Edinburgh takes applications online

The City of Edinburgh Council has taken ita applications for housing and social benefits online, to help customer service.

The new system, created with BT and EzGov Europe, means people applying for housing benefits can do so using a web-based form, instead of filling out the massive 28-page paper document.

Aside from convenience, the online application also lets citizens check and validate their form before sending it in, meaning they get their benefits more quickly. It also offers an estimate of benefits - accurate within 5 - to let them plan their financial lives and a tracking mechanism, to see the status of their application.

While one of the drivers was keeping inline with the government's push to transform services, Lynne Harvie, operations support manager from the council's revenues and benefits division said there was another: "Citizens were asking for it."

"It benefits the council in efficiency - the application comes in a file, and it's easier to read," said Harvie. "We manage to process claims quicker... it knocks about two-thirds of the time off."

But the programme is mostly about improving services, she stressed. "It's really more about customer service and benefit access... giving them access to the system in a way that suits them," Harvie said.

At the moment, the only applications moved online are for housing and council tax - there are some 50,000 filled out annually. Harvie said the council hopes to move more forms onto the web, but have no firm plans to do so yet.

The benefit forms are still available in paper, however. "It's the nature of customers in this area," explained Harvie. "It's going to take a while longer for everyone to use online forms... it's a very new concept."