The latest Better Connected survey has revealed that the levels of service being offered to users of online council tax portals is failing to keep pace with the increase in user numbers.
The survey by the public sector IT association found that councils are increasingly providing customer accounts, enabling people paying council tax to check their balance online. Just over 50 per cent provide this facility, compared with 38 per cent in 2012.
However, authors of the report on the survey findings question whether the speed of change is keeping up with user expectations or the need for councils to ‘channel shift’ their website users. For example, generally the advantages of setting up a customer or council tax account are not well described and just 30 per cent of councils offer residents the option to receive statements and bills by email. As a result the proportion achieving three or four stars for their council tax pages slipped to 62 per cent from 71 per cent in a previous survey.
The report added that while councils prefer residents to set up a Direct Debit, where enquiries are being made on-screen, it should be made easy to pay online, with these offered as the first or second option in the list of ways to pay. Online payment using a bank card should be available and not just the more laborious option of for residents of setting up a BACs payment – although this is a useful further option.
Most councils have a clear link to council tax on the home page, although some still tuck this top task out of sight under ‘Advice and Benefits’ or even ‘Council and Democracy’. This is a legacy of the old Local Government Navigation List which council officers might be able to navigate but most of the public won’t. Council Tax is an important element in the council business and deserves a direct route.
Praise where its due
The Better Connected Report did however praise a number of councils for offering good services. Details can be found on the report.