Oxford City Council
Oxford City Council employ around 1,300 people and help to provide a wide range of services, including benefits, housing services and licensing for approximately 152,0000 residents.
They also support the 110,000 people who work in Oxford and 9.5 million people who visit the city every year. The Council’s Counter-Fraud and Investigation team, led by Scott Warner, is responsible for the detection and prevention of fraud across all services, with a particular focus on the high-risk areas of Housing, Business Rates, Grant Applications and Council Tax.
In order to access the services provided by Oxford City Council, customers – predominantly members of the public and business owners – are required to present documents such as passports, visas and driving licenses to prove their identity. To validate these documents, front-line staff at the council had access to an online reference database which required them to cross-check and interpret the validity of documents against reference images of different document types. All users of the system needed extensive training, as they were not document experts, and this training had to be frequently repeated when new employees joined the Council. The team at Oxford were concerned that the system, which relied heavily on human interpretation, offered them insufficient guarantees, and exposed the Council to an element of risk.
In June 2014, having evaluated the options for electronic document validation, Oxford City Council introduced 5 scanners from TrustID to support identity checking for customers and for employees as part of Right to Work compliance.
Having seen how effective the solution was in other councils, Scott Warner, Counter-Fraud and Investigations Manager, was confident that the scanners would be easy to use, offer an additional level of validation, reduce the administrative pressure on frontline staff and greatly reduce the need for training.
In the first couple of years after introducing the scanners, the Council processed over 10,000 document scans across their different offices. The main scanner, located at the front desk in the central Oxford office saw the heaviest use as staff validate passports, residence permits and other documents for anyone who wishes to access public services. The other scanners were situated at satellite council offices and a further system was also used by the internal HR team.
Those documents which the system flags as potentially suspicious are referred to Scott and his team who can review the documents and, if necessary, forward them to the expert identity team at TrustID for further analysis.
A Remote Option
In 2020, during the enforced lockdown, the council were keen to maintain their counter fraud measures but faced a new challenge as they were no longer able to meet applicants face-to-face. The Corporate Investigations team turned once again to TrustID who were able to quickly roll out an online verification service – TrustID Cloud – which supports the remote upload of identity document images. Aleksi Sorsa, Intelligence Officer at the Council explains: “We quickly needed a new way to check identity document images – particularly from Covid business grant applicants – without them being able to come into our offices. TrustID Cloud was the ideal tool for that.”
As the lockdown continued and the number of applications grew, the Council introduced ‘Guest Links’, a remote upload feature which allows them to invite applicants via email to upload their document image by following a one-time access link. Aleksi adds “Guest links has been extremely efficient as the applicant is responsible for uploading the required document images themselves. It’s quick and easy for them and the validation results are returned directly to the team here.”
The TrustID verification services offer the team at Oxford City Council an efficient and robust document validation process. The training requirement is now minimal since staff now only need to understand how to use the technology and no longer need to be document experts. As Scott Warner explains, “Once an officer has been trained how to use the TrustID services, they can then rely on the technology to spot any instances of questionable documents, whether they see the applicant face-to-face or not.” The electronic scanning process has helped Council staff to identify several suspicious documents and indeed two cases have led to further police investigations.
Within the first year of use, Oxford City Council attribute at least £36,000 of savings to the TrustID scanners since the software helped them to prevent 2 applications for housing that were made to the Council using fraudulent identity documents.
What’s more, the Investigations Team believe that their use of technology is a strong deterrent to applicants who may try and use fake or fraudulently obtained identity documents. “Using the online service, we’ve sent identity requests to hundreds of grant applicants. We’ve currently got 40 applications that have not been progressed because applicants failed to comply with the identity verification requirements, and we believe that this is a direct result of deterrence from requiring customers to use Guest Links.” explains Aleksi.
The system continues to support identity verification across the Council, from employees to tenants to grant applicants. Oxford City Council have a robust and future-proof system which doesn’t require staff to attend extensive training sessions and supports them in the fight against fraudulent attempts to claim public services, whether they can meet the applicant face-to-face or not.
Scott Warner and his team are confident that they now have the necessary safeguards in place to ensure that they are delivering services to those people who have proved that they are who they say they are.
The Council will continue to use a blend of verification services, based on the perceived risk of the applicant and their access method. Aleksi explains: “With a mix of the two TrustID services, online and office-based, we’ve now got options for the future. We can choose our approach depending on how we see an applicant or our assessment of the risk that their application may present.”
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