Smart data usage allows proactive allocation of social benefits
No need to fill in a form and provide proof of income to receive social benefits. Thanks to 'Proactive Services' Ghent citizens receive them automatically. Read how District09 supports the development of proactive services in Ghent.
In a nutshell
The city of Ghent grants several services to its citizens, more specifically to citizens in a specific socio-economical situation. Instead of beneficiaries having to fill in a form and provide proof of income or other information for receiving social benefits, we provided our services in a proactive way for 3 usecases.
We do this by checking in available datasets if the citizen meets the specific criteria. The data we use, is no longer provided by the citizen, but automatically gathered from federal databases which we check through the Business Rule Engine set up by the Flemish administration.
With our project we’ve not only realised a huge reduction of administrative burdens and a more efficient process for civil servants, but also data minimalisation on very personal data-sets. Civil servants no longer see the sensitive personal information, but only receive the result of the check. For example, we don’t see the exact income, only whether it is between a specific range.
By setting up these social benefits more proactively, we reach a higher take-up with the beneficiaries.
3 use cases
- Parents of children in our schools/nurseries who have a minimum or low income automatically receive a reduction on their schoolbills. They no longer have to apply for these themselves.
- Citizens with a lower income are entitled to free garbage bags. Through proactive enquiries in federal databases we reach these target groups faster and without them having to hand in documents.
- “UiTPAS”, a culture pass, grants a significant reduction at cultural activities. Based on the social registry number on their id-card, the desk officer can do the check right away with a very simple tool we’ve set up. The citizens no longer need to hand over any other documents to prove their social situation.
A 4th usecase is still in progress, involves a social tariff to enter the Low Emission Zone for people with a disability card and an increased health allowance.
What makes the service user-centric?
Our proactive services go further than the “only once” principle as stated in the Talinn declaration. Instead of asking data ‘only once’, we provide services without the citizen giving us any data. We start from the data that is available to us in federal databases, for example income, family-situation, social benefits,…. and depending on what the data tells us, we reach out to beneficiaries and provide them, proactively where possible with the benefits they are entitled to. The trigger to apply for the service no longer lies solely with the potential beneficiary, where possible, we, as a government will start this process ourselves.
It's no coincidence that we started our project with the social services, directed for the most vulnerable citizens: people with a low income, a guaranteed income, an increase health allowance,…. For them it is often very difficult to know what they are entitled to or to overcome administrative burdens such as providing the necessary documentation as proof. In our proactive services citizens no longer have to provide these documents themselves, it’s enough to bring their id-card to the deskoffice, or in the usecase of the garbage bags and the school bills, they don’t even have to do that.
What impact has the service had?
Not only do we remove the difficulty of finding out which benefits you’re entitled to, we've removed the barriers of applying for a service, getting the right documents and sending them through.
We also realise an important minimization of shared (personal) data: users often find themselves in a painful situation where they have to explain their personal context, going into detail about their financial status and having to share very personal information often with different people.
Civil servants in the local administration are relieved they no longer have to ask difficult questions about citizens personal situation. Before, they had to invest a lot of time helping citizens to get the right kind of documents. For citizens this often meant going back home to get the right or more up-to-date form and making a new appointment at a later date.
- Citizens with the social tariff get the UiTPAS faster since they don’t need to return back home or to the health fund to get a more recent document about their allowances.
- Citizens who didn’t even know they were entitled or didn’t specifically ask for the social tariff are now automatically helped.
- We’ve realised a much more secure and privacy-proof way of working. No more unsecure lists of people with certain social rights shared on several computers.
- We reach beneficiaries faster during the year, without them having to fill in a form or hand in documents at the city desks.
- We’ve seen a huge drop of manually submitted documents from 1.350 in 2019 to only 60 in 2022!
- More than 28.000 citizens received their free garbage bags without having to request these.
- We’ve realised a much more secure and privacy-proof way of working. No more unsecure lists of people with certain social rights
Social deduction on school/daycare bills
- 6 times throughout the schoolyear we check if parents are entitled to a social tariff based on income or social allowances. By doing this we’ve reached 4 times as many families as before! From 200 families to 800 based on social allowances alone (we’re still investigating the impact regarding families with a low income).
- We are the first local government to query the national registry on fiscal income. We had to ask and lobby for a change in federal law for this.
- As stated in the question before: important impact on data minimization on a lot of personal information.
- School teachers or social workers no longer have to assist parents in applying for these social tariffs. This was a very time consuming process. This time can now be utilised for additional guidance of families in need.
- A more efficient and faster way of creating invoices and applying the correct tariffs. The colleagues get a clear list of all the pupils and what category of tariff their parents fall in to. They don’t have to check documents, tax-returns files, themselves anymore which increases efficiency.
How was the service co-created?
When digitizing/semi-automizing a service it is crucial to know all the specifics of the business process. Therefor we’ve done a lot of interviews and workshops with the colleagues who provide these services today. We learned from them what possible “grey zones” we might encounter. We don’t want to create a black box-situation where the “computer says no”.
- In a set of workshops and interviews we focus for example on situations where people without a fixed address would ask for the service. What with divorced parents where one of the parents is entitled but the other not, what with parents that aren’t officially registered together,… All these situations we had to investigate further to know exactly how this is registered in the national base registries so we could predict what the outcome might be.
- We’ve also made clear manuals to instruct and inform the colleagues who will work with our tool how to interpret certain outcomes. It is crucial that they understand on what data our advice is based but more so on what data might not be available in the national registries but can overrule the advice. For instance the situation where a citizen has only just received his income allowance, but the national registry might not be updated yet.
- For UiTPAS we did 2 workshops with desk officers to hear about these specific situations. For the free garbage bags we have 4 meetings every year to discuss everything before we set up a new inquiry. For the garbage bags we also reviewed the letter (with the free coupon) that is sent out to the beneficiaries together with users and experts from intermediate organisations.
- For the schools and nurseries we did an inquiry at the schools on how this process works today, how much time and effort it costs them and what barriers they encounter.
In order to realise an interoperable exchange of the data we needed for our usecases, co-creation with the different levels of government was also crucial in this project.
- We start out with our own local services where the touchpoints are situated for the users and beneficiaries. We’ve also included some local datasets that are available at the Social Service in Ghent.
- Next to our local level we’ve worked very close with the Flemish administration for Digitisation and their MAGDA data exchange platform on top of which they provide the tool “Automatic Advice” and the Business Rule Engine. The MAGDA (Maximum Data Sharing between Administrations and Agencies) platform provides one common service-oriented data exchange infrastructure for the Flemish regional government, and the local governments. The MAGDA platform provides access to base registries of citizen and enterprise data, harnessing reusable technologies that can be easily adapted to the needs of different government administrations, from the regional to the local level, and increasingly to the federal level
- Thirdly an important dimension lays on the national level. Most of the base registries are federal databases so we need to align with those administrations on what specific data-fields we need to examine. For our project we worked closely with the Federal “Crossroads Bank for Social Security” (Kruispuntbank Sociale Zekerheid) and also the Federal Public Service Finance.