Birmingham City Council is the largest local authority in Europe and home to one of the most culturally diverse populations in the UK. Its revenues and benefits team are no strangers to peaks and troughs in demand for services but when the pandemic struck, the council realised that an earlier decision to move to a digital access solution, could not have been more fortuitous.
The people of the city of Birmingham are much like the citizens of any other area in the UK. They are comfortable carrying out many activities online, from shopping to managing money. As a result, they want the same security, speed and convenience when it comes to dealing with their council tax or business rates accounts.
Birmingham City Council was happy to provide them with these self-service options and in May 2018 moved to NEC Software Solutions Citizen Access platform. As a result, if an individual wanted to view their council tax bill, inform the council of a change of address or a change in circumstances, they could complete the process online.
Like many other local authorities, Birmingham City Council found that when the pandemic hit, service demand increased, particularly for online services (in fact, data from 42 NEC Software Solutions Citizen Access customers, shows a 30% increase in online transactions).
Over the last 12 months, over 1.1 million citizens have used Birmingham City Council’s online services to view or check their council tax bill.
Tim Savill, assistant director revenues, benefits and rents, Birmingham City Council explains,
“The impact of Covid-19 caused incoming enquiries to surge and placed enormous pressure on revenues and benefits departments. Offering digital services has helped us cope and has enabled our staff to be able to spend more time with those who need more support.”
Since September 2020, the council received over 130,000 updates from citizens making changes to their account. As well as viewing their council tax information, citizens are able to take advantage of additional services such as registering that they were moving in or out of the area, applying for discounts or make change to direct debits, all in real time. In the past, these would have been managed manually, a task that used to take on average 10 minutes per form. These tasks represent 20-30% of all the revenues workload for the local authority, so by automating these services, equates to 13 FTEs (Full Time Equivalent) saved on revenue activity, freeing staff to be able to focus on more complex work.
Since the move to Citizen Access, all single person discount forms are submitted and managed online, greatly reducing the number of emails and telephone calls to back-office staff.
As customers don’t have to tell the council about changes by post anymore, the move to Citizen Access has also eliminated the ‘batch and queue’ problems that caused delays. These used to arise when there was a spike in council tax caseloads, such as the start of a new university term as students moved into the city or at annual billing.
Time saving is a major benefit to automating the revenues service for both customers and staff, as records are updated in real time and automated e-bills sent out and received without delay.
“Enabling citizens to submit online forms through Citizen Access, has led to a huge reduction in paperwork, as all those pieces of paper would previously need to have been handled by a member of the team. With staff being unable to work from our council offices at times, this capability has been more vital than we could ever have imagined.
The time saved has given staff the opportunity to deal with more complex cases and provide face to face contact when possible, or telephone support to those who need or want it”.
“Automating the customer journey when we did, has been extremely fortunate and has prevented our services from becoming overwhelmed. Offering an online self-service option has made it far easier for our residents to manage their council tax or business rates accounts during a particularly difficult time, which has also increased our customer satisfaction levels.
“Processing is also far less resource heavy for our staff, which has improved our workflow and means we have time to deal with other issues, such as council tax fraud. E-billing also means a reduction in paper and postage costs, which is far better for our budgets and the environment.
“With Citizen Access we have a system that is fit for the future and meets the demands of our citizens. While the time saving benefit it brings, has meant our back-office staff can play a more proactive role in keeping the city on track and support those who need it.”