10/17/2019

Digital Public Services

Applying for the family allowance with one click

The birth of a child is good reason to be happy. Unfortunately, the red tape involved in registering a newborn and applying for government benefits can turn this joyous occasion into an annoyance. In cooperation with an industry partner, fortiss has developed a prototype app that allows parents to take care of the formalities of applying for the family allowance benefit in a digital and secure fashion. The underlying technology is based on blockchain methods and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

The government red tape begins as soon as the baby arrives. Where do I obtain a birth certificate? Where do I have to register my newborn?

When it comes to the family allowance benefit (German: Kindergeld, a monthly government benefit that families with children are eligible for), numerous institutions are involved: hospitals, registrar’s office, resident’s registration office, the tax authorities, family benefits office and the bank.

The application process is correspondingly complex. Families have to apply for the allowance with the benefits office that is tied to the responsible unemployment office, while the parental allowance (German: Elterngeld, a monthly government benefit designed to support working parents whose employment income is reduced when they stay at home after the birth of a child) is handled by another government office. There are tons of paper forms to fill out, not to mention the corresponding documents that are required to confirm eligibility.

“Our prototype Kindergeld-App significantly streamlines the application effort by requesting and receiving eligibility documents, providing notifications of missing documents and also receiving the official notification from the authorities,” says Peter Kuhn, researcher at fortiss.

Transactions via the app
“All the user has to do is initiate the application process with the app. The exchange of information occurs directly between the various authorities. In contrast to other applications that only gather the information, our prototype family allowance app also enables transactions. That means parents can actually use this tool to apply for documents and services,” adds Kuhn.

To begin, parents answer a couple of questions, after which the app takes over the process. It visualizes the information and provides updates on the status of the application. An AI-based digital assistant guides the user through the dialog menu and answers questions related to the status of the application.

Blockchain technology
Transactions are based on the blockchain technology, which relies on a decentralized database managed by multiple participants. All of the previous transactions or information are stored in blocks and then chained together. Private data is excluded. The blockchain only contains anonymous references.

Each block contains a type of delivery slip with the transaction history. Each new block contains the history in the form of a checksum of the previous block, plus the checksum of the whole chain in addition. The latter is controlled with a mathematical calculation. This eliminates the possibility of manipulation or initiating changes after the fact. The transactions are secured with a cryptographic method that relies on a private and public key. The advantage of the blockchain technology is that the database is not centrally managed. All of the steps in the process are distributed across multiple computer nodes for redundancy.

The path to government services without submitting applications
With this prototype application, the computer scientists want to demonstrate that the German federal organization structure can be guaranteed while nonetheless lending communal and government services a user-friendly design. Data privacy and security are ensured at the same time. The combination of blockchain and AI technologies can be used to apply for and manage benefits such as the parental allowance or parental leave as well.

“Our prototype app enables one-stop-shopping. But our vision is no-stop-shopping, meaning government services without actually applying for them,” emphasizes Kuhn. There are two different approaches to increase user-friendliness and reduce the complexity of managing government services. One-stop-shops focus on packaged forms as an interface to the user and on the interoperable exchange of data within the service delivery process.

With the no-stop-shop, users no longer have to submit an application. Instead, an analysis tool ensures that the government anticipates the relevance of a service or benefit regulated by law without requesting it or submitting an application. One example is the Austrian family allowance, which is automatically paid out after the birth of the child.

The prototype “Kindergeld-App” is a joint project between fortiss and IBM.