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Using a human-centred approach to build better solutions for people facing financial hardship

To fully understand and design for the issues at hand we’re using a human-centred design approach to help accelerate support to people in financial hardship.


Lightning Reach was founded during the pandemic with the mission to enable people in financial hardship to access the support they need and get on the road to financial recovery.

With 12 million people in the UK facing financial hardship there is a huge opportunity to use digital technologies to transform the way the charitable and public sectors are operating to support them. To fully understand and design for the issues at hand we’re using a human-centred design approach to help accelerate support to people in financial hardship.

The key stages of the process are; Empathise, Define the problems, Ideate solutions, Prototype key solutions and Test. Read more

At Lightning, we’re using this approach to design products that meet the needs of the millions of people facing financial hardship. Working collaboratively with people with lived experience of financial hardship and poverty, and the organisations that support them, we’re building digital solutions to transform the way people access the support they need to get on the road to financial recovery.

Working with real users to understand the challenges with the grantmaking process

There can be a multitude of reasons why people seek financial support. Whether they’ve suffered a sudden loss of income, are dealing with a new or long term health condition, are struggling with debts, or can’t afford to buy or replace essential furniture or white goods, the anxiety and stress of the situation can be significant.

We interviewed over 30 low income individuals to understand their experience. They highlighted that these emotions can be exacerbated by challenges at every stage of the process of applying for support.

The key problems encountered by people at all stages of the grant application process, based on feedback from real users

A lack of awareness of where to find the support available to them was a key challenge faced by the people we spoke to.

“I didn’t know where to turn to and got bounced around…after 2-3 days I got sick of looking as no one would help”

When they do find the support they can apply to, many people reported that the process was so intimidating and intrusive that they never ended up completing an application.

“It doesn't feel like it's geared towards helping you”

For those that do go on to apply, they can often spend hours or days filling in the paperwork and providing documents to demonstrate their eligibility, only to be left waiting for typically more than 5 weeks to find out the result - by which time they could have spiralled further into debt or lost their home.

“You demolish your personality in that waiting time”

It’s clear that the current process is not fit for purpose, and there’s a huge opportunity to humanise it to ensure people are able to access the support they need, when they need it.

Building with the users in mind

Our financial verification product is already helping to tackle these problems. Designed with a human-centric approach, it uses open banking technology to allow people to securely connect their bank accounts to an application in under one minute. It has already helped hundreds of people, with over 90% very satisfied with the process. Not only does it save the time and stress of collating and uploading bank statements, it also makes the assessment process as quick and easy as possible to ensure people get the support they need in days rather than weeks.

“The open banking platform meant I was just clicks away from getting an answer and the money we needed to get through this difficult period”

We’ve also set up a Social Innovation Council, bringing together a key group of organisations in the charity and public sectors to co-design a shared digital grants platform to enable people in financial hardship to apply for multiple sources of support through a single portal when they need it. ​Initial responses from 10 people on low incomes about the platform have been hugely positive, as well as highlighting some important considerations.

“It is reassuring to know you only have to submit one set of information that can then be added to multiple applications without the need to retype”

With 60% of those interviewed stating that they would apply for a grant using a mobile phone, a mobile first approach will be crucial for the design of the platform. An accessible platform, with clear and user-friendly messaging will also help to humanise the process and remove the barriers that currently stop people applying for the support they need. Finally, building trust with vulnerable users - many of whom already have a deep mistrust of financial and public institutions - is critical towards enabling them to get through the process.


Through incorporating a human-centred approach to our design process we’re gaining invaluable insights from people we wish to design and build solutions for, to ultimately enhance the grant application experience and facilitate a road to faster financial recovery.

While there’s still much work to do, by continuously collaborating with people in financial hardship and the organisations that support them, we can iteratively create a solution to better meet their needs.



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