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Addressing the validation and payment problem

by on October 23, 2013

I hope you’ll forgive another blog post about payment and online planning applications. It’s something we spend a lot of time thinking about at the Portal and, as ever, I hope to provide a few more solutions with each post.

Last year we introduced an additional service for LPAs to help them manage which payment types they support for online applications.

This made it easier for LPAs to update their own information and configure different options when new payment types become available.

As part of our work with LPAs over the last few years, we’ve been encouraging greater electronic working and identifying what the common reasons are for invalidating applications.

Non-receipt of the fee is one of the top reasons for LPAs invalidating online applications. Most commonly where the application and all supporting documents are sent online but the fee is paid by cheque.

So why don’t LPAs start the process while the cheque is in the post? Receipt of the fee is a requirement for validation and due to postal delays there’s no guarantee LPAs will receive it in good time causing administrative delays.

One Devon LPA recently reported receiving 1st class post after 4-5 days.

To help with this validation issue we have been encouraging LPAs to support additional payment options, including payment by telephone and via the council website.

Both these options let the applicant or agent pay quickly and efficiently, which in turn lets the LPA register and validate applications – a win-win situation.

Telephone payments are now more widely supported and our current stats show the following breakdown:

Professionals: 70% pay by cheque, 21% pay Online, 7% pay via telephone, and 2% via LPA websites.

General public users: 27% pay by cheque, 61% pay Online, 8% pay via telephone, and 4% via LPA websites.

The national average: 66% pay by cheque, 25% pay Online, 7% pay via telephone, and 2% via LPA websites.

How can you tell which LPA supports which payment option?

The application service doesn’t tell you the different methods LPAs support upfront so we’ve created a spreadsheet (Excel) so you can check. We’ll update the spreadsheet on a quarterly basis. Here’s a high level view of the data:

Country

Supported payment options

Online Telephone Council website
England Yes = 272 (70%)
No = 116 (30%)
Yes = 146 (38%)
No = 242 (62%)
Yes = 34 (9%)
No = 354 (91%)
Wales Yes = 12 (48%)
No = 13 (52%)
Yes = 9 (36%)
No = 16 (64%)
Yes = 1 (4%)
No = 24 (96%)

Finally, a request to LPAs: please check the payment options you support.

It would be great if you could spend a couple of minutes checking that your payment options are correct including the cheque payment address.

With lots of office moves recently we don’t want the cheque going astray! An instruction on how to update your details can be found here.

13 Comments
  1. My clients send me a cheque payable to the local authority and I then send it on when I have submitted on-line. I do not want to pay from my account and then bill the client as I am effectively lending the planning fee. I do not want a cheque into my account and then out again as I am increasing my turnover with implications of insurance and banking fees. It is bad enough matching the letter and cheque with the on-line. I dread to think what would happen if I told clients to phone up with their credit card in hand. I use on-line banking for the business and it is great when clients do too but I am not sure that the systems are yet in place that i can trust enough to pay fees in this way.

    • Arq permalink

      This is a very good point, from the ‘Professionals’ angle. I was always ‘taught’ that paying the Planning Fee was the client’s responsibility, the 70% payment by cheque doesn’t surprise me. But, paying the fee online, with a credit card is by far the easiest, providing the respective websites provide a suitable ‘receipt’. Somewhat riskily I do offer to pay the fee ‘on the client’s behalf’, taking them at their word that they’ll then pay invoice for the fee and work for the application promptly. But I can only do this when the fee is low – say upto the £195 amount. I don’t feel like risking more in the current climate – I’m a one person office. I have had a client who paid a larger fee up front, enabling me to then pay by card, but my current feeling is that they’re rare !

      I guess, as cheques become ‘rarer’ (I was told by a homeowner client recently that their personal account bank no longer issues cheque books) the answer will have to be a separate ‘log-in’ page for the client to arrange payment: Agent makes application and acknowledges correct fee. A unique two-part reference number identifies a secured page where the client can log in and pay with their own card, after Agent has emailed client log-in password and creates a link to the right page.

      It’s a point that I’ve found Solicitors won’t progress property searches until they’re received client payment for same. I did some work with a Structural Engineer one time who would only work for domestic residential clients if they paid COD on sight of drawings and calcs – if more did this it would become easier to require it and still get the work. It may be that we should perhaps move in this direction – clients assume 30 days + on an invoice even if it says ‘immediate payment is required’ or something similar

  2. In the main I prefer cheques as they are collected at the time of showing the client the finished drawings and then the cheque is sent the same day to the council as the application is made.

    Increasingly I am finding clients not having a cheque book, so they end up paying me by BACS but because I am processing the application they are not in a position to pay the council online. So what I do is select ‘cheque in post’ option then give the client the PP reference and phone number of the council to make the payment – which works quite well. So an official tab on the form would be a good method to indicate to the council how the monies will arrive.

  3. John Newton permalink

    Payment by cheque is the best method of confirmation that the fee has been paid via the bank statement showing a debit entry. Client always invoiced in advance to either use their cheque or via my businees account that does not count for P I Insurance purposes as holding clients money. Have had problems with paying in cash and I agree with the comments re card payment that may not end up in the right place

  4. My preferred choice of payment is online, but still (why?) not all councils accept this form of payment. When I cannot pay on-line I’ve tried using the applicable council website to do so. However whenever I have attempted this form of payment I find that the payment web page has been designed to paying council tax, etc. as the drop down choice list does not provide a selection for paying a planning application fee, and often also needs a householder reference to be entered. Therefore I’ve never been able to pay planning fees via a council website.

  5. Barrie Christian permalink

    The reasons for having the applicant paying separately by cheque are familiar to me also. One client did trust me with their credit card details!!! Another one did telephone the council and pay by card.
    The suggestion above seems a good idea, if slightly cumbersome: “a separate ‘log-in’ page for the client to arrange payment: Agent makes application and acknowledges correct fee. A unique two-part reference number identifies a secured page where the client can log in and pay with their own card, after Agent has emailed client log-in password and creates a link to the right page.”

  6. Following a three week delay on an application where the telephone payment [made direct by a client to a council finance department] had not been logged against the Portal application, which was still sitting in an in tray in Planning “awaiting the fee”.
    I have adopted a new system, which hasn’t failed yet.
    Make the application, get client to phone in 24 hours later to speak to a Planning validation officer in the first instance – they will have the application by then, be aware of the fee payment due & able to log it against the PP-number, even if they have to transfer the call to a finance officer to actually take a card payment.

    Rob Lowe
    Robert Lowe Chartered Architect, Boston, Lincs.

  7. Clifford Rance MRTPI permalink

    With the application fee for even a relatively small residential scheme running into several thousands there is no way that most consultants can pay it on-line at the time of submitting. We have to ask the client to arrange payment and although I advise them of other payment options few take it.

    I have found the problem to be that council’s still fail to tie up the payment with the application: I have had 2 instances with one London Borough where they had actually cashed the cheque and were still claiming the application was invalid because the fee had not been paid. Another London Borough regularly sends me letters claiming the fee has not been paid, apparently because they validate the applications by date of receipt and open the post on the same basis, so that a cheque posted the day following submission doesn’t get tied up with the application until 2 days after the automatic ‘no fee’ letter has been received.

    The fault lies with their systems and that is what needs to be improved.

    With cheques predicted to disappear in a few years time I would suggest that the Planning Portal need to consider a way that 3rd party on-line payments can be made: For example, an option on ‘check pay and submit’ for ‘3rd party payment’ (the application would obviously have to be otherwise complete). The applicant would then separately log on to the Portal and be directed to a payments page. They should then be asked to enter the pp-reference and be directed to the payment system. The Portal page should display the address of the application, the proposal, the name of the applicant, the name of the agent and the fee outstanding which the client should be asked to confirm (not enter, to much room for error). On confirming the application details are correct they should then be directed to the local authority’s secure payment page. On making the payment the application should then automatically submit just as it currently does when the agent does it.

    However, as long as we have cheques it still needs an option for the client to pay later.

  8. What about using one of those pre-paid or disposable credit cards, and get the client to top it up online or at a paypoint/post office and then use this to pay the fee online?

  9. So , we found a client who was keen to pay by Secure Online payment by credit/debit card, and indicated such on the submit section and were taken to the councils payment section. Application will not be submitted unless this is filled in there. Client can’t pay by this method unless they are physically in our office, most clients are not in our office. So they have to pay direct on the councils website and get receipt information so that we can add this to the application letter (don’t want the council to loose the money) and submit the application with a “fudge” saying we are paying by cheque ! Not very helpful.

    If we are to use Secure Online payment by credit/debit card we must have a facility for the client to pay it for it in their own workplace/home.

    As has been said before, we do not pay clients fees. For no other reason than it can take time to get money back from clients and puts us at financial risk should they not pay.

    Can you add the facility please.

    Thanks.

  10. Steve Edgeller permalink

    Isn’t there a requirement for a Council to provide a receipt for the fee? I need this to satisfy both my client (and ultimately HMRC if they undertake an audit) that the fee was paid, and what it was for.
    Copeland Council are telling me that they have no ability to issue a receipt because all their validation is done online. Yes, the fact that the application is valid demonstrates to the client that the fee must have been paid, but what do I give HMRC?
    Is this a loophole that the Planning Portal has effectively created?

  11. Jeanette Collins permalink

    I had a look at the payment options search. The results have the option to pay on the LPA webiste payment low down in the results. Please can this be changed to be the second result box, as this is our prefered method, after paying online with the submission. We would want the phoning to make payment lower down with cheques. Will you make this change please?

    • sarahchilcott permalink

      Hi Jeanette
      Sorry for the delay – the team have been looking at this while I’ve been away, but unfortunately we can’t change the order without it affecting all the others so we’ve had to go with the best fit for all on this occasion. We’ll continue to look at it as the tool evolves though, along with whether we can somehow flag a preferred method for each LPA. We’ll keep you posted.
      Best regards, Sarah

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