Digital identification and support of vulnerable citizens pre-crisis.

Full Application: Not funded at this stage

TellJO is a digital self-assessment sent out by a local authority to its customers, enabling the local authority to proactively identify and engage with their vulnerable citizens at pre-crisis.

The discovery phase of the TellJO project was funded by TellJO as a pilot to test the following hypotheses:

1.Do people get into financial difficulty for the same reasons they are vulnerable?

2.Will a digital interface improve engagement and support of vulnerable groups?

3. Can we categorise the different vulnerabilities?

4. Can we encourage customers to self-help digitally?

Results available in Appendix 1

We want to use the Alpha phase to build on the discovery findings with the following research plan:

1.How much money can TellJO save in homelessness, mental health services and debt collections, how can we measure and share that information?

2.Discover what interventions and signposts give the greatest impact?

3. How can we compare the vulnerability in different geographical areas, and different councils to measure and understand any variances especially when considering areas with greater rurality and more urban areas along?

4. How can we create nudges to automate impact, especially in safeguarding issues such as suicidal thoughts, to ensure vulnerable people get the help they need?

5. Will resolving vulnerabilities result in improved payment resilience of council tax.

6. Can we use TellJO effectively in different directorates of local government.

Partnership working will require Individual data to be managed by each individual council via their encrypted TellJO dashboard, but Councils will still be able to compare their statistical differences.

All the opted in data for TellJO will be overseen on a central TellJO dashboard and anonymised findings will be shared.  TellJO will assume responsibility to share and iterate any group evidence and data to facilitate constant improvements via the Mid Sussex lead Project Manager.

Mid Sussex District Council will be the lead organisation.

The Financial Conduct Authority have produced research called the Financial Lives survey which indicates 50% (25M) of the UK population are susceptible to vulnerability.

The current problem is that vulnerable citizens often do not know how or where to go to get help regarding their vulnerabilities at an early stage. This can result in crisis such as enforcement action, increased arrears, homelessness, poor mental health and increased cost to local authority services

We know from the discovery phase, that vulnerability is a systemic issue which negatively affects council tax payments, puts strain on services and can lead to severe detriment of citizens (A business case is available as Appendix 2)

Discovery evidence indicates that people are much more likely to disclose vulnerability digitally, we believe this is because they feel less shame, and don’t feel judged, whilst at the same time it is quick and efficient.

We know from discovery that over 25% of vulnerable people will use TellJO to self-help digitally, and that after using TellJO the customer is much more likely to engage directly with the Local Authority.

Following on from Discovery, in the Alpha stage we want to:

  1. Expand TellJO to different local authorities and see operational and impact variances
  2. Use TellJO in different local authority departments and measure performance
  3. Give access to vulnerable person data across departments and measure performance/ cost saving opportunities
  4. Understand how we can further automate support
  5. Create vulnerability statistical benchmarking for Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) on Council Tax collection – see
  6. Create a “sharing best practice” with 3 representative councils to further realise the benefits of TellJO.
  7. Create a Return on Investment saving model for every £1 spent on TellJO
  8. Increase the level of self-help from 25%
  9. Create an outbound communications package to communicate results to the local government community through a series of blogs, webinars and articles.

It is our goal for TellJO to be used in all local authorities as a cost-effective way to prevent citizens from entering into crisis.

In Appendix 3 the user journey is described.

By identifying vulnerable people at an earlier stage, you reduce opportunity for growing arrears and additional costs being added and can find economic, financial and social benefits to individuals and families.  This saves time from a point of administration. So nationally substantial cost savings and better customer service are offered.

Many outcomes take into account social value created by improving these outcomes. However, for some outcomes we cannot provide a standard value of social value as it varies dependent on intervention modelled, or cohort engaged.

Analysts consider other ways of calculating social value, as laid out by the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012.  The Green Book sets outs standards required for spending proposals and is mandatory for proposals that include central government expenditure. It is recognised, however, that sometimes it would be disproportionate to apply such standards –

  • eg we may not have technical capacity to do so. In this context, one approach that can be used for quantifying social value is social return on investment
  • guidance published by Cabinet Office states in 2013 this requires commissioners to include social value when considering public service contracts.

Identifying marginal costs and marginal benefits of these approaches should be taken into account by analysts when carrying out cost-benefit analysis.  The approach taken to appraising/evaluating success of projects to compare additional outcomes the project achieves with additional costs of delivering the project.  In other words a business case.

To enable this it is important to:

  • have comprehensive view of costs of providing services offered by the project, and also outcomes predicted/achieved from the project; and
  • make assessment of costs and outcomes if the project was not taking place.
The potential estimated cost savings from this project are:-


£ (per annum)
Identifying vulnerable taxpayers earlier in the process


Maximising other financial help


Reduced homelessness (placing someone homeless costs more) £100,000
Improved arrears performance £200,000
Less reliance on enforcement agents £30,000
Reduced costs other services NHS/GP £50,000
Reduced collections/enforcement costs £30,000

If project is funded and goes ahead more detailed information on costs savings will be provided, including independent research.

Impact will be measured by creating a “value” to each positive outcome eg, if TellJO intervenes saving someone from homelessness – that has an assumed cash benefit.

If we resolve a customer’s high cost credit their propensity to pay their priority debts will increase.  We will measure this.

We will prioritise our stories according to business value, with the goal of identifying vulnerable people in collection process at an earlier stage.

Mid Sussex DC recently appointed an experienced Project Manager who will lead in project managing this.  A full project plan will be set up.  We will regularly review our prioritized list as our project progresses, taking action as required.

This will include leads from across the authorities to share and work on this together

This will deliver a backlog of tasks that are always up-to-date so the most valuable features are being worked on at all times. It will also enable us to amend our backlog in response to any feedback received.

We will meet monthly but constantly provide team members and wider stakeholder group with the chance to regularly assess project progress, demonstrations, retrospectives, and stand-ups:-

  • These occur during and at the end of every sprint (over two weeks) and involve both the core project team and stakeholders.  We will focus on project deliverables allowing the project team to reflect on their performance.  We will also identify what is working well alongside any areas for improvement.

We want to foster effective collaboration, in particular, providing us with the insight needed to keep activity aligned with our strategic goals.

We will ensure our team communicates well and put in place any training activities to ensure they have both the understanding and skills needed to manage these activities. Additionally, tools such as instant messaging systems and project management solutions can also support productive communication (although face-to-face will always be one of the most effective channels!).  We will introduce testing activities into our processes, to give end-user feedback at an early stage.

To ensure this project is delivered as efficiently as possible, we will limit core project team size to six (representing each partner).

There will be a Product Owner, who will be responsible for making sure that work completed delivers the greatest possible value to the end-users, maintaining this user focus throughout the project.

The presence of this role does not mean, however, that the team should be micro-managed. Indeed, we will build a team empowered to take ownership of tasks and make decisions, while maintaining on-going communication and collaboration to keep the project aligned with our strategic goals.

The Product Owner will report to Head of Corporate Resources at Mid Sussex DC, who is sponsoring this project.

We in this project would like to be able to benefit from:-

  • Use of MHCLG offices for any London-based face to face meetings during the project
  • Badging our research as MHCLG endorsed, which will strengthen the profile of our work and encourage participation
  • Introductions at the appropriate level to government agencies such as MHCLG Local Government Division, DWP and HM Treasury encourage their participation and cooperation where appropriate
  • Ability to send communications, surveys etc via MHCLG channels (blogs, newsletter, twitter, etc.) to help us ‘work out loud’, and to help with sharing the outputs with the local government sector including at events, meetings, presentations and publications
  • Help with engaging with professional organisations such as CIPFA and the IRRV
  • Help with engaging with the Voluntary Sector
  • Help with engaging with other local authorities that may want to feed into our project
  • Ongoing help with training and development for the project team
  • Ability to seek MHCLG feedback on the project and its outcomes
  • We will look to get further support from Local Authorities to join the project as we develop further
  • Support if the necessary outcomes are achieved and conditions are met to achieve additional funding at the Beta phase
  • We will ask the MHCLG to provide feedback on our project.

We will look to get additional support and guidance from others such as Professional bodies so we can tap into their network of meetings, contacts and knowledge.

We will investigate linking up to other initiatives such as Vulnerability Registration Service and other commercial companies.  We could also look to link to Academic research as we will have an extensive database.

As well as this we will seek guidance and support from the Third Sector such as the Citizens Advice and Stepchange including locally and nationally.

We will also need support and guidance from our main software providers for Revenues and Benefits, being Capita Software Services and Northgate Public Sector.