West Berkshire Council reduces manual processes with a self-service permit application portal
An automated permit application portal has helped West Berkshire Council's waste team eliminate manual processes and better serve its residents.
West Berkshire Council was created as a single-tier (unitary) authority after the separation of Berkshire County Council in 1998. West Berkshire Council serves more than 159,000 people across a semi-rural area stretching from Lambourn and Hungerford in the East to Purley-on-Thames and Burghfield in the West. This is an area of gently rolling, chalk Downlands, classified as part of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), which includes parts of all the five National Character areas.
The challenge: ageing manual processes for household waste permit applications
For most councils, limiting commercial and unauthorised waste at its household waste and recycling centres (HWRCs) is a priority to ensure constrained budgets are used cost-effectively, making sure residents always have access to waste services when they need them.
West Berkshire Council's original solution was an unwieldy and time-consuming paper permit. But with its paper permits expiring, West Berkshire Council took the opportunity to replace its cost-inefficient system reliant on manual processes to be in line with the council's overall digital and self-service strategy.
"Our old permit application process was very clunky and consumed considerable resources. For example, every week, a member of staff had to manually check and mail merge a spreadsheet of applicants - including printing and posting each permit. Not only was it resource intensive and costly, but any issues or non-standard requests could take a long time to rectify", explains Daniel Warne, Principal Waste Officer at West Berkshire Council.
Each HWRC site in West Berkshire now uses automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras. The team needed real-time ANPR and Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) data integration, allowing residents to quickly register for permits and have their vehicles automatically recognised when they arrive at site.
As well as introducing this new streamlined service, the council was keen to expand its "MyAccount" portal - an online self-service section of the council's website where residents can raise, monitor, and manage their service requests in one place.
The solution: a simple self-service portal with ANPR and DVLA data integration
As an existing GOSS customer, West Berkshire Council's waste team set about working with GOSS developers to lift and shift its existing technology in a way that wouldn't alter the council's specific HWRC rules and processes.
"While we looked to a neighbouring council's existing system for inspiration, some of its rules and processes wouldn't have addressed our needs completely. So, we worked with GOSS to scope out each element of the project - including our MyAccount digital strategy, how we'd handle unrecognised vehicle registrations and addresses, and providing an assisted application service for residents without internet access", says Warne.
Using the flexible and wide-ranging tools in the GOSS Digital Platform, West Berkshire Council has fully-automated its waste permitting and integrated it with DVLA data, replacing all paper permits with a one-time digital verification process. The council's new system even seamlessly handles older vehicles where the DVLA doesn't hold vehicle type information, and have implemented a solution for handling residents' applications with unrecognised home addresses, automatically referring them to the council's waste team.
Residents can also upload documents and photos to support their application if required, giving council staff the additional information they need to process applications quickly and efficiently.
Even though the application process is now fully digital, residents without internet access can still use the system and obtain a digital permit. Using the system's Assisted Service function, council staff in the contact centre can act on behalf of residents, talking them through the digital application process on the phone in just a few minutes.
The team is also looking into the possibility of adding new features to process non-UK vehicle registrations, rental van permits and integration with its online booking platform - further reducing council staff workloads.
The results: 200 hours saved per year and 60% of residents registered in just three months
The main objective of residents' permits is to reduce the amount of trade waste that's illegally dumped at the council's HWRC sites. Supported by an e-newsletter, social media campaign and site banners, Warne believes the new digital system has already achieved its goal - with 60% of residents visiting the recycling centres having already registered for a digital permit in the first three months of opening registrations. The Council will be mandating online permits from May 2022 allowing residents 6 months to register.
"Our new permit system does everything we set out to achieve, and we're already working on new integrations. Working with GOSS has been a transparent process that I've really enjoyed. We've saved time and will save money over the coming years, and even when we hit issues during testing, the agile way GOSS works meant any problems were rectified quickly", says Warne.
What's more, the Waste team have noticed a significant reduction in residents visiting HWRC sites and fewer queues. "Since we introduced our booking system, residents are being more selective about the number of trips they're taking. While the amount of waste remains roughly the same, we've seen a reduction in the number of journeys people make. There were 134,000 fewer journeys to our HWRCs in 2021/2022 compared to 2019/2020- which ultimately benefits the environment", says Warne.
West Berkshire Council's Environment and Waste portfolio holder has also commended its success, noting that the self-serve portal has been easy to use with positive resident feedback.
"Alongside the success of the booking system introduced in May 2020, I am pleased we have successfully introduce a digital permit registration scheme, reducing our own impact on the environment by using less printed paper, whilst making it a better experience for our residents, freeing up more time for our officers to tackle other important waste related issues."
Cllr Steve Ardagh-Walter, Executive Member for the Environment
West Berkshire Council