EIA 16 Administration of School Clothing Grants

Please refer to the ‘2011 Guidance for Applicants’ before completing this application
The deadline for submission of entries is 5pm on Friday 8 October 2010. Further
guidance is available at http://www.awards.cosla.gov.uk. Submission arrangements
are detailed at the end of this application form.
The application form is split over four sections to reflect the assessment criteria, and to
facilitate the leeting process. It is up to you to decide the content and length of each
section, but your application must not exceed three pages in total (excluding the
cover pages).
CATEGORY TITLE Category 5 – Excellence in Adversity
Project Name Administration of School Clothing Grants/Free School Meals
Lead Organisation Aberdeenshire Council
Department/ Team Corporate Services (Benefits Section)
Participant or Partner
Award coordinator
Contact details
1. Susan Donald
2. Maureen MacAulay
3. Ricki Lyon
4. Fiona Wood
5. Alex Bain
6. Kathryn Sutton
Graham Hobson
Tel 01224 664906
Fax 01224665444
Can we publish this application form on our website?
In one short paragraph please describe this project and what it has achieved.
We will use this in any future publicity material.
By combining the administration of free school meals and school clothing grants with housing benefit
and council tax benefit administration, Aberdeenshire Council lives up to its vision of involving,
responding and enabling and to finding new and efficient ways of doing things. Customers only have to
make one application and provide evidence of their income once to claim four means tested benefit
schemes administered by the Council as opposed to having to provide information 3 times over under
the previous arrangements. Take-up has increased significantly, technology used by one council service
is being used to benefit another and resources are used more efficiently. This project shows that by
putting customer needs first, by doing things differently and working together we can be more efficient
as well as maintain and improve customer service in difficult financial times.
· a clear rationale, defined processes and focus on stakeholder needs
· contributes to organisation’s goals, community plan and SOA, and national policy context
In July 2008, as a kaizen exercise, which sought to improve amongst other things the administration of
free school meals, identified a duplication of effort in relation to means tested benefits. A continuous
improvement project between Finance, Education, Learning and Leisure, Planning and Environmental
Services began in May with the objective of implementing the new arrangements on 18 August 2008,
the start of the new school year. The project moved the administration of free school meals from the 170
primary and secondary schools across Aberdeenshire to the Integrated Benefits Section of Finance. In
June 2008, prior to the change, there were 1,590 children in receipt of free school meals. By February
2010 this number had increased to 2,441, an increase of 54%, with a further 381 aware of their eligibility,
but who nevertheless decided not to take free school meals, perhaps because the children were in the
habit of going home for lunch.
The success of this project provided a clear rationale for extending the continuous improvement project
to include school clothing grants and as a result a project initiation meeting took place In February 2010
when representatives from the Integrated Benefits Section, Education, Learning and Leisure met to
discuss the way forward.
A small project team of 3 was set up within the Integrated Benefits Section and the progress of the
Project was monitored by a Board comprising 2 representatives from Education Learning & Leisure and
the Benefits Manager. The project was fully supported by the Acting Director of Education, Learning
and Leisure, the Director of Corporate Services and the Head of Finance due to its potential to increase
take-up, improve efficiency and achieve a quick win in terms of demonstrating the positive impact of
doing thinks differently for the customer and the Council. The Chair and Vice-Chair of the Education,
Learning and Leisure Committee were also very supportive.
The Project team was charged with achieving the following objectives:
Identifying all those in receipt of housing benefit and council tax benefit with school age children,
who would qualify for school clothing grant
Developing a process by which these customers could receive payment by BACS
Developing a strategy for communicating with customers and gathering the necessary
information to enable BACS payments to be made, with the first payment run scheduled for mid
Developing procedures for processing, paying and reconciling school clothing grant payments
Developing a communication strategy for Education, Learning and Leisure staff across the Council
aimed at informing them of the new procedures
Identifying a means of measuring the success of the project in terms of take-up, customer
perceptions and the perceptions of those in Education, Learning and Leisure.
Drawing up a project plan with key milestone dates identified
· implemented in all relevant areas and across all the required stakeholders
· carried out in a structured and logical way , using robust and sustainable methods
By the start of May 2010 1,793 families across Aberdeenshire, who were in receipt of housing benefit and
council tax benefit, had been identified as also having entitlement to school clothing grants. A letter
was sent to each household advising them of the change in administration, explaining when and how
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they would be paid and asking them to complete and return the form that was enclosed with letter
giving details of the bank account into which they would like the money paid.
There were some issues in relation to customers having access to bank accounts but these were
resolved by providing information to customers about the availability of basic bank accounts and on
the level of identify evidence that would be required. Given that school clothing grants involves the
payment of £50 per qualifying child per annum it was important that a business information system was
available that would facilitate the payment of the grant record the payment so that duplicate
payments could be prevented. The Northgate Revenues and Benefits system had an additional
chargeable module relating to education benefits and the specification for the module provided
assurance that the software could meet the Council’s needs. The Education Benefits Module as it is
called also has the potential to further streamline the process of free school meals administration.
A press release was issued in June to inform parents who were not liable for rent or council tax of the
new arrangements and an Education Circular was issued to all schools and education offices advising
of the new arrangements. The Benefits Manager and the Project Officer also attended meetings of
school administrators to explain the new process, listen to any concerns and answer any questions that
school staff might have about the new arrangements.
Benefits staff were also given access to the education system in order to verify that those children for
whom a school clothing grant was being claimed were attending school, thus eliminating the need for
head teachers to complete a form attesting to this.
By the end of July procedures for dealing with school clothing grants had been drawn up and all the
households who had returned the BACS details had been processed on the Education Benefits Module.
The first payment run was accomplished on 12 August 2010 and since then payment runs have been
done weekly. As at 7 September school clothing grants have been paid out in respect of 2,819 children,
an increase of 15% on 2009/10. By mid August reconciliation procedures were also in place to ensure
that any BACS rejects were dealt with appropriately and the Council’s financial ledger was updated.
The level of payments is being monitored to establish just how effective the new arrangements have
been in terms of increased take-up. The Integrated Benefits Section has received no additional
resources for undertaking this work and reports regularly to Education, Learning and Leisure on the
number and value of grant payments.
The project was successfully implemented as a result of the co-ordinated efforts of staff across a range
of council services who worked together to ensure that qualifying families were identified,
communications with customers were effective, procedures were in place, the software enabled the
recording and payment of the grant, BACS payments were tested and reconciliation procedures were
in place.
Benefits staff
Education, learning and Leisure staff
Revenues Operations Support staff
Revenues Income Control Team
Accountancy staff
· Demonstrates leading practice
· Achieves genuine innovation or new ways of working
The origins of the project can be traced back to the original kaizen event in 2008 when Finance,
Education, Learning and Leisure, Planning and Environmental Services, as part of the Council’s
commitment to continuous improvement, looked out with their traditional service boundaries and
changed the way in which the service was delivered in order to improve service delivery to the
customer and to make the Council more efficient.
The leading practice and innovation in this project involved lean thinking in other words putting the
customer at the forefront of service delivery. It involved engaging with staff and a range of services
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working in partnership for a common goal, simplifying and streamlining the claim process so that one
application form enabled the customer to claim four means tested benefits. It maximised the use of the
electronic document management and workflow technology designed for revenues and benefit
purposes by linking the application of these education benefit to the housing benefit and council tax
benefit claim process.
By using existing technology and by being prepared to take on work out with its traditional boundaries
Finance has been able and support Education, Learning and Leisure and the Council as a whole meet
the objectives of enhancing citizen and community, has contributed in a small way to improving the
health of the residents of Aberdeenshire and has enabled the residents who face financial difficulties to
access financial services that the more well off members of the community take for granted.
This approach of allowing the customer to access a range of means tested benefits through one
gateway could be applied to a number of other council charges which have means tested rebate
As a result of the free school meals project the school administrators had more time available to devote
to supporting teaching staff within their schools. It is also anticipated that there have been savings in
staff resources within the local education offices, although these have yet to be quantified. Given the
stringent financial position facing Councils projects such as these can make a significant contribution to
securing the efficiency gains that are required to minimise any future cuts.
· a convincing mix of customer perception and internal performance measures
· clear line of sight to the delivery of the Single Outcome Agreement
· a full range of relevant results showing improvement over time
In 2009/2010 Education, Learning and Leisure paid school clothing grants totalling £122,250 in respect of
2,445 children by cheque. In 2010/2011 from 12 August to 17 September 2010 the Integrated Benefits
Section has paid out £140,950 in respect of 2,819 children by BACS, an increase of 15%.
In October 2010 a telephone survey of a sample of school clothing grant recipients will be carried out to
find out what our customers think of the new process and determine what improvements can be made
to service delivery in the future.
The free school meals and school clothing grant projects point the way forward in respect of other
council charges, which are means tested and demonstrate the customer service improvements that
can be achieved through the internal sharing of services and putting the needs of the customer first.
In terms of future developments there are also plans to use the Education Benefits Module to further
streamline the free school meals procedures and to look at the most cost effective and efficient way of
identifying the children who are eligible for relief on their music tuition fees.
The changes to the administration arrangements for free school meals and school clothing grants and
the positive outcomes in terms of increased take-up and the more effective use of resources are a
practical demonstration of the Council’s priorities in action as they deliver in terms of the strategic
priorities of community well being, delivering services for children and young people, prompting
inclusiveness, improving health and making the best use of resources.
The single outcome agreement talks about delivering services in an integrated way in order to deliver
health, social care, education, learning and leisure services. The changes to the administration of free
school meals and school clothing grants administration contribute to that agenda both in terms of
ensuring that financial assistance is available to those who need it and by freeing up resources within
Education, learning and Leisure so that the service is better able to deliver its objectives.
These changes also show that even in these most challenging of financial times there are opportunities
to deliver improvements to customer service, whilst working more efficiently.
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Next steps
 Have you answered the assessment criteria set out in the guidance?
 Is your application form 3 pages or less? (anything more, including
appendices, will be automatically rejected)
 Has your application form been authorised by an appropriate person?
 Have you indicated whether you wish the application form to be
Submitting your application
Please email your application by 8 October to:
Category 1 submissions
Category 2 submissions
Category 3 submissions
Category 4 submissions
Category 5 submissions
Category 6 submissions
Category 7 submissions
Queries surrounding the submission of applications can be made to:
Adam Stewart (adam.stewart@cosla.gov.uk / 0131 474 9275)