to iterate and scale to ensure the service is inclusive and available to meet all citizen’s needs either on line or supported by a DWP agent, whilst providing the most efficient service for tax payers. As of the end of October, over 100,000 citizen cases are now fully maintained on new GySP.
 

How might the DWP look to develop the service further in the future?
The online service will continue to be iterated and improved. In addition, the service has been further developed to allow agent access, meaning that we can deliver a new paper channel for citizens who still wish to claim by paper form. This means that DWP agents can input data from the claim form, realising many of the benefits achieved by the online service for even more citizens. We have just started a period of test and learn, in a controlled environment, with early indications that GySP service more than halves the processing time for claims made by paper.

 

About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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