Auditor-General's overview

Ministry of Social Development: Using a case management approach to service delivery.

This report looks at the Ministry of Social Development (the Ministry) and its case management approach to delivering services. We looked at the approach the Ministry uses for working-age adults in its 160 Work and Income service centres. We decided to look at this aspect of case management because the Ministry provides financial and employment assistance to about 294,000 people each week. Work and Income’s staff costs were $186 million in 2013/14, and it pays out more than $8 billion annually in financial support.

Our audit included seeking feedback from the people whose cases are managed by the Ministry – its “clients”. Like many people who use public services, the Ministry’s clients have high, but not unrealistic, expectations about the standard of service they want to receive. Taxpayers also expect the Ministry to provide its services cost-effectively.

When we did this audit, the Ministry had only recently changed its approach to case management. It designed its new approach to meet the needs of existing clients and the extra 80,000 people who are now required to look for work as part of the Government’s welfare reforms. The new approach was at a relatively early stage of development, and the Ministry knew it had more to do.

The changes the Ministry needed to make were significant. The Ministry has managed these changes competently so far, with no decline in the service that clients received.

Overall, my staff concluded that the Ministry’s case management approach is serving most clients well, while reducing – in real terms – its overall case management costs.

The Ministry has some innovative methods for assessing whether its spending gets the best return for taxpayers by getting the best outcomes for clients. These methods are still developing, but are providing useful information for the Ministry. Early results are mixed, although the Ministry is well placed to understand why. Good information is important because the Ministry wants to continue making evidence-based decisions about further changes to its case management approach.

The Ministry is tailoring its approach to meet the needs of its clients. It is focusing more intensively on those clients who need more support to achieve greater financial independence.

The Ministry has maintained good levels of client service. It gets most aspects of service right, for most clients, most of the time. Most clients we spoke with said that good case managers had made a real difference to their lives.

When something goes wrong, the Ministry provides clients with good opportunities to seek redress, and the Ministry works well with those who advocate on behalf of clients.

However, some clients remain unhappy about aspects of how the Ministry communicates with them, and advocates tell us that some aspects are not improving. Earlier this year, we published a report about a performance audit of how the Ministry deals with complaints. The recommendations in that report, and the client perceptions discussed in this report, should give the Ministry a clear idea of what it needs to do better.

The Ministry now needs to focus on several other matters to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of its case management approach.

The Ministry’s work-focused case management approach requires building ongoing relationships, and the Ministry is at an early stage in defining how case managers should engage with clients to get the best outcomes. The Ministry produced case management practice guides in May 2013, but staff awareness of the guides is low. More staff training, guidance, and support is under way, which will help staff achieve the goals of the new case management approach.

The Ministry is simplifying its processes and centralising routine transactional work. This should allow case managers more time with clients by reducing the amount of administrative work they need to do. The Ministry needs to improve the systems that staff use, and consider how it makes guidance more accessible for staff.

A high number of clients miss their appointments with case managers. The Ministry needs to find ways to minimise missed appointments, because the opportunity cost is high. It could learn from other organisations that have appointment systems and look to innovate in the way it engages with clients.

The Ministry’s staff work with people with complex needs on a daily basis. Some of those people, with very high levels of need, require co-ordinated health, education, housing, and social services to get the best outcomes for themselves and their families. This report highlights the need for the Ministry and other agencies to work together to help adults with the highest barriers to employment.

I thank those members of the public who shared their experiences and views of Work and Income with my Office. I would also like to thank the Accident Compensation Corporation for seconding a senior staff member to our audit team. I appreciate and acknowledge the assistance of Colmar Brunton with the interview work that contributed to this report, and the Ministry staff who shared their time and views.

Signature - LP

Lyn Provost
Controller and Auditor-General

1 December 2014

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