Saturday, February 26, 2011

Flood Relief Payments Delayed by Manual Processing

The Premier of Queensland, Anna Bligh, has apologised for delays in processing of payments from the Premiers Disaster Relief Appeal. The Premier has ordered that the process be overhauled. Unfortunately, it appears that the processing was being done manually and there are no plans to change this, so it is unlikely the process will be significantly improved.

The Premier explained that about 100 people were working on processing applications and directed more people be put on this if needed. However, more people are unlikely to greatly speed up a manual processing system. Also diverting government staff to this task will mean they are not available to assist flood victims. Using automation would allow the process to be done in minutes, rather than days.

To Apply for Premier’s Disaster Relief Funds applicants are required to fill in a seven page form. The Premier's Disaster Relief Appeal emergency assistance form is provided as a 54 Kbyte PDF file which can be downloaded. The instructions say "Please use black or blue pen" and to return the form by Fax, Post or in person.

There is no provision to fill the form in online and return it electronically. As a result there will be delays while the form is delivered to the processing centre and further delays and errors as staff then manually transcribe the details from the form into systems to record and check the details.

The Queensland government should consider providing an online version of the form. This could be completed directly by the applicant using their own computer or smart phone, or by staff in a Community Recovery Centre. Much of the processing could then be carried out automatically.

The form could also be made much simpler and easier to fill out by making use of existing government databases. Rather than ask the applicant for details which are then checked against government records, the needed information could be simply extracted from those systems. This would particularly be of use where applicants copies of documentation have been lost in the disaster.

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