First Published in IRRV Insight June 2022 edition
As Local Authorities (LAs) start reallocating resources post-Covid, a key priority for revenue teams has got to be minimising financial loss and reinvigorating opportunities for revenue generation. Investment in technology and services that help automate the process of planning workload resources will be a key component of this.
At Reigate and Banstead Borough Council, we have done just this. Over the last few years, we have had several large property developments and thanks to our investment in property inspection technology we have been able to consolidate reports from the planning team, schedule visits to keep up to date with these developments, whilst making the best use of the Inspectors we have onsite. This has resulted in our ability to issue completion notices at the earliest opportunity.
We have fully automated our ability to schedule property visits and now have a complete audit trail of what has happened. Even when staff are on leave, we can easily pick up on where they have left off and have reduced our administration in this area by around 75%. Through automation and ensuring the right workflow processes are in place to support property inspections, we have significantly reduced the risk of error and minimised the risk of financial loss from lost Council Tax and Business Rates.
Minimising financial losses
We have achieved this in two areas; by minimising the chances of new builds not being readily identified resulting in late issue of completion notices and by significantly reducing the time Inspectors spend carrying out unnecessary administrative tasks. There is no longer a requirement for indexing or scanning of documentation as everything is held and accessed centrally, with all relevant staff getting information through from site visits in real time. This approach avoids a backlog of tasks and documents being uploaded at the end of each day, providing free flow of information.
Integration with revenues systems is key
Integration with back office revenues systems such as NEC has been integral, ensuring that on a daily basis new properties can be fed into our property inspections solution and appropriate visits flagged and scheduled with Inspectors. In the case of new property developments, admin time has been saved using a ‘bulk development method’, which allows multiple properties to be processed at the same time, so if you have got a development of a certain size and they are all going up at the same speed you can bulk update them.
From an evidentiary perspective we are covered too, any photos taken onsite are date and time stamped helping avoid disputes with all the relevant history and information related to a property held centrally and securely.
NDR property visits
Non-domestic rate properties are also handled within our system, and we carry out routine visits on empty businesses and these can be diarised to fall into a ‘to do list’ for Inspectors so that nothing is missed. For potential rates avoidance cases we can record all the evidence at the time of the visit; photos, notes and all the necessary forms which need to be completed. This has been set up in such a way that if we need to look at an investigation following a dispute with a landlord or owner, we can go back to the evidence and run all the case related data from one place, a really useful time-saving tool to have during investigations.
Reduced resource and maximised efficiency
Thanks to implementation of this type of technology we only need to rely on one full time inspector to cover our entire authority and our neighbouring authority. It is now very rare that we would need extra resource to do this and with the efficiency gains from the system we have effectively negated the need for an administrative person to back up that Inspectors role. Inspectors can now spend more time doing what we need them to do, physically carrying out the inspections and significantly less time on related admin duties.
Real time Interaction with Inspectors onsite
When Inspectors are out in the field, the live interaction with the office is a real benefit. If you have more than one Inspector out on a given day you can quite easily reallocate visits from one to the other, if someone is caught up somewhere and you need a particular task completed that day. This feature has been really useful and has been used many times when conducting empty homes inspections, both for our own Authority and on behalf of others which is a commercial service we are now able to offer.
When conducting large-scale exercises on behalf of clients, such as empty homes reviews or single person discount reviews, there may be hundreds or even thousands of visits to schedule, and this is where the ability to do a bulk upload of data has proven invaluable. Rather than spending time individually inputting and scheduling visits we have been able to allocate visits in bulk to visiting teams.
Facilitating large scale inspections
Implementation of a property inspection solution has really opened the door for us commercially. We are the team behind carrying out visits for NEC, conducting empty homes reviews where people haven’t responded to requests for data. During these reviews we can have up to 10 Officers out at any one time, covering multiple different areas. A property inspection tool has been instrumental in ensuring we have a straightforward process for managing visits and re-allocating visits at short notice if Officers are getting held up in anyway. In September of 2021, we completed 2,482 inspections for 8 Local Authorities as part of the NEC homes review across England. It has proven to be a valuable and efficient part of the process of ensuring Local Authorities maximise income from the New Homes Bonus and a vital tool in facilitating large scale inspections.
A flexible visit scheduling tool
When looking for this type of solution Authorities should also be considering what other type of visits could be scheduled, for example, visits that could assist with debt recovery. In our case we needed to develop a sub-letting form to assist with tenancy reviews. We were able to outline what kind of questions we wanted to ask and have covered off in the application as well as what the supporting workflow processes around that should be. This was then all built into the system, which is ever-evolving and developing as our needs and requirements adapt.
We effectively have a fully functioning reporting solution which also provides performance metrics on who has done what, with access being securely shared with other teams such as empty homes. Users then have the ability to drill down and view individual inspections if required.
This type of technology, can be a real game changer for Authorities looking to boost their revenue and streamline their resources post Covid. We’ve already managed to complete over 10,000 visits within our own and neighbouring Authority since implementation, on top of that a further 9,000 visits have been conducted on behalf of our other Local Authority clients.
If you want to find out more about the technology we are using or are interested in us conducting visits on your behalf as part of a project please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.