Hillingdon Council is using a bespoke biometric signature system to cut fraud and increase the efficiency of services for homeless families.
The housing department at the London council has developed software to integrate two systems, First Housing and Oracle Financials, to manage the finances of providing temporary bed and breakfast accommodation and properties leased from private landlords.
The Temporary Accommodation Management System (Tams) was created in eight months by Sarah Shanahan-Mallows, finance manager for homelessness at the council, and Cybern Consulting.
The project has been a success because it was business driven, said Shanahan-Mallows. "The old system was not efficient or accurate.
"One problem with many projects is that communication between the technical side and the business side breaks down," she said. "But I was aware of what end-users wanted and was involved with everything in the development of the system.
"We used dummy data and got user feedback to make sure nothing was overlooked before going live."
The client's signature is captured on an electronic pad when they sign their tenancy agreement. The speed, pressure and size of the signature is recorded so it can be matched with other signed records.
It is stored in Tams with links to an order number and all future casework, cutting out the need for lengthy paper trails. Invoices for accommodation, which previously took up to four weeks to process, now take one day.
Biometric signatures have curtailed the potential for bed and breakfast scams, including forged signatures for unoccupied rooms and signing for rooms for several nights in advance when a tenant may stay only one day.
When finance officers receive an invoice, they type in an order number and the signature comes on the screen to ensure verification. This has meant that invoices can be processed quickly as previously all checking was done manually.
"It is hard to quantify how much fraud is being stopped, but we have reduced the ability for it," said Shanahan-Mallows. "Tenants are often vulnerable people. Now digital signatures are in place, they will have some protection."
The private sector leasing module of Tams shares information between landlords, housing associations and estate agents to speed up rent and benefit payments, fees, information processing and statistical reporting.
"Private sector leasing is a huge financial and administrative burden," said Shanahan-Mallows. "Before we had the new system we had to log all the properties onto spreadsheets and remember to make updates.
"Now Tams has all the information so we can check which tenants are in which properties and how much money we should be paying."
Portals have been developed to enable external organisations, such as housing associations, to access the database and download information.
Tams is the shared property of the council and Cybern Consulting, and they are considering selling the software to other councils.
"Lots of councils use First Housing and Oracle Financials. It would be a straightforward plug-in, but it could also be adapted," said Shanahan-Mallows.
How biometrics helps the council
- The biometric software was created to integrate Oracle Financials with First Housing systems to cut processing times and increase efficiency
- Biometric signatures are used to combat fraud in providing accommodation for homeless families
- The technology was heavily "business driven", leading to ready acceptance by end-users.
This was first published in May 2004