CivTech 8 challenge: support for people in vulnerable situations with energy problems
Challenge 8.1: How can technology help to quickly identify and prioritise support for people in the most vulnerable situations, starting with those having energy problems? Challenge Sponsor: The Extra Help Unit (EHU), Citizen’s Advice Scotland.
Not all energy consumers are equal. Some are more vulnerable than others and need extra and immediate help. In an audience where everyone is vulnerable, prioritisation is more difficult and that can have a huge impact for the consumer, potentially increasing the risk of harm or even be life threatening. These outcomes impact friends, families and our staff working with the consumer.
Consumers don’t always clearly and succinctly outline their concerns or feelings, which can make detection and identification of priority cases difficult under a load of information, some of it more relevant than others and the sheer volume can hide those in need of greatest help.
The Extra Help Unit (EHU) was created in 2008 to help people resolve difficulties with their energy supplier and is a statutory service required by the Consumer, Estate Agents and Redress Act 2007 (CEAR). Our team of dedicated caseworkers has been managed by Citizens Advice Scotland since 2014. Demand for EHU services has increased year on year since its establishment in 2008. In 21/22, the Unit received over 15,000 complaints and 2000 enquiries. We have also moved from a traditional office way of working to a remote/hybrid environment post pandemic. For more information about the EHU, please visit https://www.cas.org.uk/about-us/consumer-advice/extra-help-unit.
A significant safeguarding concern with remote/hybrid working is that due to high volume service delivery, consumers’ and employees’ needs don’t always get the attention they need at the right time. Flexible work is not just about working preferences, it is about recognising that people don’t have comparable circumstances. We need to enable staff to work differently in recognition of this change while maintaining a safe and resilient working environment.
As well as assisting vulnerable individuals and micro-businesses with energy issues, we also work hard to improve standards within the energy industry. The EHU is a referral only, second tier service, so it’s our referral partners that identify and determine who is vulnerable and what cases are sent to the Unit. Citizens Advice Consumer Service (CACS) is the main referral partner for consumers based in England and Wales, and Advice Direct Scotland being the key partner for Scotland. Other referral partners also include Ofgem and Ombudsman Services: Energy (OS:E).
The CEAR act states that ‘A consumer shall be regarded as vulnerable where it is not reasonable to expect that person to be able to pursue their own complaint because of: the personal circumstances of that particular consumer; or the urgency / criticality of the situation and the inability of the consumer to be able to handle the issue within the timeframe in which he/she needs to act; or the complexity of the problem for that particular consumer or any combination of such factors.’
With such a broad definition of vulnerability, the EHU has a real and ongoing prioritisation challenge for service delivery.
We use MS Dynamics 365 database and need to consider this, including future developments of this system that will connect with energy suppliers’ systems which are not yet know. We would want a system that can integrate around any written or spoken word forms of data for example, live calls and call recording. It is important to note our case recording system (D365), our live calls (Avaya) and our call recording system (XIMA Chronicall) are all independent. A perfect solution would interact with these different systems pulling the information into one place. Any solution will have to be integrated with data and functionality we use in MS Dynamics 365.
CivTech will be holding a virtual briefing session to talk to a Challenge Manager about the CivTech Process and how to apply to solve a CivTech Challenge, at 5.30-6.30pm on Thursday 17th November. Click here to register for a place.
Please note: you must apply for this Challenge via Public Contracts Scotland. Details are at the link below.
Anyone can apply, from anywhere. You could be an existing company with a team and a product that is ready to be repurposed to answer the challenge. Or a group of graduates with a great demo. Or a digital team that’s looking for a great idea to get involved with. Or even the reverse — an individual with no digital background but with real insight into the challenge and a cracking idea but can put together a great support team.
Rewards for CivTech challenges
Up to 3 teams are selected for the 2-3 week Exploration Stage of each challenge, and will receive £5000 per team (plus VAT if applicable). Winning teams will be invited onto the 12-15 week Accelerator Stage. Each team completing the Accelerator will receive £30,000 (exc. VAT), with no hidden charges, and no equity or IP stakes being taken.
If you are successful at the Demo Day following this stage, further contracts can be negotiated up to a total value of £210,000 or £610,000 (plus VAT if applicable) per team (depending on whether your Challenge was advertised on Public Contracts Scotland with a value of up to £250,000 or up to £650,000.) Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Scottish Enterprise, the Scottish Investment Bank and other support channels will also get involved to help drive the businesses forward. Click here for full details of the process.