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Apply for council tax reduction - 2015

Why important

Council tax enquiries are a common topic for people visiting council websites. The changes to council tax support, which result from the implementation of universal credit, may still cause concern, since they still may involve a cutback from the previous council tax benefits scheme.

Date of assessment

Coverage

All shire districts in England (200 councils in all).

Overview

Many councils do not explain this task very well; only one-third (32%) achieve our standard. Too often the customer journey was confusing, with inconsistent use of terminology and duplicated, overlapping pages with housing benefits.

Find your council report

Check ‘coverage’ to see if your council has been surveyed. Go to councils page and select your council. Look for link to task report under 2016-17 results

Headline results

32%

Achieved standard

The standard
  • At least 10 questions from 16 answered 'Yes'
  • Question Q2 must be answered 'Yes'
  • Question Q16 must be 'No' (content must not be out of date)
  • Promotion of task rated satisfactory or very good
  • Customer journey rated satisfactory or very good

 

Questions

NB Question highlighted in red is an ‘essential question’ that must be answered correctly for the council to meet the standard for this task. Questions highlighted in blue affect star ranking

Questions to be answered "Yes"
Does the home page lead me directly to the task? 86%
Do the service landing pages for 'Council Tax' and 'Benefits' provide a prominent link that takes me directly to this task? 74%
Can I find out the eligibility criteria for getting Council Tax Reduction? 55%
Does the website enable me to do an online estimate of how much I will get back? 61%
Can I find out what evidence I need to support my claim before I start my application? 38%
Can I apply online for Council Tax Reduction, or download a form to complete online? 46%
Is there information about how long it will take to process your application. 24%
Can I find out when my Council Tax Reduction will start from? 41%
Can I find out if my claim can be backdated or not? 45%
Can I find out how appeals against Council Tax Reduction decisions are made? 54%
Can I found out how Council Tax Reduction is paid back? 33%
Is it clear how I might obtain assistance if required? 67%
Does a Google search lead me to the task? 95%
Does a site search for the task return the correct result listed in the first five results? 87%
Is there an entry in the A to Z index? 76%
Would you recommend that other councils look at this implementation as an example of good practice? 6%
Out of date information, answered 'No'
Did you come across any out-of-date information about this task? 17%
How effectively is this council promoting this as a task?
How effectively is this council promoting this as a task? 1.9
Overall, how do you rate the journey plus task completion?
Overall, how do you rate the journey plus task completion? 1.6

Task report

Good practice

Finding the task

  • Clearly signpost council tax from the home page as a minimum.
  • Provide direct links from both ‘Council tax’ and ‘Benefits’ landing pages to Council Tax Reduction.
  • If there is space on the home page, include a link to Council Tax Reduction as a task under the council tax or benefits heading.
  • Find the task by entering ‘council name’ council tax reduction into Google (or other search engine).
  • Ensure that searches for other common terms such as ‘council tax support’ and ‘council tax benefit’ return results that take visitors to a page about Council Tax Reduction.
  • Take visitors to the same page from any site search result or A to Z entry.
  • As a minimum ensure that entries for council tax and benefits in the A to Z index lead you to pages that signpost visitors to Council Tax Reduction.
  • In two-tier areas, signpost the task from the county council site.

Completing the task

  • Cover clearly and simply all the relevant information, including criteria, evidence, start date, backdating, how paid, how to appeal and claims timescale.
  • Set out as early as possible the eligibility criteria for applying.
  • Use an online calculator, which may be dual purpose (with housing benefits).
  • Clearly signpost the online calculator from the Council Tax Reduction information as well as the housing benefit section.
  • Distinguish clearly between council tax content and housing benefit content.
  • Select one area to place all the content about Council Tax Reduction, then signpost clearly from areas such as council tax, council tax discount, benefits and housing benefit.
  • Make forms easy to complete, with clear council branding to build confidence so that people can safely enter their sensitive personal data.

Poor practice

  • Different entry routes led visitors to different starting pages, and inconsistent experiences.
  • Navigating around this information was often unclear and confused with housing benefit information.
  • References to council tax benefit are still being made (e.g. in the A to Z index).
  • Much useful information is hidden in large ‘pdf’ documents.
  • Some sites still refer to the scheme as about to be introduced, or as a new scheme, and need to be updated.
  • The content is spread across too many different parts of the website, such as council tax discount, housing benefits and council tax, which confuses the customer journey.
  • Confusion is created when information is merged with housing benefit information and claims; if not separated, it is unclear what information is relevant to only one or to both.
  • Too many sites are still expecting customers to download large ‘pdfs’ to get more detail about the scheme, or important content is only found within the ‘pdf’ with any ‘supporting information’, which accompanies a downloadable form.
  • The site relies too much on gigantic, highly complex policy documents under the guise of ‘Reading more about the scheme’, likely to strike despair into the hearts of people just trying to access simple, clear information about their entitlements.

Reviewer's tip

This is a complex information task and councils were not very good at presenting it clearly and logically.The information tends to be spread across a number of web pages, often unnecessarily. It is confusing that councils often call it ‘council tax support’ rather than council tax reduction. This adds to the ambiguity, making it sound as if this is money you will receive, rather than stating that this is a reduction in the amount of council tax you will have to pay. Few councils clearly stated that what you will receive is a bill for council tax that has been reduced.

There were many issues to do with the customer journey relating to the positioning of content about council tax support and/or reduction. Sometimes there was information under the council tax section that then linked through to a different but somewhat duplicated selection of information in the housing benefits section. This meant that critical information was easy to miss.

My advice is to make the information as concise as possible, put it in a logical order and get it all on one page if possible.

Sites that we recommend

Preston City 

Good journey – the only thing I couldn’t see was when it would start from! Information was all on one page (or linked from that page where more detail required). It was very clearly presented with appropriate level of detail. Benefits calculator integrated into the site, which isn’t normally the case but gives a better journey. Also not loads of extraneous information about how the scheme was decided. People mainly want to know how to claim!

Chelmsford City

Well promoted and generally well described. Very clear service landing page. Excellent ‘evidence’ page. Even the A to Z entry was first class: “Council Tax Support (formerly Council Tax Benefit)”.

Chichester DC 

Eureka! Chichester restores my faith in a council’s ability to do council tax well! Outstanding in every possible way!

Hinckley & Bosworth BC

Very simple and effective content and navigation. Excellent!

North Warwickshire BC

Easy to find. Comprehensive information given, accessible language. Easy to browse. Done well.

Wealden DC

I really liked the jargon-free approach to this part of the site. Nice layout and formatting.

Further information

We assessed this task primarily using navigation from the home page.

 

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