A common struggle within local councils is how to identify and engage with citizens with multiple forms of debt, such as council tax, housing rents, business rates and parking fines. When the data for these different forms of debt are in separate systems, it can be hard to see what debts a citizen has and be able to put this into wider context – are they struggling financially and needing our support? The challenge stems from the fact that these records are in disparate systems, are typically inconsistent, plagued by quality issues and may not be up to date, for example, if a citizen has moved house, gotten married, or changed their email address and the records don’t reflect this. The lack of quality here can lead to error, and possibly also fraud, which could result in further lost revenue.
This is particularly true when needing to identify and appropriately respond to a particular citizen’s circumstances, including those who are struggling. Local councils need to be able to react appropriately by facilitating interventions and building out payment plans to address poverty and prevent homelessness. In 2012, The cost of homelessness in England was reported to cost the UK taxpayer up to £1 billion (gross) a year and has only been stretched further with the recent pandemic.
Debts in Disconnected Systems
In a typical local government authority, debts exist in different, and often disconnected, departments and systems. For example, a citizen could have council tax debt and rent arrears too – but the two departments will not know this and will struggle to connect this information. Furthermore, councils struggle to update citizen details across departments, meaning that citizens can have legacy debts that may not be discovered, resulting in potential lost revenue.
As Local Councils will know, data insight is hugely important in running an efficient and effective organisation. But, equally as important is making sure that data is secure and accurate – having data that is used appropriately by the right people can help your council view valuable insights and therefore make better informed decisions. Not managing data correctly is a significant risk.
There are a multitude of reason why a citizen’s debts may not be as simple as they first seem. For instance: if they’re struggling financially this might not be apparent in a single system, but become obvious when data from multiple systems are joined together.
Some councils, particularly London Boroughs, manage and own their own housing stocks. The biggest challenge these councils face is matching their housing systems with their systems that manage council tax. This disparity results in lost revenue for the council, which evidently isn’t ideal.
Lost Revenue and How to Address it
There is 1.746 billion pounds worth of uncollected debt per year in the UK. This statistic would massively decrease if council’s had access to a single view of the citizen.
Data and insights can enable councils to identify and appropriately respond to citizen’s needs: targeting on-time interventions and building payment plans with those who are struggling, identifying when a citizen has moved and their details are out of date so they can redirect communications, identifying those wilfully avoiding payment without any cause for further investigation.
The results of this are a significant boost to a Local Authority’s tax revenues as well as a significantly lower downstream set of costs resulting from late interventions (e.g. provision of housing support to those who are homeless, social services costs, healthcare costs).
This Single View can serve multiple related purposes that further boost incomes, including the better identification of error & fraud. For example, it will identify if there is more than one tax eligible person living at an address but where that property only has one person declared resident in the Council Tax system and claiming a Single Person Discount. Councils can then engage with those households to address any errors. Equally this enables councils to identify eligible citizens not claiming SPD and extend that entitlement.
How can we Help?
Without better insights, councils risk losing out on the collection of legitimate Council Tax, reducing revenues and potentially undermining funding for front line service delivery.
If you’re interested in creating a single view of citizens Debts and Financial Health that can be trusted throughout your council, why not take a look at our free whitepaper or our Citizen Insights Accelerator.
Integrate your disconnected data assets, address critical data quality issues and deliver a trusted single view of citizen and households.
Tom Hughes, Business Development Manager, Simpson AssociatesBack to blog