How digitisation helped the DWP make child maintenance easier for separated parents

Written by Alan Soulsby on 4 November 2019 in Opinion

Improving its online offering has enabled the department to make life easier for citizens and its own staff. Lead delivery manager Alan Soulsby talks us through the project.

Credit: Tibor Janosi Mozes from Pixabay

We recently made changes to our online Child Maintenance Options Service to improve the user experience for separated parents.

The service provides information and support about child maintenance arrangements and acts as a gateway to the Child Maintenance Service statutory scheme.

Last year we received 412,000 calls and helped 224,000 customers to make a decision about child maintenance. Almost a quarter of these customers are now working with the other parent in a family-based arrangement without the need for any intervention from the Child Maintenance Service.

The project used a discovery phase to identify issues which found that the Child Maintenance Options website had ballooned with information and that this was causing difficulties with navigation. As a result, the telephony service was seeing a higher demand for answers to quick questions.

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Through discovery we found that users need a service that is available 24 hours a day to fit around childcare, work and parenting responsibilities with clear information about how to arrange child maintenance. And, while some users would prefer to use digital channels, others want the ability to have a conversation with an expert about making a private arrangement. 

We explored various ways to give separated parents the information that they need and tested our ideas and designs with our users.

We found that by offering the right content and supporting digital tools, we could empower more separated parents to make their own maintenance arrangements without the need for intervention or support from Child Maintenance Services.
We rebuilt and enhanced the child maintenance calculator and added new functionality, including the ability to personalise results with the names of parents and children. Another really valuable new feature is the ability to download and share the calculation result. This now provides parents with a clear starting point for reaching a private agreement.

Some of the more complex parenting arrangements can now be accommodated by the calculator, for example multiple relationships and shared care arrangements, removing the need to phone up. 

Improving citizen experience 
We worked closely with colleagues in Government Digital Service to agree changes to the written content on the GOV.UK website. We were able to consolidate multiple guides into a step-by-step approach to child maintenance arrangements and removed old CSA content which had become redundant.

We found that by offering the right content and supporting digital tools, we could empower more separated parents to make their own maintenance arrangements without the need for intervention or support from Child Maintenance Services

The new GOV.UK content includes a toolkit of supportive documents and guidance for parents making private arrangements, including a form that serves as a joint agreement, a discussion guide, and a tool that helps users work out the costs of raising a child. This helps parents to make child maintenance arrangements and decisions independently. 

By improving the website and making the information there clearer and easier to find, we’ve removed the need for a phone call. But customers can still call us if they want to speak to somebody or if they require additional support. 

This is the first part of an improved digitalised customer journey; one that really puts the user at the heart of changes to our services. Our next steps for the service will be to focus on how we can improve the application process. In DWP Digital we have an ambitious vision for the future to truly improve the citizen experience. 


About the author

Alan Soulsby is a lead delivery manager at the Department for Work and Pensions

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