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The new Financial Transaction Service: an update

by on September 13, 2018

The weekend’s update to introduce this service for English planning applications went in successfully and our site was back up and functioning before 9am on Monday morning.

Since then, we’ve been continuing to work hard with agents, local planning authorities (LPAs) and behind the scenes to ‘bed in’ the new processes.  This will no doubt continue in the coming days and weeks, but now is a good time to give you a quick update on progress so far.

The positives:

Online planning application volumes are so far largely unchanged from previous levels, and we have already seen a shift away from cheque payments to online payments and bank transfers.  We have received only about 10 per cent of the previous volume of cheque payments and more than 80 per cent of payments are now being made online, including the use of our function to nominate a third party to pay, known as Payment ReDirect. Remember that applications paid for online are released instantly to LPAs.

The process for taking payments, releasing applications, reconciling and making payments to LPAs is working as planned.  All bar four authorities are set up to receive payments electronically from us each day, with the first payments being sent by BACS from our account to the respective LPAs on Monday. The authorities who are yet to supply us with bank details are still receiving applications from us in the usual way whilst we work with them to smooth the process of transferring planning fees collected.

We’ve received positive feedback from agents about how easy the new process has been too, with comments like “It worked!  No gremlins.  To be congratulated.”

 

The challenges:

Despite increasing the staffing in our Support Team, our response times are longer than we would like at this point.  Please bear with us whilst we work to bring this back in-line with our usual performance.  If you are able to check our Transaction Service FAQs before you call, you may find the answer to your question there.

Regarding the sharing of draft applications, the decision was taken to remove the functionality to print or export draft applications as part of the implementation of the new service; in order to avoid large, detailed applications being emailed to local authorities. We are aware that the removal of this function is causing problems for some customers.  Please be assured that we are working urgently with our technical supplier to introduce a function which enables you to send a copy of a draft application to a customer for sign-off, without allowing applications to be completed in 1App and emailed to a local authority.  I will provide a further update on this as soon as possible, but in the meantime we recommend that you use the built-in Workspace functionality for this wherever possible.

 

Once again, thank you for your ongoing support and patience and we look forward to working together to further improve the Planning Portal and planning application submission across England.

24 Comments
  1. Lee Wright permalink

    Printing draft application forms to post to clients or having a PDF to email to clients is essential for Quality Assurance purposes.

    The easy way for the portal to deal with this would be to overlay any such forms with a watermark and copyright stating that they should not be used for application purposes. A reminder email from the portal to Local Planning Authorities should ensure this does not happen.

    Furthermore, it could if necessary just leave out the agent details (not the applicant details as that is needed for Quality Assurance purposes to ensure the application is made in the correct name the client wants) making the form useless to submit.

    I hope this very useful facility can be reinstated without delay.

  2. Anthony Kyrke-Smith permalink

    There seems to be a delay when you have made the payment, and that has been acknowledged, when you back to see your submitted application and download, showing the application is not yet submitted. Fine when yo go back a bit later, but previously there was no such issue after payment, you could then immediately download and all for £20 less!.

  3. Alan Sharp permalink

    you have a blooming cheek charge any £20 to make an applictaion using the planing portal

  4. Alan, £20 is very reasonable for the excellent service Planning Portal offers. It has saved us thousands in printing and posting costs.

  5. Tracey Wakeling permalink

    I do think that charging £20 for all types of applications is rather short sighted. It’s fine for the larger applications, however, for minor amendment applications which are £34 for householder, they then have to pay another £20 which makes a total of £54. It’s no surprise, then, that some people are posting their applications to us now!

    • I have some sympathy with that view, for very small applications.
      For all others, an A1 print costs £4 to £5 each these days, so printing and posting isn’t a cheap option. We save hundreds per application by submitting digitally.

      • Clive milburn permalink

        Nobody would print and post anymore. However there is nothing to stop you downloading a blank householder form, completing the agents section for convenience and then copying multiple times. These could then completed on a job by job basis and scanned in not much longer than it takes to use the portal. The LPA would then have to accept these by email.
        There is also online competition to the PP which is free to use.
        The main beneficiaries of online submissions are the LPA’s who constantly say it saves them money and resources. They could afford to make annual payments to reduce the burden on applicants.

  6. David Cook permalink

    Why limit immediate debit card payments to £1000
    When are you to review the £20 charge for applications where the fee due is £200 or less?

  7. Julian Scriven permalink

    Surprised at the ‘no gremlins’ comment as the payment system has not worked for my two applications submitted after the weekend alterations to your site.

    I am told by your helpline that you are having problems with the firm that takes the payments.

    As for the admin fee my clients are not impressed to now have to pay £20 when it was previously fee to pay direct to the council.

  8. Neil warren permalink

    At present you cannot tap onto the telephone number to call to pay.

    • sarahchilcott permalink

      Thanks Neil. We’ll take a look. Sarah

  9. Shaun Richards permalink

    Sarah, I’m sorry to say that these changes are losing you opportunities already. This new system simply does not work for larger applications, where documents such as the Application Form require review by multiple parties prior to submission.

    To get around this, we are just completing paper forms and submitting them to the LPA by email.

    Big companies still love to pay by cheque too and the 10 working day delay, coupled with the new charge is not an enticing prospect. Again, we are working around this by simply cutting the Portal out of the loop, and paying directly.

    I’m sure you are aware of all of this already, going by the multiple negative comments on your update blogs. I just wanted to stress the urgency to you… after all the convenience of the Portal is the reason why it’s so widely used. Personally, I would much prefer that further changes are made to rebalance the service back towards convenience for applicants/agents rather than have to go back to submitting everything by email/post.

    • sarahchilcott permalink

      Hi Shaun. Many thanks for your balanced comment. We are working on something urgently with our supplier which will allow sharing of applications in draft. As soon as I have a further update I will post it here. Sarah

  10. karen mellor permalink

    I was aware that the new system was coming in but had no idea that this would be the only way to pay. as an agent dealing with a lot of small domestic applications, and some which are only there because the local authority has removed permitted development rights, this additional £20 is a 10% increase in the planning fee. This is really not fair on the domestic applicant. I have been using the planning portal since the early days; and going to now
    have to seriously consider how to make future planning applications. email direct to the local authority seems probably the best option.

    • sarahchilcott permalink

      Sorry to hear this Karen. The service charge has been applied at the same level, as the costs involved are the same regardless of the level of the fee. I hope that you and your clients will see even more benefit from using the service with this change, and in future as we make improvements with the income we can generate. Sarah

  11. Mike Farrell permalink

    I have made 4 applications recently under the new changes, whilst the payment element of it seems to be working OK and we have had no ‘gremlins’, the fact that we are still unable to draft / proof read the application data prior to actually pressing the submit button is a massive failure on the portals part – this needs rectifying with a huge amount of urgency! Regards Mike Farrell (Draft 2 Design Ltd)

    • sarahchilcott permalink

      Glad to hear that the payment process has been working well for you, but apologies for the problems that not being able to export a draft is causing you. We are working on it urgently with our supplier. I’ll post an update as soon as I can. Sarah

  12. sturton permalink

    I completely agree with the comments made already. The Planning Portal was an easy to use and highly effective way of submitting planning applications until this new system was implemented. The main issues to date are being unable to print a copy of the draft form to check with clients/architects before submitting. As someone has already very helpfully suggested, having some sort of watermark on the draft form (to be removed once submitted to the LA) would deal with this issue. I cannot stress (as someone who submits many applications via the Planning Portal) how important this function of being able to print before submitting is. Payment options have also not worked successfully since the implementation. Can you please just have two simple options – either the Agent will arrange payment (via online or telephone) or you can email to a third party, please? We don’t need multiple selections for telephone/online etc. causing us to speak to your Payments Dept. or Support, or very often, both – at length.

    This was a brilliant system before these recent changes but people are already going back to the old fashioned way of submitting applications by post or email direct to the Council. The Planning Portal will undoubtedly start losing out altogether if this is not improved.

    • sarahchilcott permalink

      Thanks for the feedback. Re the export function for draft applications we are working on it urgently with our technical supplier. I’m just waiting for timeframes back from them. A watermark will likely be part of the solution and I’ll update here as soon as I can. Re the payment options, we will continue to monitor feedback and data on usage and make any necessary improvements. Sarah

  13. There have been some sensible suggestions for the PDF drafts required for client sign-off – why not remove the agent’s details, remove the declaration section so it can’t be signed, watermark the pages, then fill any blank spaces on the form with advertising to generate some income!

    • sarahchilcott permalink

      We’re working on all/or a combination of some of those things with the supplier and hope to be to introduce the function back very soon. I’ll keep you posted. Sarah

  14. M James permalink

    Not aware of anyone consulted prior to the changes. Did you even consider the option of a subscription service to register on the portal? This would have made it a cost of doing business (like subs to Planning Resource) and could have been pitched at an annual price based on level of use – eg £20 for basic annual (someone who does a few apps) to £x00 for sole trader to £x000 for corporate user… The changes as implemented seem pretty unfortunate and likely to drive some folks away. Is it too late to think this through and bring back the way things were working – which was fine for most folks.

    • sarahchilcott permalink

      Hi Mary. Unfortunately the way things were just couldn’t continue indefinitely. We needed to make a significant change in order to sustain and improve the service. We did engage with agents and authorities of different sizes before the new service was introduced and feedback from those meetings helped to shape the service. Best regards, Sarah

  15. As long term users of the Planning Portal we use the new payment service all the time, and have been doing so since the payment nomination service was introduced. It’s saved a lot of time as previously we had to take a screenshot of the payment page then email it to the clients with an explanation of what they needed to do to pay their LPA, sometimes we had to go to the LPA website then copy and paste a link to the payment page and send it to clients, other times clients had great problems paying LPAs by telephone as it could take literally hours to get through.

    Now that we no longer have to do this it frees us up to get on with the core activity which is designing our clients house extensions. I know it’s £20 but in the scheme of things it’s a small amount in return for workflow improvement and not one client has so far queried it. The Planning Portal is also packed with useful information and sends out regular weekly updates all at no cost to us so I’m sure that the majority of agents a very grateful to have such a useful business resource!

Please give us your feedback but we won’t publish any comments that are not constructive or that criticise any individual, any named business or any local authority. Please note, all comments will be moderated before being published.

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