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1APP improvements: what do they mean for LPAs?

by on April 11, 2012

This is the first of two posts I’ll be publishing over the next week to look at the key 1APP improvements we’re introducing over the next month or so.

This post will largely focus on benefits from the perspective of LPAs. Next week, I’ll follow up with a post for professional applicants, so stay tuned.

This is quite a long post so please bear with me…

When we were planning and prioritising the 1APP improvement project we were keen to make sure there was something included for all our key partners.

LPAs have played a leading role in supporting the Portal in the delivery of online planning services and a major factor to us achieving 60% of applications online by encouraging their customers to submit online. Thanks again for that and for your ongoing support.

With the first of the 1APP changes going live last night, I thought I’d give you an update on those changes and give you an insight into what’s coming in May.

Last night, we introduced a standard naming convention for all supporting attachments submitted with Portal applications. This is now communicated with all applications via the 1APP connector to your back-office system and is a change that many LPAs have long called for.

This will allow LPAs to better index supporting documents from the planning back-office to the document management systems, reducing the manual effort of renaming attachments for publication on their websites.

Within this change release we’ve also adding an extra question when selecting your application form:

“Is the applicant(s) address the same as the site address?”

If you click ‘Yes’ then the system will auto-populate the same information into the appropriate Applicant Details address.

This will ensure consistency in these instances where the two are the same (and a saving for agents that previously had to re-type this information).

That’s live now. Further key improvements coming shortly include:

Sentence case for address chooser

Currently the site address for all applications is displayed in upper case. We’ve been told by many that this looks untidy when communicated in standard letters and other correspondence leading some LPAs to edit and retype this. To alleviate this we are making some changes which will result in the proper sentence case being displayed. We’ve had a lot of calls from LPAs to fix this.

Expect this to be updated sooner rather than later – we’re planning to roll this particular change to the Release site on 16th April and to the Live site on 19th April.

The following improvements will be coming in May.

Better process for adding supporting documents

According to agent feedback, one of the bugbears with our service is the process for attaching supporting documents to an application. They regularly ask us to simplify this and make it less repetitive and that’s just what we’re doing.

This should have little impact on LPAs although agents will answer fewer questions when attaching documents.

Improving the payment process

We’re moving payment to the final part of the submission process, which will alleviate receiving payments for applications before they are submitted, or as is sometimes the case, not submitted.

As part of the change, LPAs will also be able to configure which off-line payment options they support and have a Portal account to update these details.

Therefore if supporting cheque, telephone, BACS or payment by council website you’ll be able to update these details yourselves and save them on the application service – a bit like you currently configure your planning application requirements.

Payment advice

We will also be improving the on-screen advice for applicants making cheque and telephone payments to make sure they provide all the necessary information to facilitate easier reconciliation of these payments.

We know the majority of you would prefer all payments to be made online but this should go someway to improving the current service while we continue to encourage all agents to pay online.

Simpler help and guidance

A key change for new users, we’re improving the presentation of the help and guidance text by putting the information in the context of the questions.

This will remove the frequent barriers faced by new users who are unfamiliar with planning and making applications by giving them clear guidance on what they need to provide.

It should also reduce the level of contact to LPAs (and our service desk) regarding questions starting “How do I…” and “I don’t understand…”

Highlighting mandatory questions on the forms

We’re making it easier to complete the forms by highlighting mandatory questions with an asterisk.

This is a common barrier for new users who are currently unsure which questions must they complete. This means it will be easier to see – at a glance – what needs to be done and reduce calls from all users about what is required.

We see the improved enhancements to help, guidance and what must be completed on the forms as a major step forward in attracting first-time submitters, especially citizens, to submit online rather than by post.

This should help to achieve LPA channel shift objectives by providing simple and usable online services as we look to increase these channels of engagement.

Phew. I hope that you’ll agree that these changes will enhance the current service and help us to achieve continued take-up of online applications.

I’ll be in touch again to let you know when you can start seeing the benefits as soon as we firm up the delivery timetable for these changes.

9 Comments
  1. Michael Hayes permalink

    The improvements sound great and I’m looking forward to trying out the simplified drawing/document upload procedure.

    But I would like to pick up on your remark that you will “continue to encourage all agents to pay online”. I think many agents will be resistant to this. We don’t like to pay the application fees ourselves and then go through the hassle of recovering them from our clients not to mention the extra bookeeping that results.

    The alternatives of either giving our clients our password to log on to the Planning Portal or our clients giving us their debit/credit card details are also unsatisfactory for obvious reasons.

    From an agent’s perspective it would be far better to remove payment from the application process altogether.

    Given that most LPAs are now taking several weeks after submission to “validate” applications, surely there is plenty of time to just make payment part of that “validation” process. LPAs could automatically email an invoice to the applicant listing the payment options that particular LPA supported.

    • John Atkins permalink

      Re payments – I believe the contrary – We wish our local LPA, and another nearby one, would allow us to pay on-line. As it is, we end up giving our card details over the phone, which is far less secure, and they have had trouble tying up the payment with the application. Our complaints just receive the answer “pay by cheque”, which would cause further delay (and higher bank charges), as our local LPA will not validate an application until payment is received. .

      With regard to Michael Hayes point about not wanting to “pay the application fees ourselves and then go through the hassle of recovering them” one answer is to ensure the client pays “up-front” – it is amazing how fast your fee invoice, including disbursements (i.e. the planning fee) is paid when that is the only thing holding up the application.

    • PortalDirector permalink

      Michael, thank you for your considered response. I’ve run your comment past our head of LPA engagement and these are his thoughts:

      “The main reason for promoting online payments is to achieve quicker registration and validation for the applicant/agent and it’s easier for the LPAs to reconcile the application to the payment when both are done online. This also ensures everything is completed in a single online transaction with no further details following by other means i.e. post.

      It’s also worth noting that receipt of payment is required in order to validate an application. Therefore, if you submit everything online but the payment is sent by cheque, your application will only be validated once payment is received. This can often lose several days while the cheque is in the post with one LPA reporting recently that they were not receiving 1st class post for 4 – 5 days! These delays can make it difficult to manage your clients’ expectations on when they might receive a decision.

      We have been talking to several LPAs recently who have informed us that marrying up offline payments with online applications has its own difficulties, especially if it’s not sent to the correct department or address, or there is no information provided to identify which application it relates to.

      This can be even more problematic if the cheque is from a person not named as the applicant. These are costly delays for applicants and also resource intensive for LPAs in chasing payment. Payment is also one of the main reasons for invalidation of applications so anything we can do to streamline the process will hopefully be welcomed by all.

      I agree that giving clients access to your account is also not the answer and many may not be prepared to give you their details to make an online payment either.

      A potential alternative is to pay by telephone which should achieve quicker registration and validation and can be done by the applicant.

      We appreciate the additional book keeping you mention and been told that paying a fee on behalf of a client can have tax implications. It would be useful to know if other agents that pay online have avoided or overcome these issues?

      We did want to include a payment option in the improvement changes to defer an online payment to the client, but this proved to be a little beyond our budget at this point. We’ll revisit this change in the future if possible.

      Encouraging greater take-up of online payments is quite a hot topic at the moment so any views on how we can overcome any issues would be welcomed.”

  2. John Hodkinson permalink

    As an agent my main bugbear with filling in the forms is that eaxch new section is never in the centre of the screen and needs dragging every time so thast the boxes can be filled in. The application form itself does not need all the Planning Portal information on screen.

  3. I for one am keen to encourage online payment, we request that our clients pay the planning fee at the same time as our fees and make it clear that the planning application cannot be submitted untill payment is received. This has worked very well to date with clients having no objections.

    The only issue I have with on-line payments is one of not receiving a receipt from some LPA’s unless we chase them for it, this is very fustrating for keeping our accounts up to date.

    In regards to uploading documents, I assume that the improvements include mutliple documents being able to be uploaded at once, I will have a look at the improvements shortly.

  4. I tried online payments a couple of times a few years ago but between Wordpay and the LPA the payments were lost in transit. I would be entirely against an online only payment option, this might work for a large business, but there are many of us who choose not to be VAT registered as we often work alone and deal mainly with domestic clients. Our invoice totals for the yearly accounting period need to be under the current VAT registration limit which is quite low at around £73,000, if we were to pay clients planning fees online it would push the total up and cause problems. At the moment it’s hard enough to make a real profit, if we had to add an extra 20% VAT to our invoices we would soon start feeling the cold draft.

    • PortalDirector permalink

      Andrew,
      many Agents give their customers access to the application process in order to enable the customer to pay the fee online, speeding up registration and validation without impacting on their company accounts, might this work for you?

  5. Shirley Pay permalink

    Shirley Pay – Smart Planning Ltd
    The queston of payment is difficult – for most of our clients cheque payment is still preferable or by phone direct to LPA, but payment by direct debit/card is not the preferred option, though understandably the easier if you are not an agent.

    With regard to the forms, it would be really helpful if the 1App form would print out in the order that it is shown on screen – is this possible?

  6. Are there any planning authorities out there who find this ‘service improvement’ is actually causing more difficulties than it addresses ? Nearly all documents with the same description means manual re-naming ? Interested to hear views

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