https://insidehmcts.blog.gov.uk/2018/05/08/online-divorce-application-national-rollout-will-be-just-the-beginning/

Online divorce application: national rollout will be just the beginning


[English] - [Cymraeg]

Hello I'm Adam Lennon, Divorce Service Manager at HMCTS. A year ago, I blogged about our work with stakeholders to develop an online divorce service. One year on and we’re making our online divorce application available to the public on GOV.UK. We’ll still be testing and improving it, but it will mean that thousands more separating couples will be able to benefit from using a simpler, quicker, web-based application process.

This is not about promoting or advocating divorce itself. Far from it, and it’s certainly not our place to do that. The decision to end a marriage or civil partnership is, of course, a very personal and often painful one. But when a couple embarks on this course of action, our online application can make the process smoother and feedback from people who have tested it supports that.

Here’s how we got there.

Divorce services: A brief history

When I started work for the courts fifteen years ago (before HMCTS was even formed!) I spent the first year doing little else but issuing divorce petitions. This involved me checking that applications were fit to issue and sending back those which were not. For every ten that I checked, I had to send four of them back to the applicant, sometimes multiple times.

Since my time on the divorce section - and until HMCTS embarked on its £1bn reform programme in 2016 - I’m afraid to say that very little had changed. If you scale-up the percentage of returns that I was making, we had teams across the country spending over 13,000 hours per year to just check and reject divorce applications.
An even bigger cost is to the applicant who, in a difficult period in their life, has to spend more time and effort on their divorce application, which is delayed.

Reforming divorce services

Our starting point for reforming the service was to focus on the people who use it, people who want a divorce and the legal professionals who support them. The judiciary and court employees who process applications have been fundamental to the design of the service, but always focussing on what this means for the people using it rather than themselves.

We embarked on a long period of research with people who had been, or were thinking of going through, a divorce and their legal representatives to understand what was wrong with the existing service and what we could do to improve it. This resulted in a lengthy list of areas where our systems were causing unnecessary frustration or anxiety, on top of the stress of the relationship breakdown itself.

The vast majority of issues related to the initial application form, so we started by focussing our efforts here. We built digital prototypes and tested them every two weeks with groups of real users, using their feedback to improve the system, working in partnership with policy and judicial colleagues to ensure we complied with relevant legislation.

User feedback

After many months of testing we launched a limited pilot back in July 2017 and continued improving the system based on the feedback we received. The number of rejections at the start of the pilot dropped from 40% in the paper process to around 7% for the digital ones. Because we keep responding to feedback and continually improving the system, at the time of writing this rejection rate has now dropped to below 1%.

Making the application digital has also meant that applicants are better informed about what is happening with their case. Before, they could wait up to four weeks from posting their application to know if it had been issued. Many would call up the courts to find out what was happening to be told ‘we do not know, because we are not able to track it, it’s probably waiting to be issued’. Now people know instantly that the court has received it and that it has been issued.

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank colleagues, the judiciary, legal professionals and members of the public who have tested the service. Your invaluable feedback has helped improve the service we provide and, most importantly, has helped to improve the experience of future divorce applicants.

Next steps

We have just launched the new online service nationally and any member of the public is now able to use it through GOV.UK. But this is only the beginning.

Now that the application part of the divorce process is online we will, over the coming months make the rest of the process digital – including the response from the other spouse to the application and the final certificate of divorce – making the whole process simpler to understand and navigate. The pronouncement of the decree nisi by a judge will continue to happen in a courtroom. We are also currently working with legal professionals to develop an online application for them to use which will allow them to submit a petition on behalf of a client online. We hope to start testing this with a small group of professional users in Summer 2018.

Secondly, we will be applying the same approach that we have taken to designing the divorce service to all family services over the coming years: work is underway to develop a family public law service for proceedings relating to the care of vulnerable children, and work has also started on the private law service, relating to parental disputes over children. We will reuse what we have already learned, as well as some of the technology, to deliver benefits to our users more quickly and at a reduced cost to the tax payer.

I would welcome your comments and feedback, which you can leave below.


[English] - [Cymraeg]

Cais am ysgariad ar-lein: Cyflwyno'n genedlaethol fydd y cam cyntaf

Blwyddyn yn ôl, ysgrifennais blog am ein gwaith gyda rhanddeiliaid i ddatblygu gwasanaeth ysgaru ar-lein. Blwyddyn yn ddiweddarach, rydym yn cyhoeddi ein ffurflen gais am ysgariad ar-lein a bydd ar gael i’r cyhoedd ar Gov.uk. Byddwn yn parhau i'w phrofi a’i gwella, ond bydd yn golygu y bydd miloedd mwy o gyplau sy’n gwahanu yn elwa o ddefnyddio proses ymgeisio ar-lein sy'n symlach ac yn gyflymach.
Nid hyrwyddo’r broses ysgaru yn ei hun yw'r nod. Dim o gwbl. Nid ein lle ni yw gwneud hynny. Wrth gwrs, mae’r penderfyniad i roi’r gorau i briodas neu bartneriaeth sifil yn benderfyniad personol iawn a gall fod yn boenus iawn hefyd. Ond pan fydd cwpl yn penderfynu ysgaru, gall ein ffurflen gais ar-lein wneud y broses yn fwy esmwyth ac mae'r adborth gan yr unigolion sydd wedi'i phrofi yn cefnogi hynny.
Dyma oedd ein taith.

Gwasanaethau ysgaru: Hanes bras

Pan ddechreuais weithio i’r llysoedd pymtheg blynedd yn ôl (cyn i GLlTEM gael ei ffurfio!) treuliais y flwyddyn gyntaf yn cyhoeddi deisebau ysgaru a bron dim byd arall. Roedd hyn yn golygu gwirio fod ceisiadau yn addas i’w cyhoeddi a dychwelyd y rhai nad oedd yn addas. Ar gyfer pob 10 cais yr oeddwn i’n eu gwirio, roedd rhaid i mi ddychwelyd 4 ohonynt i’r ceisydd, ac weithiau roedd rhaid gwneud hyn sawl gwaith.

Ers fy nghyfnod yn yr adran ysgaru – a hyd nes i GLlTEM fynd ati i weithredu’r rhaglen ddiwygio £1 biliwn yn 2016 - mae’n ddrwg gen i ddweud nad oedd llawer wedi newid. Mewn gwirionedd, gyda’r canran ddychwelyd hon, roedd timau ledled y wlad yn treulio 13,000 o oriau bob blwyddyn yn gwirio a dychwelyd ceisiadau ysgaru.
Mae'r gost i’r ceisydd yn fwy byth, gan eu bod mewn cyfnod anodd yn eu bywyd, ac mae’n rhaid iddynt roi mwy o amser ac ymdrech i'r cais am ysgariad, a phrofi oedi.

Diwygio gwasanaethau ysgaru

Ein pwynt cychwyn ar gyfer diwygio'r gwasanaeth oedd canolbwyntio ar y bobl sy’n ei ddefnyddio, y bobl sydd eisiau cael ysgariad a’r gweithwyr cyfreithiol proffesiynol sy’n eu cefnogi. Mae'r farnwriaeth a gweithwyr y llys sy’n prosesu ceisiadau wedi bod yn rhan annatod o’r broses o ddylunio'r gwasanaeth, gan ganolbwyntio o hyd ar beth fydd yn ei olygu i'r rhai sy'n defnyddio’r gwasanaeth yn hytrach na'r effaith arnyn nhw ei hunain.

Bu inni gychwyn ar gyfnod hir o ymchwil gyda’r sawl oedd wedi mynd trwy’r broses ysgaru neu'n meddwl gwneud hynny, a'u cynrychiolwyr cyfreithiol, i ddeall beth oedd diffygion y gwasanaeth presennol a'r hyn y gallwn ni ei wneud i’w wella. O ganlyniad i hyn, crëwyd rhestr hirfaith o feysydd lle'r oedd ein systemau yn peri rhwystredigaeth neu bryder yn ddiangen, ar ben y straen o'r berthynas yn chwalu.

Roedd y nifer helaeth o’r problemau yn ymwneud â'r ffurflen gais gychwynnol, felly'r pwynt cychwyn i ni oedd canolbwyntio ar hynny. Mi wnaethom ni adeiladu prototeipiau digidol a’u profi bob pythefnos gyda grwpiau o ddefnyddwyr go iawn, gan ddefnyddio eu hadborth i wella'r system a gweithio mewn partneriaeth gyda chydweithwyr polisi a'r farnwriaeth i sicrhau ein bod yn cydymffurfio â'r ddeddfwriaeth berthnasol.

Adborth gan ddefnyddwyr

Ar ôl sawl mis o brofi lansiwyd cynllun peilot cyfyngedig ym mis Gorffennaf 2017 ac mi wnaethom ni barhau i wella’r system yn seiliedig ar yr adborth a gafwyd. Ar ddechrau’r peilot, roedd nifer y ceisiadau a oedd yn cael eu gwrthod wedi gostwng o 40% yn y broses papur i tua 7% gyda'r ceisiadau digidol. Oherwydd ein bod yn parhau i ymateb i adborth ac yn gwella’r system yn gyson, ar adeg ysgrifennu hwn roedd y cyfradd gwrthod wedi gostwng ymhellach i llai na 1%.

Mae gwneud y broses ymgeisio yn ddigidol hefyd yn golygu y bydd gan geiswyr yr wybodaeth ddiweddaraf am beth sy’n digwydd gyda’u hachos. Yn y gorffennol, gallant fod yn disgwyl hyd at bedair wythnos o ddyddiad cyflwyno eu cais i gael gwybod os oedd y cais wedi’i gyhoeddi. Byddai llawer o unigolion yn ffonio’r llys i ganfod beth oedd yn digwydd, ac yna’n cael yr ateb ‘Nid ydym yn gwybod, allwn ni ddim tracio’r cais, mae’n aros i gael ei gyhoeddi mwy na thebyg.' Rŵan mae pawb yn cael gwybod ar unwaith bod y llys wedi cael y cais a bod y cais wedi'i gyhoeddi.

Hoffwn gymryd y cyfle hwn i ddiolch i’n cydweithwyr, y farnwriaeth, gweithwyr cyfreithiol proffesiynol ac aelodau o’r cyhoedd sydd wedi profi’r gwasanaeth. Mae eich adborth amhrisiadwy wedi helpu i wella’r gwasanaeth rydym yn ei ddarparu, ac yn bwysicaf oll, wedi helpu i wella’r profiad ar gyfer ceiswyr sy’n dymuno cael ysgariad yn y dyfodol.

Camau nesaf

Rydym ni newydd lansio'r gwasanaeth ar-lein yn genedlaethol a gall unrhyw aelod o‘r cyhoedd ei ddefnyddio trwy Gov.uk, ond megis dechrau ydym.

Mae'r rhan ymgeisio o’r broses ysgaru bellach ar-lein, felly dros y misoedd nesaf byddwn ni’n digideiddio bob rhan arall o’r broses – gan gynnwys ymateb y priod arall i’r cais a’r dystysgrif ysgaru derfynol – gan wneud yr holl broses yn symlach i’w deall a’i llywio. Bydd y decree nisi yn parhau i gael ei gyhoeddi gan Farnwr mewn ystafell llys. Rydym hefyd yn gweithio gyda gweithwyr cyfreithiol proffesiynol ar hyn o bryd i ddatblygu ffurflen gais ar-lein ar eu cyfer a fydd yn eu galluogi i gyflwyno deiseb ar-lein ar ran cleient. Gobeithiwn y cawn ddechrau profi gyda grŵp bychan o ddefnyddwyr proffesiynol yn ystod haf 2018.

Yn ail, byddwn yn rhoi’r dull a ddefnyddiwyd i ddylunio'r gwasanaeth ysgaru ar waith yn yr holl wasanaethau teulu dros y blynyddoedd nesaf: mae gwaith bellach wedi cychwyn i ddatblygu gwasanaeth cyfraith gyhoeddus teulu ar gyfer achosion sy’n ymwneud â gofal plant bregus, ac mae’r gwaith eisoes wedi cychwyn ar y gwasanaeth cyfraith breifat sy’n ymwneud ag anghydfodau ynghylch plant. Byddwn yn ailddefnyddio’r hyn yr ydym wedi’i ddysgu, yn ogystal â rhywfaint o'r dechnoleg, i ddarparu buddion i’n defnyddwyr yn gyflymach a bydd y gost i'r trethdalwr yn is.

Byddaf yn falch iawn o gael eich sylwadau ac eich adborth. Gallwch eu nodi isod.

5 comments

  1. Comment by Eliot Fineberg posted on

    Great work Adam - lovely to see this stuff going live.

  2. Comment by Jon Sayers posted on

    Will there be an API?

  3. Comment by Nicola Roberts posted on

    Dear Mr Lennon,
    As part of your plans to work with legal professionals to develop an online application for them to use which will allow them to submit a petition on behalf of a client online, would existing case management systems be able to interact directly with the online application via an API or would users have to log on manually via a browser?
    I look forward to hearing from you,
    Regards,
    Nicola Roberts

    • Replies to Nicola Roberts>

      Comment by Adam Lennon posted on

      Jon/Nicola

      We are currently exploring the various options for how we provide divorce and other Civil, Family and Tribunals services to professional users. This includes the use of an API however the first product we intend to launch in the summer will require manual entry initially.

      Adam

  4. Comment by Dawn posted on

    Can people already in the process track where their paperwork is up to?