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Open day highlights: using data intelligence to tackle council debt

Once again Knowsley Hall served as a remarkable backdrop for our Open Day, focusing on tackling council debt it attracted delegates from a number of UK Local Authorities and Debt Collection agencies. Some excellent presentations were delivered by customers including Wigan Council and Preston and Lancaster Shared Service (PALSS) and legal firms Greenhalgh Kerr and Weightmans.

A smarter approach to NNDR Collections
First up were Greenhalgh Kerr, who talked about their work with PALSS to help improve collection rates in NNDR and tackling the issues around rates avoidance. Director, Richard Kerr noted that “resourcing is a big issue in this area particularly when it comes to the sheer manpower required in pulling cases together and shifting the relevant information out to legal partners to deal with. It’s all about being able to move quickly, the quicker you move, the more likely you are to get paid. It’s about being aware of what is going on across thousands of accounts, spotting the problems early and dealing with them right away.”

They are tackling this using the Ascendant solution, a centralised portal that allows them to view all business rates related data in one place. Working with PALSS, they are using their joint expertise to identify the good cases and the bad cases and during monthly sessions review all cases flagged in the portal. They collectively identify the cases worth taking on, and track them using workflows within the portal, ensuring a smoother flow of information between internal legal resources and external legal partners.

With each case being tracked they can identify who is behind on, or missing payments and can cross reference this against information about that business. This enables them to make swifter decisions on how best to proceed, for example enforcement versus insolvency, and getting them to that point more quickly.

Tackling council collections more proactively
Next we heard from Julie Smethurst, Revenues Manager at PALSS who talked about the vast amounts of data held in their core systems and the challenges of extracting and using that data in a meaningful way. They have invested in VISION, a web based analysis and reporting tool which consolidates all their data from multiple systems into one single view. It has enabled them to target their largest council tax and business rates debts. By exporting this data on a monthly basis and passing it to the team for handling, they now receive regular progress reports on their highest value recovery efforts.

Since starting this process, Julie went on to say they had targeted £750,000 of the largest council tax debts and were able to take a firmer approach with bankruptcies and dissolutions resulting in 23.5% of the debt being written off. A further 21.7% of Council Tax arrears has also been collected already, up by 0.9% and equating to £162,677. The act of clearing out the arrears cases now enables staff to focus on the current council debt.

NNDR is also a key focus for PALSS and driven by a number of questions the team could not answer such as; which local businesses are in decline? how well are they trading? the team sought a technology solution in the form of Ascendant, which dovetailed into their existing solution VISION. At the click of a button they can now view the trading status of any local business identifying those trading in a ‘steady state’ versus those with a high chance of folding. They have also configured the system to send them alerts indicating any changes in trading status, enabling them to proactively monitor whether those businesses are up to date with payments and if not take the appropriate action.

Increasing the tax base to help fund business growth
Lesley O’Halloran, Assistant Director Customer Services from Wigan Council talked about the challenges of doing more for local businesses whilst being targeted on achieving a further £60 million worth of savings within the council by 2019. Their goal is to grow the NNDR portfolio business and increase overall business rates income. A key element of this is the introduction of ‘The Deal’ which outlines what the Council will deliver for residents, if in turn the residents support them.

Against a backdrop of systems not being joined up and a fragmented approach across services, Wigan is pushing for the creation of a digital hub where for example, small business rates reviews will all take place online and all online transactional forms will be integrated. The aim is to support business development and growth, working with young people to upskill them, identifying what makes Wigan different and a good place to do business.

To achieve these goals requires some investment and maximising the tax base is going to be a key component of funding this. They are in the process of developing a portal which will provide them with a single view of business, enabling them to address issues around rates avoidance, bringing empty properties back into use and identifying where properties with active accounts appear to be non-trading.

The impact of GDPR on Local Authorities and Enforcement
Closing the conference was Gary Byrne from Weightmans who provided some insights into the upcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), coming into force in May 2018. First and foremost was the mandatory requirement for public bodies to appoint a Data Protection Officer (DPO) to monitor compliance and act as first point of contact for enquiries. He also noted that DPO’s could be shared across bodies where appropriate.

Fines for non-compliance are also set to increase, under the Data Protection Act, the UK maximum for a fine is £500,000 but under the GDPR it could be as big as €20,000,000 for more serious breaches. Gary also pointed out that Councils will no longer be able to charge £10 for subject access requests.

Another key consideration for authorities is the need for mandatory privacy impact assessments where there is investment in new technology which is likely to result in high risk to data subjects. Public bodies are also no longer able to state their grounds for processing data as being based on ‘legitimate interests’ and therefore need to establish other grounds for processing.

In conclusion…
There are a number of organisations who are embracing change and already taking the actions necessary to ensure that if and when 100% business rates retention comes into force they are fully able to maximise their revenue in this area. Unlocking data is critical when tackling the build up of council debt, but when combined with automated workflows and alert systems, authorities have much more control of their revenue streams.

If you want to know more about how our technology can help you unlock your own data contact us now.

Open Day Presentation Slides
A full copy of the Open Day Presentation Slides are available here >

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