Checking identities, saving time and money

The deadline to apply for a Year 7 place at secondary school passed last week. This year parents applied using a website developed by the Digital First team. This new website included several innovations designed to save time and public money.

One innovation we are particularly proud of is address validation. This is incredibly important. For example, some school places depend on where a child lives, so we needed to be able to confirm their address.

The old system involved an officer looking up the child’s parent in the council tax database. When dealing with thousands of applications, this can take a lot of time and public money.

The new website takes advantage of APIs between different systems to automate this. An API is a way for one computer system to talk to another and exchange data.

Firstly, we talk to the Brighton & Hove Local Land and Property Gazetteer (LLPG) database. This is a list of every address in the area controlled by a local authority. Every address in this database has a Unique Property Reference Number (UPRN). This allows us to confirm an address exists, and it’s exact location.

Secondly, we talk to the council tax database. If you pay council tax for a property in Brighton & Hove, then we know if you are resident there or not.

We know the applicant’s name and the UPRN of their address, so we check if they match our council tax records. Records are manually checked by a council officer if they don’t match.

This ensures the data we have is clean, and that school places are correctly allocated.

We estimate that this one feature alone saves a council officer around three months work.

Hack to the future – 2030 Vision

Who can spare a couple of hours out the office helping 10 year olds think about their future city?  Yes please said lots of us. Giving back to the community is a core part of what working for Brighton & Hove City Council is about.

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Lovely place for a City Hack

The Digital First team helped out yesterday (Friday 25 May) at the 2030 Vision City Hack organised by Brighton’s MakerClub. Brighton & Hove 2030 Vision is a series of events coordinated by the council and partners looking at how we can prepare for the future.

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Smiley happy Digital First team

Eight primary schools came along to the Amex Stadium at Falmer, where Albion in the Community kindly hosted the session. As it’s out of season, we had the extra special treat of seeing the pitch being relaid, that or beach volleyball is coming to the Amex.


There were 10 groups of around 8 children from year 5, all offering up their own ideas about how to improve the city in the future. We even had some dressed as superheroes including a Wolverine and most impressive Emmeline Pankhurst.

Mia from MakerClub had created a clever game where the kids earned tokens to spend on tech ideas that would help the city, through ideas like bike sharing schemes, seabins, 3D printed buildings, big belly bins and more.

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Mia and Mo from MakerClub

Over the next 2 hours, the groups explored the pros and cons of each solution, working out whether the benefits outweigh the negative impacts. And then the groups planned where each of their solutions would be placed in Brighton & Hove.

As a finale, each group presented their ideas. Every group demonstrated a real understanding of the issues and a great deal of empathy in how these solutions might affect residents of the city.

All the ideas will be collated and fed back to Brighton & Hove Connected to contribute to the Brighton & Hove 2030 Vision. At the end, everyone had the opportunity to say what they thought about the session, so that future sessions can keep getting better.

Posting feedback on the wall

It was great to hear all the bright ideas from a children who will be 22 in 2030? Twelve years ago, Facebook was just being opened up to the world and the iPhone hadn’t yet arrived. 12 years is a long time in tech.

Teamwork makes the dream work (and also the new text service!)

It is a bit of a corny title but it is so true. This post is in praise of real team engagement and collaboration and the results it can provide.

Our Revenues and Benefits team are fully committed to modernising their service and totally up for the challenge. We have had members of their technical and operational team working alongside us from the start as well as team leaders and frontline staff embedding the change and guiding each other and our residents along the journey. This had led to us releasing some great new products including online change of address forms, new Direct Debit facilities (more on these to come) and this week the results of our new text messaging service.

Digital First (the new name for CFDA) and Revs and Bens talking future releases

Residents now have the option to sign up for text reminders about Council Tax payment. We have trialed sending texts before paper reminders and found that within a month, 50% of Council Tax and 40% of Council Tax Reduction recipients who have signed up for the text service paid before we needed to post a paper reminder.

The text service sign-up page linked to in the paragraph above


A text only costs 3p, much cheaper for us than posting reminders and much more convenient for the majority of residents. A great result all round. And these results are currently from just sending a reminder with the telephone number to pay by phone. When the council payment system is upgraded so that the payments page on our website is compatible with smartphones and devices, we will be able to send a link by text directly to online payment. Imagine the results then if we are already achieving 50%!

Members of the council tax team
Some of the brilliant Revs and Bens team by the text totaliser!

However, we could make the most amazing new products in the world but without a team willing to use and promote them they wouldn’t bring residents any improved service or us any cost saving efficiencies. The team leaders and digital project managers make sure that staff taking calls receive on the spot praise if they hear them guiding residents through online processes and ensure they get coaching and toolkits. They have set up a Digital Focus group within the service. Staff have asked to have more input and involvement so they can feedback on what will make things easier for them. The systems programme manager is setting up workshops to involve them and get them voting on next steps. It is a total team effort, enabling us to deliver change, create efficiencies and improve customer experience….. and as a result, bring in , well…., how better to put it than bring in revenue….and benefits!