Service deliveryDigital Customer ServiceDigital exemplar joins 310 local authorities in appeals management

Digital exemplar joins 310 local authorities in appeals management

Find out how a unique digital collaboration has achieved success in local government

Councillor Jamie Macrae is chairman of the PATROL (Parking and Traffic Regulations Outside London) Joint Committee of England and Wales for the Civil Enforcement of Parking and Traffic Regulations Outside London comprising 310 local authorities. Here he shares a perspective on a unique digital collaboration achieved in local government.

PATROL’s main purpose is to make provision for independent adjudication for appeals against parking fines by local authorities.  The Joint Committee – the largest in history – also leverages its size and influence to set up projects and enable consulting coordination on matters of shared benefit and mutual interest as well as providing public information including annual reports.

Adjudication for appeals is delivered through the Traffic Penalty Tribunal (TPT). TPT is an impartial and independent body comprising thirty remote-working lawyers and their support tea. This small organisation handled 37,000 appeals in 2016/17 for penalties issued by local authorities in England (outside London) and Wales for parking, bus lane, moving traffic and road user charging.

No one wants to receive a parking ticket or spend time appealing them. The appeals process has historically been a paper-heavy and time consuming statutory process for all parties to the appeal .  PATROL has invested in TPT to develop a cloud-based stand-alone digital appeal system – FOAM – Fast Online Appeal Management – which provides a transparent environment where appellants can easily upload their appeal and all parties can see information relating to the case. The investment has borne early fruit in a short timeframe.

Available since March 2016, FOAM was being used by 309 local authorities by April 2017. Halton Borough Council is the latest with the start of enforcement for the Mersey Gateway Bridge Crossings in October 2017 bringing the total to 310.Transforming the appeals process and user experience.

FOAM is web-based and uses standard browser technology so for roll out there was no need for local authorities to buy and install any additional software. Support was provided to local authorities for implementation including training and engagement workshops, online resources and pre and post go live user support.

 

Saving local authorities millions

The impact has been huge. Estimated saving per case by authorities is up to £160 so with 37,000 appeals annually the total could be as high as £6m. Some of this saving is generated through the elimination of printing and postage costs. The chief saving relates to officer time in the local authority Parking departments on a raft of time-intensive paperwork.

Parking teams are now freed from posting weighty evidence packs out for each appeals and can track their appeals quickly using the dashboard feature rather than phone calls or emails. Fleet operators can manage their appeals across all 300 councils. From evidence-based responses from many local authorities, there is recognition of the ongoing value of the system.

FOAM has also had a massive impact for the TPT. Some 90% of appeals are now created online, with the 14 tribunal support staff now freed up from onerous administrative tasks to provide the personal touch with appellants if they need assistance to go online.

The time taken to close appeals has reduced significantly, some cases are closed the same day (in some cases within minutes) with 87% closed within 28 days.

FOAM has allowed the tribunal to scale up from 22,998 PCNs appealed in 2014/15 to 37,676 in 2016/17 (including appeals for the Dartford Crossing) without increasing staff resources and has allowed it to complement the technology with focused customer service support. TPT has actually been able to reduce the levy to local authorities per PCN appealed – now £0.40 which means that it has reduced by a third over the last five years. That there is now a consistency of process across England and Wales for appeals is something that can be sharply contrasted with the domain of private parking enforcement.

The development and roll out of FOAM has also attracted a number of awards for PATROL and TPT and is currently on the shortlists for the National Transport Awards in the Excellence in Technology category and for the SOCTIM (Society of IT managers in the public sector) Innovative Collaboration Award. SOCITM aims to help IT practitioners in the public sector innovate despite budget cuts and ultimately deliver effective digital technology and service.

 

Human touch still vital

TPT Chief adjudicator Caroline Sheppard OBE, stresses that adopting a digital approach does not mean that the human touch goes out of the window.

“Excellence in technology is, of course, vital as it underpins any digital service. However, as we explain carefully when we present FOAM to our many visitors from other areas of the judiciary, of equal importance is a willingness to rethink processes and to place an essential focus on communication to deliver an intuitive and customer-friendly offering.”

FOAM was designed to be intuitive and easy to use, whether by appellants who may only use the appeals process once, or by local authority users who may be managing multiple cases concurrently.

Local authorities were involved closely in the design of the system with a few pathfinder authorities trialling it before wider rollout. The ability of all parties to upload evidence and then to comment on it greatly helps the decision making process. A shared dashboard with email prompts and notifications enables all parties in the appeal to mark progress on a case right up to and including the adjudicator’s decision. Authorities are instantly alerted to a new appeal on their dashboard and instant messaging allows people to ask questions and post relevant comments in relation to the evidence which is submitted online.

The adjudicators, at the heart of the process, can ask for clarification online and reach decisions in most cases without formal hearings being required. In fact, over 75% of adjudicator decisions are made online.

All parties in a hearing can see the evidence and FOAM also records whether an appellant has viewed the adjudicator’s decision thus allowing, in the case of dismissed cases, the enforcement process to continue. Where a case is dismissed the appellant can follow a link to the enforcement authority’s payment web pages.

 

Beacon for Digital by Default

The recent success of FOAM is more than just a technology case study – it’s a local government success story that is a beacon for the Government Digital by Default agenda. There are few public sector IT projects that complete on time and achieve their goals. There are even fewer that embody approaches that are agile, iterative and user centric and with the resultant service being simple enough for users to succeed first time unaided.

 

Future applications for FOAM

FOAM is the result of smart joined-up thinking, a lot of hard work and the collaboration of PATROL, the Traffic Penalty Tribunal and many local authorities. But FOAM has many more potential applications for local authorities and public authorities beyond parking, bus lanes and road user charging appeals. It could be applied to any area of public administration which involves two parties in dispute and a ‘neutral’ making a decision.

FOAM can be easily adapted for new appeal streams. FOAM has indeed already provided a platform for adjudication of appeals for Highways England for the Dartford Crossing charges and from autumn 2017 it is also being used to handle appeals in relation to the Mersey Bridge Crossings between Runcorn and Widnes in Cheshire enforced by Halton Borough Council.

Deregulation means that local authorities face increasing challenges in relation to the implementation of government policy. Environmental and congestion issues must surely feature high up on the list of hot topics. It is not difficult to see future applications for this innovative technology where there are fines and where independent adjudication will be required.

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