First Published in IRRV Insight October 2020 edition
With 161,000 homes registered to be built across the UK last year according to stats released by the National House Building Council (NHBC), Property Inspections are still an essential function carried out by Local Authorities. This coupled with reports of the number of empty homes in England rising to more than 216,000 last year indicates that there is still a need to continually review the status of these homes, certainly a view that will be reinforced by Revenues Officers.
It’s not just new and empty homes that need to be closely monitored, commercial properties also need to be reviewed to ensure that current entitlements and discounts awarded to ratepayers are reflective of the ongoing changing circumstances. Keeping on top of Property Inspections in the current climate however will prove challenging for most Authorities and a key focus going forward will be on enabling Inspectors to work remotely whilst retaining access to the information that is essential to their role.
Automation and multi-user remote access
Wherever possible automation and the consolidation of all datasets related to the role of the Inspector will be a significant factor in being able to remotely manage Inspections without the need to go into the office. So too will be the ability to provide back office and support staff full access to Inspections data to both create and check the progress of inspections, in addition to managing the progression of administrative duties such as issuing completion notices or updating exemption and relief details and occupancy information.
Secure mobile devices
This type of property inspection technology has already been developed and several Local Authorities are already using it. Typically this technology supports remote working capabilities by ensuring that all data is held and processed centrally and can be accessed via tablets, iPads and laptops. This ensures Property Inspectors can securely access all the data they need to carry out Inspections remotely from any device without the need to go into Councils offices.
Visual evidence capture
For technology like this to work it needs to provide a full end-to-end service. Inspectors need to be able to schedule, plan, review and remotely manage visits to all properties and record the outcome of those visits electronically. The latest technology in this area also incorporates the ability to take photos and upload them into relevant case files during the site visit.
Ellie Hawkins, Revenues Team Leader at Surrey Heath Borough Council comments on their use of a property inspection solution called Aspire “We effectively have a documented catalogue of events that supports what happened, which we have secure, instant access to, either from the office or out in the field.”
Reporting and workflow capabilities
Reporting capabilities within such a system will also be important for transparency and monitoring activity related to Inspections. Typically Authorities should be looking for a system that consolidates data taken from their revenues and benefits team, planning department and building control so that they can accurately report on areas like the number of completion notices issued in a given period.
Another area for consideration is new property developments which historically take up a lot of time and resource. However the latest technology in this area incorporates workflow capabilities and the opportunity to set up watchlists with automated tracking and flagging tools ensuring Inspection teams can keep on top of this without the need to constantly monitor it.
Reigate & Banstead Council
Reigate and Banstead Council are also using property inspection technology to gauge what properties and projects are outstanding at any point in time and to better report on and collate the activity related to each inspection.
Taking the decision to invest in this type of technology gave the Council a central database that holds all property inspection information in one area, providing them with an electronic record of every visit accessible to all users for review and download. It also enables users to remotely schedule follow up visits, set reminders and filter and sort through visits as well as report on them.
Simon Rosser, Head of Revenues, Benefits & Fraud at Reigate & Banstead Borough Council comments “Since the roll out of the Aspire solution, back office staff have felt more connected and engaged in what Inspectors are doing. It is enabling individual staff to request their own property visits, if they have a situation they need verifying or qualifying and if someone is onsite conducting an inspection, they can review the data as it is being loaded in and ask Inspectors to drill down on a specific area if required.”
Injecting technology into the property inspections process ultimately provides Councils with a more streamlined, measurable approach resulting in reduced admin and resource, enabling staff to focus their skills elsewhere. It is an effective tool in helping minimise revenue leaking out of Councils due to delays in areas like issuing of completion notices and identifying potential fraud.