Headlines: December 8th, 2000

The London Borough of Camden has launched an Internet service for students to apply for loans to support them at university. The service, which is provided by Impower Plc and Cisco Systems Ltd, replaces paper forms and checks data as the student completes the form on the screen. The benefit from the checking process is that the problem of incorrect or incomplete forms is removed saving time for the student and expense for the Council. Camden believes that paying a fee to Impower for each application completed using the system is saving staff time and is cost effective. The limitation is that once the input of data is completed, a printout must be sent by post to Camden’s Local Education Authority.There is no immediate prospect of submitting applications on line. Although electronic signatures may be acceptable in the near future, this will not make on line submission possible. Loan applications must be supported by other documents such as birth certificates and, in the case of a refugee, a letter from the Home Office. Until it is possible to scan these document and send them electronically, the post is the only option. But even when scanning equipment is more readily available, there is another obstacle to be overcome. Parents do not always wish to reveal to children how much they earn and some will insist that confidentiality is maintained and the financial information they must provide is sent separately by post. The barriers limiting the development of e-government are not all related to technical matters.