Features: June 13th, 2008

By Nick Bradley

Recovering revenue for councils has become more efficient with the introduction of a range of technical innovations by Philips Collection Services Ltd. The author describes how an ‘own council brand’ penalty charge system facilitates telephone and web payments. He also describes how a back office system for routing and tracking cases and the use of digital pen technology for field staff have brought improvements in collecting benefit overpayments, tenancy and council tax arrears, magistrates’ fine, commercial and private rent arrears, business to business debts and consumer payment arrears.

Parking enforcement

The parking enforcement systems provide for payment of penalties by phone or on line.
The 24-hour low call rate telephone payment line responds with the name of the council and callers are unaware that they are dealing with an intermediary. The automated service asks the caller to enter their penalty charge notice number, and or vehicle registration number for security purposes, then giving the caller two options — make a payment or appeal.

If the caller wishes to make payment, the telephone service advises them of the balance and allows them to make full payment only, by credit or debit card. If the caller wishes to appeal against the penalty charge notice, a recorded message advises them how to make their appeal in the correct format and provides the postal address.

For online payment of parking penalties users are directed to www.parkingenforcement.co.uk. When correct details have been entered, the system presents a council badged webpage.

The site offers a range of functions including the balance, type of arrears and current status of each case as well as the total balance of case(s). It also provides the means to make full payment by credit/debit card, answers frequently asked questions and details how to lodge an appeal.

Philips has also developed digital printing of statutory documentation, posting, payment processing, scanning and handling of all correspondence on behalf of departments to streamline operations and reduce costs. This currently produces over 12m documents and now handles up to 3.2m payment transactions and correspondence items a year. If the notice processing cycle is unsuccessful the case can be passed back to Philips to carry out enforcement services.

Routing and tracking cases

The automated allocation routing and tracking system monitors the processing history and cases that require a doorstep visit are pulled from the central database into the system. Cases are then geographically mapped and all the visits waiting to be completed along with the location of all Philips doorstep agents are logged. Cases are then allocated to agents according to their proximity to the case.

The system then schedules and routes the calls for the agent in the most time and cost efficient manner. When the agent begins their day, they are given their first call by handheld PDA, which directs them to the property using satellite navigation. Only when the visit is complete will the PDA give them their next case.

A built in alert within the system tells head office if the agent is inactive for a period of time. If the agents collect money, the system automatically monitors the amount and directs the agent to the nearest post office or bank. The system also details the amount of fuel used, visits completed and monies charged, collected and banked.

Keeping in touch with field staff

The recent introduction of digital pen and paper technology has offered a way to further automate the reporting process and enhance information workflow and staff productivity.

The digital pen functions like any normal pen but enables the agent to send anything they write or draw, including data transfer, directly to head office via Bluetooth™.
The pen houses a sophisticated array of technology that includes an infrared camera, image processor and wireless Bluetooth™ transceiver. These components work together with a series of nearly invisible dots printed on specifically designed forms.

Using these pens, agents are able to complete all details of visits, comments regarding the visit, new address details, employment details, description of property and door/lock type and arrangement details. Once the form has been completed the agent ticks the ‘send’ box, which transmits the data from the form through the pen to a mobile phone. The data is transmitted immediately and added to the individual debtor records.

At the same time as transmitting the data, the pen also records the time, date and location of where the form was completed. From this data Philips are able to track the agents’ route onto GPS mapping software, pin pointing the exact whereabouts.

The digital pen and paper means that any information gathered by an agent on the doorstep can be sent to head office within seconds of the visit taking place. All information received is then uploaded onto the main business software and the case is updated immediately.

Nick Bradley is Managing Director of Philips Collection Services Ltd.
For further information about Philips go to: www.philips.org.uk.