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Tackling food poverty in Scotland

The Scottish Government has replaced the old UK Government voucher scheme in Scotland with prepaid cards in tackling food poverty and has been saluted as Social Inclusion Project of the Year at the 2020 Payments Awards.

It’s a win that recognises the work of top FinTech allpay and the Scottish Government on a payment solution to transform its healthy food scheme.
The Payment Awards celebrates companies which have demonstrated excellence and innovation in the payments space. The allpay initiative enabled the Scottish Government to disburse vital funds to low-income households.

Utilising the technology provided by allpay, the recipients of the funds experience reduced stigma and increased payment security.

And the Scottish government got full autonomy over the funds it was disbursing, managing the scheme through a streamlined, automated process supported by advanced analytical tools to use. Named Best Start Foods, the prepaid card programme targeted families with children under three who are eligible for certain income benefits. The card can be used for the purchase of “healthy” products from retailers free of the requirement to register that came with the voucher scheme – with the card accepted in any grocery store displaying the Mastercard logo.

Also, unlike the voucher scheme, the Scottish Government could analyse where and if, the funds are being spent, providing improved auditing capability.
And the card came with the added advantage of removing the stigma attached to using a voucher. To date, 39,600 cards have been issued to those eligible for the scheme with a total load value of £9,885,172.63. 697,646 transactions have occurred since the scheme went live in August 2019 showing the prepaid cards are being utilised and provide real value for the underserved.

The cards for each nominated category were produced, manufactured and personalised in-house by, the card manufacturing arm of allpay.
“We are delighted to have won the Social Inclusion Project of the Year at this year's Payments Awards. Working with the Scottish Government on the transformation of their Healthy Start programme has provided a key milestone for our Prepaid Solution.

We have seen the great potential of utilising Prepaid for the disbursement of funds and the benefit to both our Clients and their Customers. Being able to highlight this in successful nominations across the payments landscape is great to see” said Tony Killeen, Managing Director, allpay Limited.

allpay worked with the Scottish Government to configure their programme named “Best Start Foods” and it was tailored specifically to their requirements.
Best Start Foods is for low-income families with children under three who are eligible for certain benefits or tax credits. The card can be used to purchase certain products such as milk, fruit and vegetables.

Eligible families receive £17.00 onto their card every 4 weeks during pregnancy, and for children between the ages of one and three years old. Babies up to the age of one receive £34.00 per month.

Under the previous Healthy Start Voucher Scheme, eligible applicants received paper vouchers that could be exchanged for prescribed Healthy Foods at registered retailers.
Best Start Foods set out to pay eligible applicants via a prepaid card that could be used with grocery retailers that accept electronic payments without facing barriers. Previously, retailers were required to register specifically for the scheme to accept the vouchers and be reimbursed for the products bought.
One of the main purposes of the programme was to ensure that the Best Start Foods funds were spent on specific items – fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables, milk, baby milk formula and vitamins.

The allpay online portal allowed for real-time reports on successful and unsuccessful transactions to see where the funds were being spent. Unlike the voucher-based system, the Scottish Government can analyse where and if, the funds are being spent, providing improved auditing capability.
And the portal also provided the facility to block and unblock Merchant Category Codes (MCCs) allowing for blocks on buys from being made at shops who are registered with ineligible codes, such as alcohol stores, gambling establishments and public houses.

To further protect both recipients of the card against possible fraud and ensure the sustainability of government funding, ATM use was blocked, but clients are able to check their balance. Limits were set on how much can be loaded and spent and were configured at the implementation of the scheme.

The card also met some objectives for wider Scottish Government policy, including:

• Financial inclusion: The card was available to everybody, who met the eligibility criteria regardless of their financial situation. No bank account or credit check is required
• Security: Cards could be blocked instantly, and ATM spend restrictions could be set at the card level
• Risk reduction: Convenience of a payment card but only the loaded balance could be spent.
• Help: allpay’s in-house call centre is open for customer queries from 8 am to 6 pm on weekdays
• Monitoring: Clients could use reporting technology to understand the impact of their prepaid cards with information available on the amount spent.

To remove the stigma associated with vouchers, the allpay card was designed to look like any other branded, contactless-enabled payment card able to be accepted in any grocery store displaying its Mastercard logo, giving the cardholder more flexibility in where they spent their funds, rather than in the registered outlets that worked with the previous voucher scheme.

The volume of Best Start Foods cardholders and the regularity of fund loading required a bespoke solution for registering new applicants and ensuring that all cardholders were paid their benefit on time according to a prescribed schedule.

As such, the allpay team worked intensively with the Scottish Government’s technical team to ensure a seamless end-to-end cycle of registration and card loading was in place, securely monitored and robustly managed by both parties.
This ensured a consistent and low maintenance way of managing a large volume of cardholders and funds, with an automated daily process for updating any new cardholder data in place as part of the solution – allowing the Scottish Government to bulk manage the entire programme.
Exceptions to the bulk process were managed simply, using the allpay user portal, giving the Social Security Scotland team the flexibility and usability, they needed to respond to individual beneficiaries’ circumstances.

The prepaid Mastercard was designed with the Government and produced, manufactured and personalised in-house by, the card manufacturing arm of allpay.
It even came with a unique accessibility ‘thumb’ notch which aided partially sighted users to identify which end of the card is inserted into the card machine should the purchase be over the contactless limit.

The card came with a detailed leaflet that contained further information on the Best Start Food programme such as where the card could be used and the sorts of foods which customers can purchase using the cards.

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