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AI is being used to speed up the payment of cost-of-living grants

A woman holding a baby while adjusting heating controls

20 January 2023

A woman holding a baby while adjusting heating controls
Developers working for Powys County Council are using artificial intelligence (AI) to make sure those needing cost-of-living help receive it as quickly as possible.

They have been refining the process over the last 12 months, as part of the Digital Powys programme, and now believe they have created one of the fastest and easiest to use systems anywhere in local government in the UK.

It is being used to automatically approve many of the Powys applications to the Welsh Government's Fuel Support Scheme 2022/23, which is open until the end of February and is delivering an additional one-off payment of £200 to households on low incomes across Wales.

The system is delivering faster processing times, meaning those applying and meeting the low-income criteria are getting help quicker.

It is also proving popular with customers, who are finding the online application process simple.

One applicant to the Fuel Support Scheme told the council through a feedback form: "I just want to say how much I appreciated the way the application form was set up with small explanations after many of the questions. This was so reassuring that I was giving the correct answer and made the whole process less anxiety inducing."

The council has been trialling the use of AI for processing grant payments, after previous investment in IT infrastructure and systems allowed this additional work to take place. It is being used to auto-approve many of the applications, where the criteria are clearly being met and can be checked against government records and to reject a small number that are duplicates or for addresses outside the county.

It is also being used to prepare all cases for fraud checking and to automatically upload details ready for the council's payment system, but it is not being used to make decisions on anything requiring a more subjective judgement. Nor on incomplete applications as these cannot be submitted.

AI has automatically approved around 62% of the 8,941 Fuel Support Scheme 2022/23 applications received to date and if these rates continue it is expected to save the council around £36,400 in administration costs.

Those that aren't approved are sent to grant officers to review.

"We know that when people apply for grant support, they like to receive that help as quickly as possible," said Cllr Jake Berriman, Powys County Council's Cabinet Member for a Connected Powys, "so, that is why we are using automation to speed up the process as much as possible.

"This is particularly important during the cost-of-living crisis, but the improvements being made by our digital team will benefit residents and businesses for many years to come. They are also helping us reduce costs as our own income as a council is also being squeezed by rising inflation and freeing up our grant officers to review the more complex cases."

Cllr David Thomas, Cabinet Member for Finance and Corporate Transformation added: "There have been some glitches along the way, including the duplicate Fuel Support Scheme payments made in error to some claimants in October, but this was not caused by using AI.

"We are confident that in the long-term the use of automation can help us to improve the service offered to Powys residents and help us deliver grants, benefits and awards to them at a lower cost."

The Fuel Support Scheme is open until 5pm on Tuesday 28 February 2023, with households in receipt of a range of benefits eligible: Fuel Support Scheme 2022/23

Powys residents may also be able to claim an additional £150 through the council's own Discretionary Cost of Living Support Scheme: Discretionary Cost of Living Support Scheme

The automation work on grant applications has been carried out as part of the county council's Digital Powys programme which aims to improve customer experience by using new technologies.

Powys residents with questions about the Fuel Support Scheme and the Cost-of-Living Support Scheme can now use an online chat, on the council's website, to speak to an adviser.

They can also call 01597 826345 for advice on grants, benefits or awards.