As residents fell into Council Tax arrears in 2020 due to the pandemic, Middlesbrough Council was faced with the dual challenge of chasing and recovering growing debt. This was further exacerbated by the temporary closure of the court system, which impacted its debt recovery process.
Using Voicescape Collections, the council was able to improve wellbeing, increase efficiency and maximise revenue – even during the most turbulent of times.
COVID-19 lockdown forced the temporary closure of businesses across the country, and the number of residents falling into arrears – many for the first time – greatly increased. Even when the courts finally reopened in a virtual capacity, Middlesbrough Council could only achieve 3,000 liability orders – a significant 79% decrease compared to 2019.
As the council endeavoured to manually recover debt, it recognised the need for a new solution – one that could drive better engagement with residents and ensure they pay or arrange a payment plan. The solution ultimately needed to enable conversations that educate residents on how to avoid costly yet necessary enforcement actions.
In May 2020, long-standing Voicescape client Thirteen Housing Group introduced Middlesbrough Council to Voicescape. After hearing about the positive impact of our technology on their social housing association, Middlesbrough Council embarked on a six-month pilot of Voicescape Collections from November 2020 to April 2021. The council implemented the tried-and-tested solution within its Revenues & Benefits function to proactively engage with residents issued with a summons to arrange payment (or a payment plan) before resorting to enforcement action.
How it works
Voicescape Collections harnesses the power of data science, behavioural insights and digital communication to automate inefficient manual processes (such as sending letter reminders) and drive inbound calls from residents who want to discuss a solution.
This frees up capacity for more personalised one-on-one conversations that result in positive outcomes, reducing the strain on local council teams while improving resident engagement and collection rates.
Middlesbrough Council leveraged the technology to tailor voice messages to individual residents in lower and higher income areas, ensuring effective and long-term engagement. This outbound calling activity was automated from a familiar local number, providing residents with the option to speak directly with an operator and ensuring the smooth and manageable workflow of inbound calls from those who have chosen to engage.
"Before Voicescape, you’d find us going through our records, manually calling them one by one – maybe speaking to five people a day, if that. We’ve been really impressed with how well the service has dealt with the conversations.”
Lewis Scott | Team Leader at Middlesbrough Council
The council has since signed a three-year partnership to roll out the technology across its 64,801 charge payers. Since its pilot implementation, Voicescape Collections has improved the performance of Middlesbrough Council’s Council Tax collection service in three core areas:
1. Improved wellbeing
Middlesbrough Council now has the new ability to deliver tailored communications to residents and dedicate existing resources to having quality, proactive and preventative conversations. This has improved the wellbeing of vulnerable residents in need of personalised financial assistance, advice and support. Voicescape Collections has also improved the wellbeing of staff, who are able to work more productively with residents who have chosen to connect with them.
Once the technology had been running for some time, Middlesbrough Council carried out several feedback sessions with customers who engaged with the service. The council asked three specific questions – and the results were overwhelmingly positive.
Average response rating (1-5)
Prior to speaking to me/an officer today, you received an automated call. On a scale of 1 to 5 (where 1 is very unclear and 5 is very clear), how clear were the instructions on this call?
On a scale of 1 to 5 (where 1 is not easy at all and 5 is very easy), how easy did the automated call make having a conversation with me/an officer today?
Finally, on a scale of 1 to 5 (where 1 is very dissatisfied and 5 is very satisfied), how satisfied were you with the automated call that transferred you to me/our income officer?
2. Increased efficiency
Voicescape Collections enabled Middlesbrough Council to create major efficiencies by eliminating costly and wasteful outbound calling activities, and driving inbound calls from residents who want to either pay or discuss a solution to their arrears situation. The time saved allowed their income officers to focus on having more engaged conversations that drove positive outcomes and secured sustainable resolutions with residents.
3. Increased income
Our automated solution enabled Middlesbrough Council to collect a total of £967,564.05 in Council Tax from 8,877 customers during 2021-22 – increasing engagement with residents in arrears from 3.7% to over 59%. It would have taken a team of revenue officers approximately 3,840 hours to achieve the same result with inefficient manual methods of collection, saving Middlesbrough Council a significant amount of time every month.
Middlesbrough Council has since invested further in Voicescape, and is currently looking to increase its use of the technology across multiple customer touchpoints.
"[Voicescape Collections is] an exceptional example of using technology innovatively to support delivery of the Welfare Strategy. The use of [a] hyper-local approach for communicating with vulnerable residents was very powerful."
Janette Savage, Head of Resident & Business Support at Middlesbrough Council
Ready to maximise income collection?
The rate of inflation is expected to rise further, and residents who may have never been in arrears could fall into debt. As such, investing in technology capable of transforming your operations and collecting Council Tax with care is now a necessity.
Book a demo with our local authority sector specialists today to learn more about Voicescape Collections.