Council Tax: channel shift discovery

Discovery to identify possible improvements in the user experience of council tax services to help reduce unnecessary calls to our citizen services centre.

As part of its digital strategy to encourage channel shift, the council wants to better understand the reasons for a large volume of phone calls about Council Tax to the citizen services contact centre. We believe that in most cases, visiting our website or filling in a form should be the simplest way to complete a task or get something done, but too often this isn’t the case.

While some people will need the extra support offered on a phone call, we hypothesised that often users may feel that there isn’t a digital solution, or it’s just easier to call us when they don’t really need to, because their interactions with touchpoints such as a letter or webpage leave them feeling confused or unable to do what they need to. This ends up costing us more, and frustrating users with longer waiting times.

We wanted to see what improvements we could make. When and why are people calling instead of going online? How could it be simpler to complete common tasks? Is the experience clear and consistent across channels? Are we designing in line with our principles?

We decided to start with data about calls and do a discovery sprint into council tax, because:

  • there are more calls about council tax than nearly anything else
  • a lot of calls about council tax are one off, suggesting more simple resolutions
  • most of the calls are to query bills, ask for general advice, or chase something up
  • over 300 hours of staff time each month is spent helping people understand their bill

This is following earlier discovery around waste and recycling, the other highest call volume service.

What we did


  • listed all the user tasks related to council tax and how they can be completed
  • analysed data about 37,496 calls from July to December 2022
  • mapped user journeys for the top five categories including bill queries, making a payment without a direct debit, moving out of a property, refunds, and claiming single person discount after a change in circumstances
  • interviewed staff from the citizen service centre
  • collected data from four digital platforms that host council tax forms and compared with website analytics and calls
  • reviewed bill letters and emails
  • recorded 160 themed insights and categorised them into pain points in user journeys, hypotheses for improvements, and further questions

What we learned

The high volume of calls and enquiries to the contact centre means there are lots of opportunities to improve things. Of 160 insights, the main user problems that result in increased phone calls include:

  • because of high demand it can take up to four months to process new accounts or changes, so users call to chase it up
  • bills are annual and not monthly and new bills can be split into a small number of high payments to make sure they’re paid before the end of the financial year, but users don’t expect this or know why
  • users don’t realise they can use the online moving home form to add or remove someone on an account, so call to change their details
  • digital bills don’t look how users expect or only show one account holder, so they call to get paper copies, such as for proof of residency for a couple
  • letters about arrears are incorrect by the time they arrive because there can be delays with post and the arrears continue to increase
  • bills can be generated and sent by post before an exemption has finished being processed, so people get a bill they don’t need to pay
  • letters and automatic emails can have different content and style to our website, leading to confusion
  • it’s difficult for users to know what’s happening after they’ve submitted something or how long we’ll take to process it
  • missed payments and arrears build up and can seem difficult to understand and stressful, so users prefer to speak with someone

This suggests there is a need for resource to be allocated for the revenues service to map and redesign content and flows, including looking at better automated ways to let citizens know what’s happening and when. The digital experience could also be simpler for making a payment, changing your details, setting up a direct debit, or using the online account. We’ve identified further pain points that we could test solutions for in an Alpha phase and questions for discovery.

What we’ll do next

We want to collaborate with the revenues and benefits service and do further testing to validate our early ideas for improvement, including:

  • using SMS and email messaging
    • at form submissions to confirm we have received the report or application, giving a clear expectation of how long it will take
    • to let the user know if their bill instalments are likely to be more than expected
    • to give updates about progress for new accounts, changes, refunds, and exemptions
    • to prompt users with missed payments or arrears before they build up
  • content design the emails and letters sent for bills and reminders to make sure they are clear and consistent with our web content
  • make it clearer how to make changes to an account
  • further discovery for workflow automation and efficiencies to bring down the time it takes to process accounts and changes

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