In January 2018, United Utilities discovered that many debt advisors in North West that provide financial schemes to help individuals and families who are struggling with debt lacked a central resource to easily find and share knowledge.
To remedy this, United Utilities approached I-COM.
Our solution was to design and build a bespoke, one-of-a-kind online platform: the North West Hardship Hub.
We worked closely with a steering group of independent financial assistance advisors in order to draw up three key objectives to guide the design and functionality of the site:
- Build a one-stop shop that brings together all of the available financial assistance schemes from across the public and private sector to help the money advice community quickly and easily pinpoint the right support for the people who come to them for help.
- The Hub had to be a peer-led and peer-run resource in order for it to become an evergreen, sustainable and useful resource.
- Finally, the platform also had to be as interactive as possible in order to deliver the most value to its users.
To help users quickly and easily access the right information on the portal, I-COM built in a wide array of filter options to help debt advisors from charities, social services and housing associations find and access the schemes most relevant to them as quickly as possible. These allowed users to filter results by type of scheme, location, local council, service provider type, age group, gender, support offered and so on.
To deliver the interactivity objective, I-COM created functions within the Hub that enable users to ask the owner of a scheme questions, leave reviews, suggest amends, share schemes and also subscribe to ‘follow’ a scheme in order to receive updates.
Described as the ‘TripAdvisor for the third-sector debt advice community’, the Hub was built as a gated portal for professional debt advisors and organisations and was launched pre-populated with the essential details of many relevant schemes available in the north west of England, ready for users to update, add and amend information as they sign up.
Branding was a key component that I-COM created for the site, including the Tree of Life logo. The brightly coloured splashes of tree’s leaves represent the ‘recolouring’ of a client's circumstances, covering anything from simple problems (blues/greens) to complex or serious (oranges/reds).
The website was given special recognition at the Prolific North Tech Awards, receiving a 'Highly Commended' award in the Technology for Good category.
The site launched in January 2019, and over 100 organisations signed up and 500 schemes were added to the platform in the first three months, demonstrating its use as a one-stop shop and resource.
Additionally, the Hardship Hub has been so well received that plans to expand the platform and roll out the scheme nationally are being considered.