The Warwickshire County Council (WCC) Blue Badge private beta officially launched on 7th April 2017. That was when the first letters were sent out inviting existing Warwickshire Blue Badge holders to renew their badges using our transformed trial application system.
The first Blue Badge application that used GOV.UK Verify and online, real-time eligibility checking, was received and successfully processed on 12th April. This is the first time that GOV.UK Verify has been used for a local government service, and the first time that a local council has been able to carry out a real-time eligibility check against Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) data to fully automate the processing of a Blue Badge.
Users accessing the new system are asked to register with GOV.UK Verify in order to establish their identity. Or, if they already have a GOV.UK Verify account, they can simply log in. The application then presents the user with the option to agree to do a real-time check of their eligibility against DWP data. Involving the user in this way in decisions about how their data are accessed is consistent with a conceptual pattern known as ‘Attribute Exchange’. Attribute Exchange provides more immediate service outcomes for users, mitigates risks associated with manual or batch data handling and has the potential to create an architecture that could be reused for related ‘families’ of services in an attribute exchange ‘ecosystem’. A key strength of Attribute Exchange is that very often only a simple flag needs to be exchanged – a ‘yes/no’ check against eligibility for certain benefits. For the purposes of the trial system we are making those checks against an extract of DWP data that is hosted locally, but to the customer the system looks and feels just like the full attribute exchange solution.
If the customer’s eligibility is established, there are a few more simple steps to complete the application: upload a photograph; provide an email address for future contacts; agree to the terms and conditions; and make an online payment. The WCC Blue Badge team has no need to carry out further eligibility checks. They just add the application to the national Blue Badge system that manages badge printing and distribution.
WCC has worked closely with GDS on the onboarding process as the WCC team had to pass all the technical GOV.UK Verify compliance tests relating to SAML (Secure Assertion Markup Language), and the Matching Service Adapter. GOV.UK Verify onboarding was designed for central government, so GDS and WCC have worked to ensure the onboarding documentation is as clear as possible for local government. All of this learning has also been fed back into the GDS #VerifyLocal projects to help inform future work.
DWP provided great support for the project, which required full compliance with data protection legislation, undertaking a Privacy Impact Assessment, and drawing up the required Data Movement Form and Data Sharing Agreements to ensure we could get access to the necessary information in a secure way that protected our customers’ data.
We have also learned a lot of useful lessons about what eligibility data the DWP holds. This will be invaluable when we consider how this private beta could be scaled further.
In common with all GOV.UK Verify projects, the Blue Badge work has been underpinned by user research, and this was used to fine tune the system prior to launch. All applicants will be asked to fill out a feedback form and this, along with Google Analytics, will be used to analyse the effectiveness of the trial system and design future improvements.
We will be monitoring use of the trial system during the two month operating period (until the end of May), and will make improvements as necessary throughout. At the end of May we will collate all of the feedback and statistics on system use and create a formal report. This will be reviewed by WCC, GDS, and DWP in early July and will help to understand how we could implement this service beyond the pilot.
The WCC Blue Badge work established the link between GOV.UK Verify and Attribute Exchange for online, real-time eligibility checking. The business case for GOV.UK Verify is significantly enhanced when it is used as a way of underpinning quick, safe, secure and consent-driven data exchange.
Recent work by the Personal Data Exchange team in GDS has established that eligibility checking is a common service pattern in central government as well. The major blocker that departments encounter is getting access to data held in other departments. Attribute Exchange, underpinned by GOV.UK Verify, could provide an effective solution to that problem.
It is no coincidence that GDS has established a group to define Attribute Exchange standards so that all stakeholders are clear what an effective Attribute Exchange ecosystem should look like. This standards work is essential to stimulate the development of an Attribute Exchange ecosystem that everyone can be confident to use. WCC is involved in that standards work.
A whole section of GDS’s Government Transformation Strategy is devoted to better use of data, and it is recognised that using data effectively across departmental and organisational boundaries is a particular issue. The WCC Blue Badge private beta is blazing a trail to demonstrate how consent-driven data sharing could be achieved, with Attribute Exchange, to the benefit of users and service providers alike.