When it comes to benefits and tax credits, deciding to work with third party suppliers is a decision that is at least a decade overdue. It reflects a steady change in public sector culture away from service delivery – ensuring the right people get what they are entitled to – towards revenue optimisation and fraud reduction. You rarely hear the subject of benefits talked about now without hearing the f-word used.
At local government level, this shift is more advanced than it is nationally. Councils have been building citizen hubs in order to have a unified view of who lives within their boundaries. Initially, this supported better service by allowing front-line workers to tell an individual if they were entitled to housing, parking permits or even to use a library. Many primary care trusts have developed similar data assets to ensure that hospitals and GPs pay and get paid for treating the right patients.
In both of those sectors, recent years have seen more emphasis fall on the new business case – ensuring as much cash flows into the council coffers through charges and fines. Parking has been the most visible dimension of this, but optimising council tax take through reducing exclusions and allowances has provided significant payback.
Now it is the turn of national-level government to apply the same thinking, only without the creation of a single view. Having axed the national identity database and ID cards, it was only a matter of time before commercial identity management experts were called on to provide the same outcomes without having to create a new infrastructure.
Headlines are being grabbed by the war on fraudulent claims that will result. Some of this activity has already begun – the National Fraud Authority started working with CIG earlier this year, for example. While Experian is unable to comment on how it might be involved, it has a long history of public sector engagement.
Stopping the fraudsters and cheats is in everybody’s interest as it reduces the overall tax bill. It may also help individuals who are currently denied or do not claim benefits due to mistakes they make in applications or even errors in their personal files.
Anybody who has embarked on driving efficiencies through the use of data will know about the upsides (and downsides) that result. Now all of us are going to see data at work on a national level.
Welcome to the new world of public sector identity management.