Most websites make grade on council tax discounts

Socitm survey shows generally good performance, but with large minority needing to do better in key areas

Most district and borough councils are doing a good job in providing an online service for applications for council tax discounts, but a large minority are still falling short, according to the latest round of research under public sector IT association Socitm’s Better Connected programme.

Fingers on keyboardIt has published the results of testing the process on 199 council websites, with 60% graded as good or very good, up from 57% from last year. But this leaves 40% falling short, and the reviewers noted that sites seldom strike the right balance in presenting information.

Sometimes the information about ‘disregards’ and exemptions for council tax is not presented effectively, and many sites do not join up the information and application components in the right way.

A spokesperson for Socitm Better Connected said that the details of the process influence whether it works well for users, such as when they need to apply for a discount due to having a student in the house. It works better when the relevant form is embedded in the web page rather than, as often happens, requiring the applicant to search through a forms library.

Changing mindset

“We get the impression when going around some council tax pages that there are departments almost expecting people to phone them,” she said. “It’s a question of changing the mindset.

“GOV.UK has some good, simple guidance on council tax, but if you want to apply for a discount it directs you back to a council website.”

She added that councils need their website specialists and service heads to work together in finding the right balance for the user journey through the relevant pages.

While a high percentage of the councils did well for several of the ‘essential questions’, only a few did so for telling the user what information was needed to complete the form (12.1%) and if there was information about how long the council would take to process an application for a discount before completing the form (4.8%).

The average rating for the journey and task completion was 2.8 out of 4.0.

The councils commended for a good performance on the task were Warwick, Rushmoor, Lewes, Kings Lynn, High Peak, Harrogate, Chelmsford, Cambridge City and Basildon.