The council were delivering a complex programme to move the whole council tax service back in-house after being delivered by an outsourced company for a number of years. As part of that programme, there was a need to redesign the recovery process for council tax arrears. This focussed on the recovery process from the point at which the Liability Order is obtained to the case being closed (either payment collected or written off). This included a caseload of c.85,000, some of which are historical, dating back up to 20 years.
The Human Engine team supported the in-house council tax team redesign a process to improve efficiency of the recovery process. The team identified two key issues to overcome:
Inconsistent process: There were a number of parts of the processes that had no end points which meant cases effectively hit a dead-end or dropped out of the recovery process
Correspondence with residents: Unclear information in letter correspondence with customers led to increased calls into contact centre and non-mandatory appearances at court, which causes delays in the process
The project formed part of the wider in-house programme and the ongoing system improvement work. All changes from this project had to align with these workstreams.
The Human Engine team used our signature Improvement Drive methodology, designed to deliver fast and sustainable employee-led improvement.
The Improvement Drive is a four-step methodology delivered over 12-weeks to facilitate employee-led change and coaching to leave teams with the skills and tools to deliver continuous improvement. We work with teams, not doing to them, to increase employee ownership and engagement. It is an approach to improvement that avoids ‘change fatigue’ and supports teams to design their own solutions to specific business problems. The four stages are:
Discover: Build a knowledge base about the business problems we want to solve. This is gathered through use of data about the service, basic process mapping and using anecdotal evidence / ‘lived experience’ of officers in the frontline teams
Design: Once business problems have been identified, work to design solutions that will help overcome these. Understand the complexity of potential solutions – can these be delivered within 12 weeks?
Deliver: Test solutions with major stakeholders through pilot schemes, focus groups or workshops. Begin rollout testing basis to increase uptake of new way of working
Determine: Review the impact of each solutions. Rollout solutions to all users of the service during this period.
Within the 12 weeks of the Improvement Drive, the project had implemented changes int the two key areas identified:
Process Map of ‘as is’ and ‘to be’ process
A new process was designed and implemented to ensure better use of the system and better oversight of debt. Maximising functionality and automating elements of the process was central to this. There were three key improvements to the process:
New thresholds were introduced which changed the level of debt at which each stage of the process is launched to increase likelihood for recovery and avoid some debts ‘falling through the net’
The profiling of cases has been simplified and reduced from 42 possible profiles to 5, reducing drop-out rates and improving data clarity
New sub-processes were created for cases that do not follow the normal summons process (such as housing associations, care leavers, vulnerable, deceased and student halls). Each of these cases now has a process that clarifies the correct method of collection for recovery officers and shows at what stage the case realigns the standard process
In addition to the main objective of redesigning the process, a new summons letter was designed which more clearly presented key information to residents. The redesign of this communication uses principles of Nudge Theory.
Once implemented, the team quickly experienced the benefits of the changes, with reports that attendances at court had almost halved. In addition to this, the number of telephone queries received by the team had also significantly reduced
Human Engine is a Financial Times top-ranked management consultancy with specialisms in strategy, people and performance.
It was founded by a group of former local government officers who think the public sector deserves better than it gets from traditional consulting firms – more human, more personal and more knowledgeable of the reality of delivering modern public services.
We have worked with dozens of public sector organisations to help transform their strategies, operations and cultures to be more agile, commercial and entrepreneurial in order to achieve financial sustainability and improved outcomes for local people and communities.
We are currently writing our latest report, The Commercial Edge, in partnership with leading think tank Localis, making the case for entrepreneurialism in public services and local investment as a catalyst for economic recovery and growth.