Worldwide, most social services agencies have always had to contend with a degree of non-compliance. Although there are undoubtedly some cases of fraud, the vast majority of non-compliance is unintentional — people simply make mistakes or misunderstand instructions or eligibility. But now, in the pandemic's wake the demand for social services support has propelled the issue of non-compliance to the top of the agenda.
It’s natural to think of non-compliance as people or companies claiming benefits for which they’re not eligible. But it’s important to remember that it can mean the opposite: citizens and businesses not receiving benefits to which they are entitled.
This could be because they’re unaware of the benefits, they don’t realise they’re eligible, or they don’t know how to claim them. These are all common phenomena. In Accenture research, just 16% of citizens said they have a strong understanding of the benefits to which they may be entitled.
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44% of citizens globally (and 59% in the US) are concerned about the security of their personal information held by government agencies.
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Non-compliance on the rise
Most countries saw a sharp increase in non-compliant behaviour during COVID-19. And that trend is continuing. As governments understandably moved fast to shield citizens and businesses from the pandemic’s economic impact, they transformed entitlement to benefits almost overnight.
Social services agencies suddenly had to provide more support to more people. In their rush to do so, and with resources severely stretched, agencies naturally prioritized supporting citizens at speed. Retroactive review of compliance is now beginning to happen and will be a major undertaking.
Urgent need for action
Making compliance easier and more successful—through more personalised, real-time and accessible digital experiences—has been a priority for agencies for a while. So why focus on it now as a top priority?
Because, simply put, better compliance is more urgently needed than ever. In the pandemic’s wake, increasing fiscal pressure means the issue is under unprecedented scrutiny for financial reasons. But the need for action is more fundamental.
The economic fallout from COVID-19 is likely to be with us for some time. That means it’s vital to ensure that eligible businesses and vulnerable people are getting the support they need while, at the same time, support is withdrawn from those who no longer require it.
This is essential to the core mission of social services agencies – supporting people in vulnerable situations, and ensuring that government policy is carried out correctly and effectively.
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Bridging the ‘trust gap’
So how to enable better compliance? Respondents to our recent survey told us they want straightforward, intuitive digital compliance processes that make compliance easier and more accessible. This creates a significant opportunity for agencies to improve compliance through digital experiences designed for people.
However, for government agencies to provide these experiences, they need to find ways to better share data between government agencies (and sometimes the private sector) and citizens need to be willing to share their data and interact in different ways with authorities. And that’s something which many are still somewhat reluctant to do .
A trust gap is getting in the way. For citizens to share their data—a prerequisite for personalised, real-time, user-friendly compliance services—they have to trust the public institutions they’re dealing with and how their data will be handled. And our research shows that, as things stand, 44% of citizens globally (and 59% in the US) are concerned about the security of their personal information held by government agencies. And fifty-nine percent are uncomfortable with their data being shared with third-party organisations—even when it improves the quality of experience they receive.
Three priorities for achieving ‘compliance by design’
So, what can social services agencies do to build trust and user confidence in service delivery and, by doing so, improve compliance?
We’ve identified three priorities that, together, can help them achieve ‘compliance by design’:
1. Agencies must provide natural, end-to-end experiences that are intuitive and personalised. There’s significant room for improvement here. Our research shows that right now, just 20% of citizens feel that their digital experiences are intuitive, personalised, proactive or human to a large extent. And only a third have a high level of confidence that their benefits are correct.
2. Agencies should adjust their processes to make it easier for citizens and businesses to claim benefits for which they’re eligible. For instance, agencies can ensure that fields on forms are pre-populated so that claimants simply need to verify information that’s already there, rather than needing to input everything from scratch.
Where people do need to enter data, clearer guidance can help them understand what information is required. This is another area where agencies can improve. In our research, more than half of citizens said that with confusing processes and no clear guidelines, it’s (very) easy to make an error during digital interactions.
3. Social services agencies should help create a better digital infrastructure across all parts of government and with private sector partners. This will enable greater sharing of data to minimise non-compliance and fraud. For instance, a cross-government digital ID could provide a centralised source of citizen data. This idea is popular and offers huge potential for social services (and other agencies) with 72% of citizens either in favour or have neutral feelings about it.
A human approach to compliance
These three initiatives will go a long way towards restoring trust, ultimately enabling agencies to proactively target compliance activities and ensure that citizens and businesses aren’t over- or under-claiming. In short: by using data to reimagine the compliance process with a more human approach, agencies will provide better support where it’s most needed. And that has to be worth aiming for.
Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your views, so please get in touch.