42,500 automations last financial year (22/23) reducing direct contact
On target to save in excess of £500k over a four-year period
75% of residents gave positive feedback in a Council Tax customer satisfaction survey
A Council grounded in partnership
Known for its innovative approach to digital transformation, Southwark Council utilises a wide range of partnerships, to improve its services and provide support to stakeholders within the Borough.
At the core of its strategy is the belief that choosing the right partner with the same level of customer focus and similar values is paramount to putting the customer and their experience at the forefront of its services whilst delivering operational savings and efficiency gains.
The Income Operation service at Southwark sits within Customer and Exchequer, and primarily deals with all aspects of Council Tax, Business Rates, Housing Benefit overpayments and Rent Collection. The department and council have continually focused on digitally transforming its services for several years.
The digital challenge for a transient local authority
Despite Southwark’s revenues team having a strong track record of high performance - with over 148,000 properties, high levels of social housing and being among the most transient local authorities in the country - collection challenges are significant.
The department is committed to transforming and making best use of digital services to provide high quality and easy to use customer interactions. Its Customer and Exchequer Digital Strategy builds into the Council’s overarching Technology and Digital Inclusion Strategy and promotes digital inclusion through a consistent, assisted digital service to ensure no one is left behind.
Its aim is for customers to choose online services as their first option, capturing all the relevant information in a single transaction which in turn auto updates accounts and issues new and amended bills within 24 hours without the need for officer intervention.
Pioneering digital and online services that are intuitive and easy to use across omni-channel access is the key objective, reducing the need for customers to travel to council offices for face-to-face meetings and supporting those with accessibility difficulties.
As part of its Customer and Exchequer’s business plan and digital strategy it committed to enhancing its already successful digital communications strategy with an improved digital offering and fully functioning customer portal, with automated processes that enable residents to easily access information about all their financial liabilities or debts to the Council in a single place.
A platform with purpose
When looking for a partner (and a solution) to work at pace with the department to enhance and transform its digital service offering, it selected IEG4’s OneVu Citizen Engagement platform, due to its proven track record of transformation within local government.
IEG4 also had experience working with Southwark’s revenues system provider (NEC) and having previously developed automation using NEC APIs, and the low-code technology, meant the solution could be easily modified, updated, and implemented without the need for wider support from Southwark’s IT team; features that meant IEG4 clearly stood out from other potential partners.
Above all else, both organisations were committed to working in partnership to develop more complex and innovative automation processes, so the journey of digital transformation partnership began.
Early adoption and implementation of automation such as Direct Debits and Single Person Discounts was the first step in the project, quickly followed Change of Address along with a jointly developed roadmap and delivery of more complex automation, including Payment Arrangements, Student Exemptions and Refunds.
This led to the implementation and full back-office integration of enhanced intelligent eforms which provide Southwark’s customers with a simple, quick, and effective method of notifying changes that affect their liability or method of payment and eliminates the need for officer intervention, thereby removing the requirement to either key in data or authorise changes before a new or adjusted bill can be issued.
Previously, a change of liability would be actioned, and a bill issued approximately 11 days after receipt of notification. With the new automation, a customer’s account is updated instantly and a bill is issued within 24 hours. Successfully achieved with the use of a combination of complementary modules including IEG4’s unique Revenues Process Orchestration (RPO) that automates transactions using bi-directional APIs.
The digital platform also completely manages the e-billing council tax bill process, and with e-billing numbers through the customer portal having risen to over 42,000, with the ability to notify the customer when a new or amended bill is available to view, this has significantly saved on print and postage costs, and generated a reduction in call volumes which significantly contributes towards the Council’s budget savings and reduction in carbon footprint.
The low-code ability of the platform not only allowed new complex automations to be designed and implemented quickly but the intuitive design of the system meant training requirements were simple and quick to deliver to a wide range of staff. In addition to the light touch training for Southwark staff, the council liaises with other IEG4 customers to discuss differences in their processes and ideas for further improvements to automation.
Throughout the design of the automations, revenues staff worked with IEG4, utilising their revenues technical knowledge to enhance the understanding of revenues processes, which were then captured into the design and technical development, testing and implementation.
Working together in partnership with IEG4 to enhance the Council’s digital service offering, through a customer portal and transactional automation, has made a significant contribution and impact to driving customer service improvements, reduce service demands whilst providing an accessible way to interact and achieve savings at a time when all service budgets are squeezed.
Customers can view their account information at their convenience and transact with the council at a time that suits them. The council has seen a significant reduction in customers having to contact the Council directly, with demand on the contact centre in the wider Customer and Exchequer service reduced by 50%.
The accuracy of the automation means that there is no likelihood of human error, with quality improvements built into the automation process and the customer receives a new or amended bill at the earliest possible time.
As a result of automation Southwark Council has been able to reassign resources to other areas which contributed to a 22/23 in year collection improvement of 1.4% and arrears collection of £5.2m up by £2.6m from 21/22.
The Council has projected a saving of £500k over a 4-year period and it’s on track to deliver these savings with 22/23 demonstrating savings of:
- £151,000 in relation to completion of 42,500 eforms.
- £97,000 due to enhanced ebilling functionality and take-up.
A project group was formed to establish procedural and technical requirements followed by weekly project group review meetings to review testing and progress. Both complex automations were successfully completed and during 2022/2023 financial year were automatically processed without officer intervention. This included:
- 16,000 changes of address.
- 5,415 student exemptions and discounts.
- 14,000 Direct Debits.
- 3000 Single Person discounts forms.
- 4,000 refunds.
Dom Cain, Director, Customer & Exchequer at Southwark Council said of the partnership, “Having an accessible and mobile responsive customer portal along with delivery of over 42,500 automations during 2022/23 is hugely successful and an excellent start to our transformation journey. We expect our close partnership with IEG4 will enable us to improve on this in future years with a strong development roadmap underpinning future innovations, further collaboration and automated processes.”
When developing its e-billing and customer OneVu portal with IEG4 it was a priority for Southwark that customers would be able to provide feedback on their interactions with the Council via the platform.
As such, a real-time survey was developed to allow customers to express their satisfaction or offer an alternative time convenient to them.
Previously, the Council identified that the majority of its feedback occurs when users want to explain they are experiencing difficulties. However, in its most recent Council Tax customer satisfaction survey 75% of residents gave positive feedback.
Southwark’s partnership roadmap with IEG4 will see the Council working collaboratively on further complex automations which includes customer self-service payment arrangements, and automation for landlords, through a bulk upload of change of address and integrating Open Banking with automation in arrears repayment affordability assessments.
Norman Lockie, Head of Income Operations at Southwark Council continued, “Our development roadmap with IEG4 is exciting, ambitious and will move us towards intuitive and easy to use automated debt repayment affordability assessments and in year self-service arrangements.
“Working collaboratively with IEG4, we have made great progress up to this point in our journey with clear benefits for both the council and the customer arising from our service transformation through our partnership to date.”
Stephen Ferry, CEO at IEG4 says, “IEG4’s values represent the way we operate and innovate with a purpose, and our work with Southwark Council demonstrates the benefits of working collaboratively to achieve this, as well as the role technology and digital transformation play in enabling a digital society. We look forward to continuing our work together to enhance Southwark’s offering.”