Making Access to the Council Tax Support Scheme Easier

Full Application: Not funded at this stage

Council Tax Support (CTS) is a discount thats treat as a benefit for application purposes. Each LA scheme & household contribution levels is different. Discussions within the wider council tax community note LAs are nervous to be 1st to make changes to their local scheme, in part due to high external ICT costs. Time taken at each LA to fund, design & implement the scheme is immense.

We want to discover how the LA application & fulfillment process can be adapted to ease the transition from being seen as a benefit rather than a discount, simplifying the customer journey, accessing the support easier & what is the wider opportunity for similar practices across all LAs, creating an environment for cost & time savings. A simplified scheme which is available to all LAs will enable wider discussions with software vendors to ease transition from multiple current schemes.

The potential would be for the end user to have a simpler, more understandable & easier to access level of support towards a primary household expense.

Objectives
• How is CTS treat amongst all LAs, is the level of support treat as a benefit or a council tax discount
• What are the barriers for customers with the current methods of accessing the scheme
• What barriers may be in place internally which may prevent a more simplified application process
• In moving towards a discount v benefit how will any inherent risk or fraud & error be managed through the process

The Discovery phase will be delivered using in-house resources & specialists procured through the Local Digital Fund. The two councils will dedicate staff to the project team. NELC Council will lead on the project & assume ultimate responsibility to ensure that the project is sufficiently staffed.

We will have SMART objectives for each of the project sprints that align to the project success criteria to measure if the objectives have been met. The delivery of publishable outputs is accounted for in the below table – we plan to develop the assets throughout the project phase lifecycle to ensure that we are ready to publish by 31 March 2019.

The project will involve extensive business analysis activity to analyse processes and current customer journeys and to engage with residents.

Project Management:

The project will be managed in an agile way through a series of sprints to maintain regular communication across the dispersed project team and ensure that the project progresses as required to ensure delivery by the end of March 2019.

The lead officers from each authority will meet monthly in a virtual project board format to review progress and ensure that risks and issues are identified and the required action taken to maintain progress.

Project Plan

 

Current cost of the problem  

CST is a vital scheme to support low income households alongside Universal Credit, Housing Benefit & Discretionary Housing Payment schemes.  All designed to reduce poverty & prevent families falling into crisis and becoming homeless.

Within North & North East Lincolnshire the value of CST to the community is in the region of £20m, nationally the costs are hundreds of millions. Operating this complex scheme for across NELC & NEL costs hundreds of thousands of pounds,  multiplied nationally the overall costs run into the millions.

Project Proposal

As the scheme is treated as a benefit there is little allowance for the management of risk through the application process, with vast quantities of evidence required from the customer to enable an application for support to be successful.  One of the questions we need to answer is … Is there a better way to manage this risk ?

The issues we are looking to solve, as outlined in section one would have the potential to present the following benefits;

Benefits for  LA’s:

  • a scheme which potentially presents an ‘off the shelf’ product that can be implemented by any LA, reducing internal cost & saving time to devise & implement a local scheme
  • ability to treat this level of support as a council tax discount, rather than a benefit & make decisions on how any risks presented by this change are managed
  • give all LA’s the opportunity to compare schemes & not just on the percentage contribution which is charged at present
  • clarity in the appeal process, as each LA operates a different scheme this can be challenging for the Valuation Office to address appeals
  • maximising the use of technology to engage with both the customer and software providers

Benefits for the Customer

  • a scheme which is simpler to understand & is more accessible
  • clearer understanding of the expectations of support & the moving away from this being seen as a benefit more a customer circumstances related discount

 

By understanding key core transactions that LA’s undertake, the common service patterns, data collection required & how entries are made, we aim to develop solutions & deliverables that are relevant to all.

In addition we will each collaborate on a regional basis through our existing networks & benchmarking arrangements. We will share user research & test our thinking in this phase of the work to ensure this meets the needs of the many.

We will host a slack open day to share our work & validate findings & consistency across the wider public sector.

We will publish our show & tells in an open forum for others to view, share & input into our work.

 

 

Output Action
Business case  Gathered  information from  the partner council & supplier organisations will enable comparison of the old & new offering & prove a value for money case. We will use the user researcher & data analyst to develop the business case..
User research report We will publish all outputs on an agreed platform throughout , & will produce a final summary report in a format ready to be published on localdigital.gov.uk. The user research team will make use of existing templates to present user research findings in a consistent way after every round of user research. A final user research report will also be produced.
A summary report & recommendations We will produce a report that either proposes how to take this project forward to alpha stage or explains why the work should not continue. We have the last week of March reserved for this work to ensure that the deadline is met.
Redesigned service map We will create an analysis of our current (‘as is’) & start an improved process map (‘to be’) that shows an improved process based on research.. The new process map will later on be used as a basis to redesign our service offer & produce a working prototype in Beta, if successful.
Alpha EOI Draft EOI for an alpha for the next round of LD funding

We aim to develop a common service pattern & business case for implementation across many councils.    

Our outputs will be a business case highlighting current system processes & costs

Also what are the potential initial & capital costs that would be required to create  recurrent savings & where there needs to be a change in re-procurement / contract negotiation, if still required, to achieve the outcome

We aim to produce a service development  road map with proposals for an Alpha product or solution or, where we have identified the level of complexity is so great that the solutions are impractical a clear conclusion setting out our rationale across the LAs.

Our users are:

  •  A wide range of residents to represent the ‘as is’ process
  •  Council Tax and Benefit staff
  • Voluntary Sector organisations

How will we engage with them:7

  •  We will engage with applicants  when they contact us to access a service & obtain their consent to take part in user research.
  •  We will use our customer access points to engage applicants  and through our Contact Centre
  • We will engage with voluntary organisations who support applicants   
  • We have engaged the Council Tax & Benefit service Managers  who have agreed the scope & benefits of the project &  now will engage staff in user research

Proposed user research objectives are:

  •  To fully understand user journeys (from different user perspectives) & through different channels
  •   Understand any pain points including poor & conflicting information, advice & guidance
  •   Explore & identify opportunities for improvement
  •   Understand what good may look like ‘How Might We’ 

  

 

 

 

 

Council Tax Discount exists in every LA & the support that MHCLG is able to give to support LAs to be able make a changes that will ultimately  support the user & service.  National promotion will raise this profile & could enable the start of a significant national rollout of change.

None for North East Lincolnshire

None for North Lincolnshire

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