The Department of Work and Income plans to set up online accounts enabling clients to see their data, apply for allowances and track the processing of them.
“Industrial-strength authentication and security technology” will be a feature of the $5 million project, says WINZ e-services project manager Terry Baker. But a spokesperson for beneficiaries believes it will take time for users to trust the online service.
“We’re talking highly sensitive information — medical conditions, abuse, that sort of thing — and they’re going to have to make sure it’s kept private,” says the Auckland-based president of the Combined Beneficiaries Union, Helen Capel.
“And it’s not only important that it be kept private from the public, but also from other WINZ staff members. The only one dealing with a customer’s file is the customer service officer. People will want to be assured of privacy and it will take a while for them to build up trust.”
WINZ’s Baker believes allowing people to view their personal information online will be a huge drawcard. Currently beneficiaries must make a written request to see their file.
The first group to gain access to the new service will be students applying for allowances. Students can apply for loans through the web — last year 16%, or 28,230, people applied for loans online —but have had to mail or fax an application for a student allowance. An online allowance application system is scheduled to be in place by next January.
The department will then bring other benefits such as income support online and clients will be able to tell the department to notify them if there is any change to their entitlement or the rules surrounding their benefit. The web services will be anadditional method of applying and won’t replace traditional avenues, says Baker.
Capel queries whether the department should be introducing new technology when it seems to struggle with delivering basic services.
“Today I had a call from a woman who was entitled to a disability benefit but WINZ never told her. When she found out they said her doctor should’ve told her. If they can’t even iron out basic paper work I don’t see how technology will help.”
Former beneficiaries activist, and Green MP, Sue Bradford says she’s been pushing for computer access to benefit information because it’s a way of empowering people. But the government will have to consider public access to computer terminals to make the initiative worthwhile, she says.
DWI has issued a request for proposal for the provision of the web-based applications and requests for information on possible infrastructure components.
The department is keen on a Java-based solution but is open to other proposals.
The RFP closes on August 8 and the services will be rolled out gradually with a view to having most of it done by June 30, 2002.