Taking action: how CAP’s response to the cost of living crisis identified £30 million in unclaimed income

Gareth McNab

Director of External Affairs

We put a benefits calculator on our website. Six months on, here’s what we’ve learned. 

I am a very reluctant gardener. I am not by nature very patient, and prefer to see immediate results from my labours – so I tend not to value the prep work and the planning, nor the ongoing tending and weeding, and instead prefer the big stuff like the demolishing a shed or digging a pond.

But I do like my garden. I work in a shed in my garden most of the time, and so have come to appreciate the changing of the seasons with the coming up of the bulbs, the blossoming of the trees, and the fragrance of my herb planter. I notice that the things I enjoy, the things that are good, are the result of some careful planning, good preparation, and patience with the passage of time. 

The benefits calculator – growing an idea

Six months ago, the seeds of an idea were sown. We launched a benefits calculator on our website.

We wanted to do what we could to meet the rising needs around the cost of living crisis, particularly focusing on incomes, in the face of time, budget and capacity constraints.

We could see inflation rising, especially on the essentials like energy, food and transport, but there was little we could directly influence on these costs outside of our ongoing policy work.

We could see challenges to people’s incomes – with wages not keeping up with inflation, and social security levels insufficient to meet basic needs for many. Again, there were no simple solutions we could directly impact outside of work we were already doing.

But we could also see that, with £15 billion a year of unclaimed social security benefits sitting on a desk in Whitehall instead of finding its way to people’s pockets, there was a way we could do something new to make a further difference in the lives of more of the people we care so deeply about.

Preparing the ground

So we decided to make the most of our great relationships and our newly refreshed website, by launching a free service that people could use directly without necessarily having used our other services before.

We’d done some careful planning – finding a great charity partner in Turn2Us who run the calculator (along with other services on their website), identifying any risks that might need to be managed, and pulling together a team and a small budget to get the thing going. Some good preparation was already underway: having completed a redesign of the website to enable new and dynamic content, we prepared some socials and blog content to raise awareness of this new feature, and began to communicate the plans with other people in CAP. And then we got patient.

Getting the conditions just right to grow

In the first few weeks, we were watching and waiting for something to happen – anything! A few hits here, a dozen there: we were confident that the benefits calculator was a great tool that would help lots of people, just as soon as they knew it was there. We learnt some lessons around best search terms, optimising the calculator and other pages for more people to find them, and gradually usage increased.

At the end of the first season, our trial was growing well after that slow start. At the end of 2022, more than 21,000 people had used our website to check their benefits entitlement, finding the equivalent of £6 million of extra annual income between them. 

Since most of those people won’t have heard of Christians Against Poverty before, this new service has brought them to our website, where many have gone on to find other ways we can help, through information on the website or our other services – or even ways they can help us in our mission, through signing up to find out more about the issues we are campaigning on. (We know not everyone who uses a calculator will find more income – but everyone who does check will at least know they’re getting all they should be getting. We estimate just under 2,000 people found more income between launch and year end.) 

A new season

Seasons change, and usage of the calculator flexed and bent during the chilly winter months as we applied some of the lessons we’d learnt and promoted the calculator differently. After a bit of a lull, growth restarted with a vengeance — we prepared a PR campaign with strong social content, with good connections with Christian media especially, and we committed ongoing resource to promoting it in channels that were working well. 

The first season’s growth was good, and showed that the initial experiment was successful. It also showed that we could keep on improving by regularly reviewing the performance of the calculator, and making adjustments here and there as opportunities arise, or where experiments don’t quite pay off. Each time we checked the stats, there was another thing to learn and another milestone being hit — it seems that there is just no stopping it, or even keeping up with it. It’s obviously the right plant in the right place! 

Six months on — what we’ve learned

So with an eye on the coming of the six month anniversary of the launch of the benefits calculator, I took time to get into what the second season of growth had brought us. How is the calculator maturing as it becomes a mainstay of our website offering?

Over the Easter weekend, we hit some massive milestones: 

  • Over 60,000 completed calculations (most of whom won’t have heard of CAP before)

  • £3.5 million of increased annual income was identified in just one day!

  • £32.5 million of increased annual income entitlements

  • This means that more than 5,500 users have identified an increased entitlement to social security, of just under £500 a month (on average)

Just imagine what that means for someone — what that might mean for you, or your neighbour.

One of CAP’s service users told us he hadn’t realised what benefits he could access:

I found out I was entitled to Universal Credit and I was also awarded PIP. I had no idea you could claim these sorts of things. 

What started as a seed of an idea focused on a specific problem, plus some excellent collaboration with a team pulled from across the charity with diverse and complementary skills, mixed in with some strategic investment of time and money with regular review, has become the most popular page on our website helping thousands of people find millions of pounds.

We’ve learned some great lessons on agile ways of working – the right people in the room at the right time on the right thing; on risk management and mitigation — and especially in not letting risks stop you trying a thing; and on the value of great relationships in and outside of the charity. This collaboration has been between colleagues in CAP’s External Affairs, PR, project management, and Digital Engagement teams, as well as with our partners at Turn2Us and external digital agency, Arkyard.

We’ve learned some great lessons in not letting risks stop you trying a thing. 

Gareth McNab — Head of External Affairs at CAP 

A team effort against poverty

We know what poverty looks like, and face its harsh reality every day alongside our clients — so we continue to seek to help people with our core services that help people break free of problem debt, find work, or learn essential money management and life skills.

We know that it can feel like poverty is winning the fight sometimes — so we remain committed to seeking change in the way the world works, pushing Governments and employers for liveable incomes from wages and social security for all in the UK.

But with impacts like this — thousands of people helped, finding millions of pounds of increased income entitlements — we know that there are things we can do when we work together that will, in time, end UK poverty for good.

Will you join us?

Together, we can end UK poverty for good. Will you join the fight?