Prepaid innovation helps Southend scoop IRRV award

Southend-on-Sea Borough Council’s innovative use of prepaid cards for its social fund programme has helped it scoop a prestigious Institute of Revenues Rating and Valuation (IRRV) ‘Gold’ award for Excellence in Partnership Working.

Earlier this year, the Government devolved parts of the Social Fund to local authorities, replacing community care grants (CCG) and crisis loans – which attracted nearly 600,000 and 2.5m applications respectively across Great Britain last year.

To support local authorities with this new duty, payment specialists allpay developed an innovative prepaid card solution, allowing councils to issue funds instantly on prepaid cards to those facing financial crisis.

Southend is one of 37 councils using allpay’s prepaid visa cards – which function like debit cards but are restricted to the balance loaded on them – to deliver social fund payments. It has drawn up a new policy for assessments and awards and is administrating applications for all of Essex.

The scheme, called the Essential Living Fund (ELF), involves a number of partners and is operated as a grants-based system open for anyone to claim. As part of its scheme, it’s awarding allpay’s prepaid cards to claimants for either clothing/footwear or gas and electric emergency top-ups.

As part of the solution, the local authority loads funds onto the card and, once activated by the recipient through an IVR phone line, can be used in relevant shops to purchase goods or to top up gas and electric. There are restrictions on using the cards e.g. at certain shops and they cannot be used in a cash machine. As the system is also completely web-based, processing and auditing can be done electronically, avoiding paper processing.

“Local authorities had a very tight timescale from Government to implement new schemes by April 2013,” said allpay director Pierre Galeon. “We were delighted to be able to develop a solution that has not only reduced administration and cash handling costs for local authorities, but has speeded up the provision of funds to those in financial crisis. Prepaid cards are becoming increasingly popular among local authorities and service users as they provide tangible benefits for both.”

Veronica Dewsbury, Benefits Manager at Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, said: “We have a close working relationship with the staff at allpay and continually strive to improve the standard of service to customers.”

Southend utilised a National Framework Agreement - awarded exclusively to allpay last year - that removed the need to conduct a full tender exercise. The framework, led by North East Procurement Organisation (NEPO), is available nationally to members of the Pro 5 Group and provides a secure, cost effective and financially inclusive method of disbursing funds.