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The Planning Portal’s payment service drastically improves payment efficiency

by on February 14, 2019

Our aim when launching our new payment service in September 2018 was to speed up the planning application process by helping to reduce the amount of invalid applications.

We knew that missing payments accounted for a quarter of all invalid applications across England and that these missing payment issues were very often related to cheque payments.

There is no doubt that cheque payments were causing delays in the planning application process; aside from the fact that they were more easily lost or mislaid than other payment methods, they also had to be sent and then cashed, which in itself could be a lengthy process.

We decided to try and reduce the amount of cheque payments used by making more payment options available to all our customers – whichever local authority they were applying to – and encouraging them to pay for their applications by other means. Our data shows that this approach has worked well. Before we launched our payment service, around 25 per cent of all planning applications submitted via the Planning Portal were being paid for by cheque. This has now fallen dramatically to just three per cent.

You might wonder where all these cheque payments have gone. Nowadays, around 85 per cent of the payments we receive for applications are online payments or nominated payments.

For those that don’t know, the nomination service we provide allows applicants to defer payment to a third party. This service was previously known as our Payment ReDirect service and was only available for applications going to opted-in authorities. With the launch of our new payment service, this feature has become a standard payment method and is available for all online applications.

The convenience of the nomination feature has clearly appealed to our customers, with around half of online payments now being done by a third party.

As you can see, our transaction service has turned unreliable and inconsistent cheque payments into fast, digitised payments; bringing down invalidation rates and making the process more efficient for everyone. These updates have bought the planning application process firmly into the 21st century.

From the feedback we’ve received so far we know that our payment service is helping local authorities and planning agents alike. We’re proud of our achievements, but we’re also aware that there is always more to be done. We are currently working on refining our nomination feature, to make the process as simple as possible for both the nominator and the nominee, regardless of the payment method. We will be sharing more details on this soon, along with other improvements to the payment service and 1App itself.

In the meantime, we’d love to hear about your experiences using the new service. Please get in touch at communications@planningportal.co.uk to let us know.

22 Comments
  1. john newton permalink

    A very good system but another on cost to be picked up by the client or end user

  2. John Theobald permalink

    Since September we have seen a dramatic drop in payments taken over the phone in our Planning support team and also cheque payments continued to decrease.

  3. Will Abbott permalink

    yes, but the system only accepts credit/debit card payments up to a maximum of £1000. This, as I see it, is a constraint.

    • sarahchilcott permalink

      Hi Will. Although 90% of planning fees are less than £1000 we are looking at whether we can raise this, as we understand it would still be a preferred option for some larger fees. You will be aware from previous comments that we had to look at a limit to keep the amount of the service charge as low as possible, whilst managing our financial risk – as you may know, businesses typically incur around 1.5-2% in card fees from their bank. What sort of fees would you typically want to pay by card that you can’t currently? And would debit card be a viable option for you? Thanks, Sarah

      • I paid a £20k fee by Internet Banking to PortalPlanQuest. In fact, it’s easier than entering my debit card details each time.

  4. Alice H permalink

    The system is good for small fees. However, none of this nominated payment applies for fees over £1000 and therefore this has to be made by BACS which can take a long time to clear, and can be very frustrating for agents and their clients.

    • sarahchilcott permalink

      Hi Alice. BACS should take no longer than 2-3 days to clear, so please do speak to our Support team if you’re having any issues with particular applications. If your bank offers ‘Faster Payments’ this will also be much quicker. I’ll also ask someone to contact you and see if there is anything which can be done more generally in terms of the process – I know some agents have dealt with this in different ways. Sarah

  5. Clive Wilson permalink

    Surely the reason for cheque payments going down to 3% is partly because some councils are no longer accepting cheque payments not as you suggest only because of paying online through the Portal

    Clive Wilson

    • sarahchilcott permalink

      Hi Clive. The figures quoted are only for applications submitted through the Portal, so how LPAs deal with payments for other applications is not relevant to the figures. Application numbers are similar to before the service was introduced, so it’s also not accurate to say that people who previously paid by cheque are no longer using the Portal. Sarah

  6. What are the plans to extend this to Wales? I submitted three applications to Conwy Council this afternoon, and had to pay by phone three times, as their online payment system isn’t working?

    • sarahchilcott permalink

      Sorry Steve, but there are no plans to extend this to Wales at the moment. Sarah

  7. Lee Wright permalink

    The biggest issue I have with the payment system that did not happen before is the delay when you pay yourself by card and there is then a delay before your application moves from draft to submitted.

    This is extremely frustrating as you cannot download the documents until it moves to submitted, meaning you cannot email a copy to your client, or file them electronically whilst your job file is still open.

    I cannot see why there needs to be this delay, as it did not happen before and was seamless – and before you ask, yes I have refreshing may page, moving backwards and forwards between pages, logged out and back in and even cleared my browser and logged in afresh.

    This is an unacceptable delay and sometimes it is longer than other times.

    • Planning Portal Content Team permalink

      Hi Lee, once an online payment is made the payment system communicates successful receipt with the application service. This triggers the submission of the application to the local authority. For the overriding majority of applications this routine can take a couple of minutes and I can see from your recent applications that this has been the case. I did notice one that took a lot longer than this which is rare and could be due to peak usage at the time of processing payment. I will ask our Solutions team to check this one and contact you. Sarah

  8. Ms Janet Hodgkinson permalink

    I have got to the end of my application and on looking at fees to apy discover that I have to pay an additional £20 for:
    “2.4. A PPQ service charge of £16.67 + VAT will be charged for each payment to cover the costs of the tools and services used to provide the planning application financial transaction service”

    I object to this but worse was given no option. I have completed my whole application (which I cannot now download) without being told that it is going to cost me an additional £20. I would not have completed this online had I known, as it was just a change of conditions (cost £234 so an 8.5% service charge!!!!)

    If I had known up front I could have made my own decision. I now feel TRAPPED into paying this and have still not submitted.

    OUTRAGEOUS

    • john newton permalink

      I fully agree with Janet as in my first comment : yet another charge in the planning process!!!

    • Planning Portal Content Team permalink

      Hi Janet,
      In the ‘My Planning Portal’ section of your account, where you can begin and view a planning application, there is on-screen text which clearly explains the presence of the service charge. It reads as follows– ‘Please note: In addition to the application fee, a service charge of £20 will also be payable in accordance with our terms and conditions. Until payment of the full amount is confirmed, the application will remain in ‘Draft’ status and not be submitted.’
      The service charge was introduced in September 2018. We made this change clear to all our customers, as you can observe by referring to previous blog posts where we explicitly stated and explained the introduction of the service charge ( https://blog.planningportal.co.uk/2018/08/01/new-payment-service-for-1app-in-england/ ) and announced the date it was due to be launched ( https://blog.planningportal.co.uk/2018/08/24/launch-date-confirmed-for-new-financial-transaction-service-in-england/ ). In addition, the change was communicated to all of our regular customers via service update emails and we also informed users in our newsletters and bulletins.
      If you wish to use our online application service, you will need to pay the service charge. However, you are not obliged to use our online system to complete your application, you are welcome to download the paper forms to complete by hand and send to your LPA. Sarah

  9. Observations
    1) Admin Fees should be stated before the form is started…
    2) Paying a £20 admin fee on a £34 Householder Minor Mod planning fee is nonsense.
    3) Recently I made an planning application on line it took al of 30 mins to run through everything – but then the online payment stalled and it took a further 60 mins to get this sorted.

    Suggestion
    The £20 fee is OK but should be more refined such as £20 or 10% of the fee what every is the lessor amount; thus a £34 Planning fee would have a £3.40 admin fee – is this something you can implement please.

  10. Martyn Griffiths permalink

    I have used this payment method a number of times and receive numerous copy emails as sent to the client saying the fee remains unpaid when they have endeavoured to pay as soon as the application has been submitted. It is a frustrating system to say the least.

    • sarahchilcott permalink

      Hi Martyn. Sorry to hear that you’ve had issues. In the early days there was a bug which meant that reminder emails were sent to ‘nominated’ parties even after the payment had been made. We flagged it on this blog and fixed it quickly, so this shouldn’t still be happening. If you get the problem again, please do contact our Support team on 0333 323 4589 so that they can investigate/help you. Many thanks, Sarah

      • Martyn Griffiths permalink

        Sarah

        Thank you for your response. I will let you know if this particular problem arises again.

        Regards

        Martyn

  11. Frank McNamee permalink

    I have been using the PP online service for several years now. Not having made an application since last year I was surprised to come up against the mandatory use of the payment system and its exhorbitant charge. Client in a hurry so made the submission. Client paid the fee on the same day. Confirmation of payment received from PP. Ten days later application still not validated. If I had made the application direct to LA would have been quicker and less costly. Will avoid PP in future. Just monetising a service whilst slowing it down.

    • sarahchilcott permalink

      Hi Frank. Sorry to hear that. We did extensive communications before launch, including emails to all regular submitters and it is flagged throughout the site. If your client paid online, the application would have been released almost immediately. If you would like our Support team to check that everything went smoothly for your individual application, please do give them a call. The LA will be able to provide updates on validation progress. Sarah

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