The Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (FMEP) is using modern technology to increase efficiency and to make the system easier to use for its client families.
“This technology has all been around for years. What’s different is the way we are applying it to the field of family maintenance enforcement,” says Chris Beresford, director of FMEP in the attorney general’s ministry.
Chris and his team at FMEP have set up an online system so that each client involved in a Family Maintenance file can set up their own personal, secure online account. Both Recipients and Payors set up accounts and can then perform many routine transactions – that would otherwise have required picking up the phone or mailing a document – online. For example, they can:
- submit receipts by photographing them with their smartphone and uploading them to their account.
- check the status of their accounts.
- let their caseworker know of an issue that may be emerging for them.
They can do all these things at a time that is convenient for them: rather than being required to do it during normal government working hours.
The system is set up so that whenever a client submits an entry, it is automatically flagged for the client’s caseworker.
Like other such online accounts (i.e., bank or ebay accounts), each account is password-protected and has an individual pin number. Because of the password system, the online account can be used safely by persons who may not have their own computer, but need to use one at, perhaps, their local library. With the password, they can be sure their information remains secure.
Beresford and the FMEP staff have been amazed at the popularity of the online portal. They expected a few hundred people would sign up for it – “maybe a thousand or two,” says Beresford – but more than 35,000 clients have signed up for online accounts. The website itself is accessed almost 2 million times per year.
FMEP also reports an unexpected benefit from moving routine transactions online: the phones are freed up for clients who really need to have a longer conversation (for example, because a new and complex issue emerging). Even with the web services, there are over 400,000 telephone conversations each year.
Beresford, who admits to being nearing retirement age, says it goes to show how much people will embrace new technologies when they are offered – both to their benefit and to the benefit of the system as a whole.