Cost of living crisis fuels rapidly rising demand for council support
Since early 2021, the cost of living in the UK has been steadily increasing, with the annual rate of inflation rising in July 2022 to the highest it’s been since 1982, significantly impacting the affordability of goods and services. With soaring inflation, rent, energy and food bills rapidly rising, local authorities are experiencing higher demand for services than ever before from those most in need. But as councils continue to contend with diminishing budgets and resource levels as inflation bites and costs soar, how can technology provide the tools to help local authorities become more resilient, agile and scalable amidst rising pressures? Scott Goodwin, Head of Local Government at Idox, explains.
Local authorities are experiencing higher demand for services than ever before from those most in need.
Support at scale
While the government has introduced measures to support households, these only go so far, so citizens are turning to local councils for other ways and support to mitigate the impact. Many offer grants and advice on managing the ramifications of the rising cost of living. As well as providing advice on energy tariffs and ways to reduce bills, many councils provide grants for free or discounted insulation, draught-proofing and energy-efficient improvements for residents who are most likely to be impacted by the cost of living crisis.
While access to this support is vital, how prepared are local authorities for the influx in applications they will likely receive as a result? While many councils have the tools to manage low-level requests throughout the year, with many now offering multiple options for support they could be opening the door to thousands more applications, putting increased strain on council departments to deliver. Are their current systems and policies designed to scale at such volume and speed?
Stopping standards slipping
Households in rented accommodation also face a huge threat from the cost of living crisis. As utility, travel, and grocery costs all increase, it becomes even more challenging for low-income households to take control of their bills. But no one is immune to these rising costs, and as landlords face increasing costs and interest rates of their own, many will have no choice but to increase rent prices, making renters more likely to fall behind on payments.
Landlords are also under pressure to meet legislative requirements by keeping their properties well-maintained, which the majority do to a high standard. But according to housing charity Shelter, more than one in six renters in England have had to accept poor conditions to find somewhere they could rent, such as mould, broken boilers and electrical hazards.
The housing health and safety rating system (HHSRS) is a risk-based evaluation tool that helps local authorities monitor whether any rental properties are reported or found to be in a state of disrepair. As the cost-of-living bites harder and some households fall behind on their rent, there is a chance that some landlords could allow these standards to slip. Add to that new legislation for short-term lets and the demand for HMO licensing local authorities are facing greater pressures on their services than ever. Councils work hard to ensure that rented accommodation is safe and secure to provide residents with a good quality of life. But with rising pressures and resource challenges, local authorities need a way to innovate and improve front-line service delivery, while ensuring they do so in a safe, secure, compliant and cost-effective manner.
Resilience through technology
So how can councils continue to support citizens in challenging circumstances in an efficient and streamlined way?
When it comes to housing, local authorities have a multitude of responsibilities that fall under their remit. From HMO licensing requirements to grants, as well as loans, complaints, inspections, enquiries and enforcements – many councils are already feeling the strain.
The widespread use of digital services has rapidly gathered momentum over the last few years, with the value of data-driven innovation clear to see but as demands advance on local authorities to support citizens further with diminishing budgets, can these practices be sustained?
Automated technology is key to delivering seamless services as it streamlines processes and mitigates the risk of human errors – ensuring no citizen is forgotten. Property-based data, for example, enables multiple data modules to be transferred to one integrated solution, and centralised data allows for easier information sharing to deliver a joined-up, collaborative approach that encourages greater efficiency and productivity through fewer siloed departments.
Considering the growing expectation from the public for rapid and easy access to the services and support they need, councils must implement reliable tools and databases that deliver on these expectations and positively influence the community. It must also be recognised that digital accessibility remains a barrier.
Automated technology is key to delivering seamless services as it streamlines processes and mitigates the risk of human errors – ensuring no citizen is forgotten.
While the impact of the rising cost of living affects will impact everyone, the ramifications will be felt the hardest by the most vulnerable in society. As such, any online channel must be inclusive of a diverse audience by incorporating elements such as meeting accessibility standards, a straightforward design and user experience for those less confident with technology or where English is not their first language.
Through the foundations for improved online services and citizen engagement, centralised portals and application services, and enhanced collaboration tools that span across authorities, technology helps councils to become more resilient, agile and scalable. Moreover, effective and efficient processes reinforced by streamlined technology empower local authorities to support more of their citizens, ensuring the right support gets to the right people when they need it most.
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