An online project in Wolverhampton is providing administrative support for local people who have suffered a bereavement. The scheme means those reporting a death only have to "say it once and prove it once".
Wolverhampton Council opened a bereavement centre in April 2001, funded by money from the Government's Invest to Save Budget. It was designed to be a "one-stop shop" for the bereaved.
"There is so much paperwork involved and so many agencies you have to contact when somebody dies," explains project manager Lynn Bibb. "We wanted local people to be able to come in and settle their affairs under one roof."
The centre proved a success, but the reliance on phone and paper-based communication with all the internal and external agencies was restricting, so the council turned to the Internet.
The "e-bereavement" project began last June. Bibb says the first step was to analyse the data flowing between the centre and outside agencies. The council then needed to address privacy issues relating to the disclosure of information as it was dealing with the details of the bereaved.
It also needed a secure and standardised way of sending data between the centre and outside agencies. Bibb says some of the agencies it deals with are still not set up to receive e-mails from the centre and they require files to be sent via fax or diskette.
The long-term goal is to communicate via the Government Gateway, and the council has also trialed videoconferencing facilities, linking up the bereavement centre with a local hospice, a health centre and the crematorium.
After reviewing the existing IT architecture, Bibb's team migrated the bereavement services (burials and cremations) system onto a new platform and transferred the data into a modern database - a process that required extensive data cleansing. A key requirement of the bereavement centre application was that it had to be Web-based and e-gif-compliant.
The system was implemented in December 2001 and has been piloted with the housing benefits agency. The plan now is to include the rest of the council's internal departments, such as social services, and then roll it out to external agencies such as the Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency.
The take-up of services at the bereavement centre has exceeded expectations. During the nine months to the end of 2001 the centre dealt with 1,905 users and registered 2,213 deaths. The council predicts that eventually about 70% of the people registering a death in Wolverhampton will use one or more of the services provided by the centre.
The e-bereavement scheme is one of the UK's 25 trail-blazing Pathfinder e-government projects. Wolverhampton Council is committed to helping to deliver a national scheme for the notification of deaths and is already working with other local authorities in a mentoring capacity.
"I think that, considering the amount of money we were given, we have achieved a great deal so far," says Bibb. "We could now do with some private sector partners to take it forward further."