The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the key importance of data held by local authorities in identifying and supporting vulnerable residents. Local Authorities in Somerset needed to contact those residents who were not already covered by the national NHS shielding programme but were nonetheless situationally vulnerable. The work was coordinated by the County Council, working in partnership with District Councils in the region. Where possible, those district councils holding appropriate data were able to use the Unique Property Reference Number (UPRN) to enable this.
This case study takes the work of Sedgemoor District Council’s experience in contributing to the county’s work in this area. This activity and experience has also contributed to the work of IStandUK (local government’s eStandards body) within its current initiative - the Scalable Approach to Vulnerability Via Interoperability (SAVVI). SAVVI aims to review and reflect upon the activities of authorities during the pandemic and to provide guidance, data standards and support for the future when making use of data for identifying vulnerable residents.
During the fi rst COVID-19 lockdown (March to June 2021) clinically vulnerable residents in local authorities were identifi ed and supported through the national NHS shielding programme. Somerset County Council and its four district councils needed to find a way to identify the additional group of residents who, though not clinically vulnerable, were thought to be situationally vulnerable. This group were not yet being included in the national vulnerable data lists but needed to be located and contacted so that they could be provided with additional support at speed.
Identifying this group was dependant on access to comparable resident data from across the four district authorities. There was a need to establish a set of attributes that the County Council felt were the indicators of vulnerability either directly or in combination. The four district councils each had different data systems and held data items which covered a range of themes such as electoral registration, council tax, housing benefits, etc. The County co-ordinated and encouraged agreed data standards in spreadsheet form (based upon a sense of what the key indicators were, allied with the availability of data) and then asked the districts to provide data to them using this format. Sedgemoor had been using UPRNs in their systems for some time which assisted signifi cantly in matching data.
Matching this data using the UPRN proved vital as it allowed the council to quickly establish vulnerability indicators coinciding at a household and at a property level. The use of the UPRNs provided a method to enable the linking of a variety of data sets.
In addition, Somerset County Council was attempting to incorporate data from the areas that it dealt with such as social care. This was more complex as its systems did not inherently use the UPRNs, which meant that some additional data cleansing exercises were needed to match up the data.
The various data sets from the authorities would not usually be linked or used together but this exercise showed the value of the common use of the UPRN as a means to connect data from different sources on different systems. It enabled information at Sedgemoor to be joined up easily allowing many of those residents-in-need to receive the support they urgently required. The use of UPRNs highlights the power of data in ensuring that support was focused on the most vulnerable across communities.
Where UPRNs were already present in back-offi ce systems, they provided assurance that the right contacts were being made with individuals in the community. However where UPRNs were absent there remained data matching issues, and as a result, it may have taken longer to contact some individuals, or they may have been contacted multiple times by the council and by the NHS. There was little time available for data cleansing and so, where UPRNs were present, they accelerated the use of the most appropriate data available.
COVID-19 has highlighted the need for councils to continue their work on linking and joined up data to identify early signs of vulnerability using it to enable effective intervention by both support groups and local partners. Understanding community wellbeing and intervention is increasingly part of councils’ core responsibilities and there is a growing understanding that data plays a pivotal role in achieving this.
Future learning/Progress and ambition
The IStandUK initiative is led by Tameside Council to promote how data standards can improve local public services; Sedgemoor’s Chief Digital Offi cer, Paul Davidson is the Director of Standards. iStandUK is leading a project called SAVVI – ‘Scalable Approach to Vulnerability via Interoperability’, to propose good practice and data standards when tackling vulnerability. The project’s web site at http://www.savviuk.org recommends applying UPRNs to back-office systems so that household data can be matched.
SAVVI is funded withing the COVID-19 challenge funding from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). The project has examined how councils used data during the pandemic and also proposed improved data standards which could have assisted councils further during the first wave of the pandemic, and also in future activity.
SAVVI has proposed a process and data standards to support a multi-agency approach to a risk-index and a case index and is cataloguing examples of good practice from councils. SAVVI is now about to bid for its next phase of funding. If successful, this will enable a ‘test and prove’ phase to take place with two councils and will include using and demonstrating the use of UPRNs as well as highlighting the challenges when they are not used.
SAVVI is also keen to undertake an indepth academic study on a national scale to examine how certain councils identifi ed vulnerability during COVID-19, ascertain which were more successful than others and consider which approaches worked well or less well. The SAVVI aim is to support a knowledge-based community of practitioners working in this area and will be encouraging ideas on further ways of identifying vulnerable people through the use of data.