Within Southwark sits our Exchequer Services division, which include services such as Council Tax, Business Rates, Rent Collection and Benefits. The department has been focused on digitally transforming its services for a number of years.
By driving customers towards an easy-to-use digital route, we have created a modernised and streamlined service for residents by allowing them to self-serve; whilst also creating cost efficiencies and reducing our carbon footprint by utilising paperless options.
In order to drive these efficiencies further and free up staff time, we wanted to automate transactions including Change of Address, Direct Debits and Single Occupier Discounts. This would not only create a fully automated service to allow customers to engage with the Council online, but also give the Council the opportunity, with a modernised forms solution, to not only save money due to ongoing budget cuts, but to also provide a more efficient service to citizens.
Our key objective was to deliver fully integrated and automated transactions with as much automation as possible, resulting in minimal manual intervention. Customers would no longer have to wait for us to manually update records with information from newly submitted forms – instead, they could be updated instantly.
We chose to partner with IEG4, a provider of software solutions for public sector organisations to deliver better, faster, and more cost-effective seamless online services for citizens.
A combination of complementary modules including its unique Revenues Process Automation (RPO), that automates transactions using bi-directional APIs, and eDesigner, a low code platform that allows business-users to build and deploy online forms, enabled seamless integration with key council services and provided easy to use adapters for e-payments and other revenue generating systems.
Since go-live of the initial services, we’ve continued to innovate and design new digital services. The most recent of these is an intelligent Special Arrangement form that guides customers who find themselves in arrears, through a considered approach to help them through the process. Council Tax refunds is also an area that will deliver significant savings as these are automated.
With the use of automated forms, we have projected savings of £553,000 over four years, based on current performance.
In parallel to delivering fully automated transactions, we’ve also worked with our supplier to upgrade to a new citizen engagement platform. During September 2020, we had performed a general review of our previous infrastructure for our ‘MySouthwark’ customer portal and concluded that the incumbent was not the right system.
We were keen to push the boundaries of the new system to create a truly progressive portal that would improve the customer experience. The low code nature of the offering and the fact it was an out of the box solution meant we could implement quickly. What really sold it to us is the potential for future development.
The new system went live in May 2021. In our previous system, over 60,000 accounts were registered to use the portal, and we were concerned about retaining those accounts when they went live with the new portal.
However, through a considered marketing and comms campaign – which targeted existing users and encouraged them to re-register to the new service, sign-ups continue to rise.
Going forwards, we’re looking to create a pro-active communication offering to our customers. We’re working on a broadcast platform, which will allow Southwark to send messages to customers via various channels such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and GOV.NOTIFY.
This tool will help us reach new demographics and improve accessibility as the options for contact are increased.
It’s exciting to see the efficiencies that modernisation will continue to provide, and to support our customers in transacting with us in a way that works best for them.