Socitm: 60% of councils offer good online council tax service

Written by Rebecca Hill on 12 April 2017 in News

Latest Better Connected results indicate easy access to information on discounts but that councils struggle to strike the right balance between too much and too little information

The average user journey was ranked 2.8 out of 4 for people trying to claim a council tax discount online - Photo credit: Pixabay

Socitm, the association for IT professionals in local government has said that 60% of English shire districts offer a good or very good online service for residents to apply for a discount to their council tax.

The survey, carried out as part of the wider Better Connected survey that aims to identify where councils need to improve their online offering, ranked the overall user journey and ability to complete the task, as 2.8 out of 4.

Socitm said that the result was an improvement on the previous year’s assessment, where 57% of councils were rated as good or very good for the simpler task that assessed whether a resident who wanted to pay their council tax online could do so easily.

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Success included that 98.1% of councils had a web page that gave a clear statement of the eligibility criteria for a single person getting a discount; that 96% of all content did not include out of date information; and that 95.7% gave the size of the discount as a percentage.

However, Socitm said that there was still work to be done, which it said should focus on making the information clearer, displaying it in the right order and using less jargon.

It added that councils needed to tread a “difficult line” between providing too much and too little information for the more complex cases, for instance when someone in the home is a student they would be “disregarded” for council tax purposes.

“Too seldom did sites strike the right balance between a simple statement covering the single person discount and the more detailed explanations required around exemptions and ‘disregards’,” Socitm said.

“Corby is one of the few councils that seeks to explain the differences with a narrative: ‘If there is more than one adult in the property, and all but one are 'disregarded' the council taxpayer will still qualify for a 25% discount. However, this would not be a single person discount, but a disregard discount.’,” it said as an example.

The association also noted that some councils assumed that people would be able to understand the distinction, and find their way to the correct form, “without further assistance”, while others fell down on the navigation, with people being “dumped onto the homepage of a forms package”.

It also said that the term “disregarded persons” was “borderline jargon” and that it could be explained better by saying that person ‘does not count’, which, it noted, is the phrase used on GOV.UK.

A further recommendation was for councils to put more effort into managing people’s expectations, saying that “vanishingly few councils – just 5% - bother” to tell people how long it might take the council to process the form.

This, it said, would lead to avoidable enquiries to the council that would waste resources.

Socitm recommended nine councils, including Warwick, Harrogate, Cambridge City and Lewes, as being good examples to follow.

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