By Chris Walker is Behavioural Insights Lead at Voicescape

The fallout from the pandemic is both wide-ranging and complex and much of the long-term impact is still unfolding. Over the last 20 months, local authority finances have taken a serious hit that has impacted the families and individuals those councils serve.

Councils estimate that increased costs resulting from Covid-19 stand at £9.7bn, with £2.8bn resulting from lost income alone.

Support packages from central Government have eased some of the additional pressure, but when operational costs collide with falling revenue, it’s clear that the pandemic will have an ongoing impact long after local authorities are relieved of their Covid-19 duties.

The reality is that communities within those local authority areas are themselves still struggling to respond to the pandemic, with unemployment rising from an average of 3.8% in 2019 to 5.2% at the height of the pandemic.

Unsurprisingly, the pressures facing households has had a direct impact on collection and arrears figures, with an average drop in council tax collection rates of 1.12%, and as much as 10% for some councils.

This equates to an average arrears increase of £1.2m per council for the billing period, and an increase in total arrears of £2.7m.

Between the council and the community, there’s a critical role played by the teams of dedicated Revenues & Benefits professionals with the momentous task of collecting revenue with fewer resources from people with less money – all while protecting resident wellbeing, improving services and safeguarding the vulnerable.

Most Revs & Bens officers are experienced, highly competent professionals with the skills to maximise collection for the council whilst simultaneously safeguarding the wellbeing of residents.

However, when securing engagement with residents becomes a challenge, this expertise cannot be deployed – and valuable resources are wasted on failing to make contact. Over time, this can have a detrimental impact on colleague morale and wellbeing, as well as council finances.

If these teams are to successfully deliver collection and recovery services in this unprecedented post-COVID-19 context, it’s crucial that they have the encouragement, support and resources to adopt new ways of working.

Our latest research has identified three key sources of innovation that we believe have the potential to help R&B teams deliver a service that’s adapted to the current climate.

They include using effective, evidence-based methods to ensure that residents who can pay do pay; leveraging technology to drive intelligent automation and empowering Revs & Bens officers to respond to individual circumstances.

Local authorities must often embrace a ‘leap of faith’ mentality when it comes to adopting new ways of working, such as behavioural and data science, as well as intelligent automation.

Over the coming years, local governments will be faced with the growing impacts of societal changes and the new problems this creates across areas of service provision.

As technology becomes increasingly sophisticated, the key to effective, post-pandemic recovery services will be the ability to engage early using automation and optimise contact.

That involves using machine learning to predict the most effective method of securing engagement with a resident given the resources available, and then automating the execution of that engagement.