Paul Rushton, ESFA’s Head of Contracting and Payments, talks about how the ESFA is making payment information easier for training providers to understand.

Creating a better payment service is part of our Funding Transformation Programme - transforming how we collect data, calculate funding and issue funding agreements, allocations and payments.

As a funding body, the ESFA makes a lot of payments, in fact tens of thousands of them each month. Given the scale of the operation it is important that payments are clear. However, our service desks were receiving an increased number of calls from training providers about the payments that we make to them.

Providers - the organisations we fund to deliver education and training - were telling us that they couldn’t understand the make-up of their payments. For example, they were finding it difficult to relate their payments back to the information contained in their contracts and the data they could view on our systems.

Towards the end of last year, we began user research to help us understand the issue in more detail, firstly analysing the payment questions that we had received from providers. We then ran workshops with providers and held individual telephone conversations with them. We also attended the ESFA’s Technical User Group to demonstrate prototypes for the way payments are displayed and gather feedback from users. In all, we worked with over 60 training providers gaining their valuable input. 

Our user research findings

Our users told us that they needed:

  • an easy way of seeing when and why their earnings and payments may be different
  • more detailed payment information
  • more guidance and worked examples to help them understand the make-up of their payments
  • more consistent terminology across all our payment information

 Making payments easier to understand

We are adding more content to our online Submit Learner Data and Manage your Education and Skills Funding services so that we can better meet providers’ needs for payment information:

  • apprenticeship training providers will be able to see more easily how their payments from us relate to individual learners, to help them understand why their earnings and payments don’t always match
  • all organisations we fund will be able to see an online view of their payment information, whereas currently one person per provider receives an email from us containing this information

We are also updating terminology across our payment information, making it more consistent and easier to understand. As part of our user research, we will work with providers to explore which words they would prefer to use to describe their financial transactions.

Finally, we are improving the information we publish to enable providers to resolve any issues more quickly. This information will all be available online and will be more comprehensive, including worked examples.

 Projected benefits for our providers 

These improvements are due to be rolled out over the autumn to post-16 providers, with other providers to follow in the future. Early feedback has been very positive, with the estimated time to perform some payment-related tasks reducing to just a few minutes.

We will continue to measure how the changes are benefiting providers through ongoing analysis and user research.

Next steps

After the changes have been implemented in the autumn, we will turn our attention to continuous improvement. We will continue to monitor service desk enquiries to ensure that the changes have resulted in the expected benefits. We will also make additional refinements over time if feedback tells us that this is needed.

Paul Rushton, Head of Contracting and Payments, ESFA

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