Reducing non-take-up of rights through user research and co-creation
Welzijnszorg Kempen is a welfare organisation uniting the 27 OCMW's (Belgian public centres of social welfare) of the Turnhout district. The association aims to use its services to target the most vulnerable people in society.
Knight Moves supported the municipalities of Balen, Ravels and Rijkevorsel in particular to remove thresholds for citizens who are entitled to allowances, such as rent allowance, education vouchers or childcare discounts.
The assignment is part of a project funded by the Flemish government, focused on helping local public services to create innovative digital solutions in order to make their services more efficient and customer-centric.
25% to 50% of people entitled to local social assistance do not use it! We call this form of exclusion from services 'non-take-up of rights’.
A lot of research has already been conducted on causes and solutions of non-take-up. The challenge lies in translating that knowledge into local practice. In this project, we applied the techniques of service design to discover the local causes of non-take-up tailored to each municipality and in close contact with citizens. We then devised appropriate solutions together.
Why should you tackle non-take-up?
The social policies you implement as a government are only effective if citizens get the allowances they are entitled to.
Simplified procedures and clear language take away workload from employees and citizens.
Citizens restore their trust in government when they feel recognised and helped.
Discovering the causes of non-take-up throughout the client journey
A first step in each municipality consisted of identifying barriers that citizens encounter in order to obtain allowances such as housing benefits. We examined the entire client journey: from discovering that an allowance exists, to applying for it and actually obtaining it. We mapped these thresholds through:
interviews with (potential) beneficiaries
interviews with social housing staff and partners
expert reviews: evaluating the accessibility and user-friendliness of the service provision process from our knowledge and expertise as service designers
Creating appropriate solutions together
In a second step, we brought municipal employees, aldermen and citizens together to work out effective solutions for the most pressing thresholds. For this, the group could draw on inspiration from scientific and official experts in non-take-up who were questioned at the start of the project.
Reaching vulnerable citizens with an online survey
Giving citizens a voice was an important goal in itself in this project. Together with the municipalities, we distributed an online survey to better understand what stops citizens from taking the step to the OCMW. Stepping over the physical threshold of the OCMW proves to be one of the biggest barriers for take-up. Citizens experience shame because asking for help from the OCMW feels like begging rather than claiming your rights. Some recommendations for reaching vulnerable citizens with an online survey are:
be present in locations where citizens feel safe
invite citizens personally to participate and explain why their opinions matter
provide free wifi, a tablet and assistance in scanning the QR code and filling in the survey
Municipalities can take action at various levels to address non-take-up.
We present this as a staircase of solutions, ranging from proactively informing people and proactive identification to automatic allocation of rights. See drawing below:
Each municipality prepared an action plan by selecting from all proposed solutions those that are impactful and feasible in the short and medium term. The municipalities received the following as working tools:
a presentation of the identified thresholds and proposed solutions
a visualisation of the current client journey, showing the thresholds that beneficiaries encounter
solution sheets with concrete tools to improve their service
Some examples of concrete solutions:
The municipality of Balen is investigating the possibility of automatically granting the discount on out-of-school childcare thanks to a cooperation with the Flemish Agency responsible for payment of allowances in the context of family policy (VUTG).
The municipality of Ravels is investigating the possibility to identify and proactively inform those entitled to the rent allowance by cooperating with the regional housing company, which has insight into which Ravels residents are on the waiting list for social housing.
The Rijkevorsel municipality converts the education voucher letters to clearer language and already clarifies on the envelope that it contains good news so that vulnerable citizens are not afraid to open a letter from the municipality.
Get started with these solutions in your municipality/organisation. You can find the presentations and solution sheets on the project website at Welzijnszorg Kempen (in Dutch).
"The process yielded several opportunities to improve our services, both quick wins and long-term issues. Much more than I had dared to hope for at the start."