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Updates to the financial transaction service and 1App

by on July 1, 2019

*Post updated 2/7/19*

Since we launched the financial transaction service (FTS), it’s seen huge benefits for agents, applicants and local authorities.  Our six-month report demonstrated savings in time and money for everyone concerned.  We have also been able to deliver some service improvements already to the FTS and 1App itself and there are many more in the pipeline.

Since its launch, we’ve been open in asking for your feedback and we know that not everything is working well.  The main area for concern from early on was that the service charge was disproportionate for the smaller fees, particularly non-material amendments and discharge of householder conditions where the planning fee is typically only £34.  However, we of course incur the same costs for processing those applications as we do for larger ones, and the legislation is clear that you can’t charge a different amount for the same service.  We’ve been trying to find a way through this conundrum, but I’m pleased to say that we have found a way forward and will be making a change to the service charge structure as a result of this and an ongoing review into the costs of delivering the service.

With effect from 1 August 2019, all free applications and all applications where the fee is less than £60 will not incur a service charge for submission through the Planning Portal.  This will include those non-material amendments and householder conditions and will also mean that a number of applications where discounts and exemptions apply – such as for disabilities or charities – will become exempt from the service charge.  In order to balance the cost of processing the transactions, without limiting our ability to deliver the improvements to 1App, the service charge on applications £60 and over will increase to £20.83+ VAT on the same date.

At the same time we will release an improvement to the popular ‘nominate’ payment option included in the FTS.  Until now, you could only nominate third parties to pay for applications online by card, but from 1 August 2019, this option will be available across all payment types.  Again this change has been much requested and will improve the efficiency greatly for agents and applicants.  More information will be released shortly on our blog.

Additionally we have the following service improvements in the pipeline for this summer:

  • Improvements to data protection on the application forms which are published on local authority websites.  This change will redact more fields where third party information is collected to streamline publication on local authority planning registers, and to rename the form to ‘ApplicationformRedacted’ to set expectations in regard to its content. This gives increased peace of mind for applicants and agents in protecting this information, as well as great efficiencies for local authorities. Authorities will continue to receive a complete version of the form for their own processing;
  • Accessibility improvements in line with enhanced WCAG guidelines.

In the autumn, we will also be adding those prior notification forms currently only available as PDFs to the 1App suite, along with some improvements to forms including capturing the residential categories in larger schemes, as required by the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).  These changes have also been much requested and we know the changes will add efficiencies for agents, applicants and local authorities.

In parallel we have also been working with the Greater London Authority on a set of data changes which will give them greater transparency of planning and development activity across London. They have been discussing this with authorities outside London and the updates we make will be available nationally.  Because of the nature of these changes it is a major project and we will need to change the structure of the data we pass to local authorities and therefore our data schema. Further technical guidance and a revised schema will shortly be released to local authorities and their IT suppliers and as always, more detail on the changes themselves we will be available nearer the time on our blog.

We thank you for your continued support and feedback as we continue to work to make planning and building easier for all.

 

23 Comments
  1. Lee permalink

    If the portal needs to increase portal fees then so be it and users have a choice to use the service and pay or not. But to dress it up that the few free applications need to be covered by such a hike in the portal fee for all other applications, is frankly and joke and an insult to the intelligence of many that use this service.

    • sarahchilcott permalink

      Hi Lee. Sorry if it comes across this way. No insult intended I can assure you. In fact a reasonable percentage and several thousands of applications would have been below this level since the service was launched. Sarah

      • sarahchilcott permalink

        Hi Lee, I’ve reread the post this morning and updated it to clarify based on your comment. Many thanks for the feedback. Sarah

  2. Well said Lee. If the hike for other applications has gone up by 25% to cover the freebies, that equates to there being about 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 of all applications currently being free. I hardly think this is the case. It certainly isn’t for the quota of applications I’ve submitted. Perhaps Sarah could confirm the actual percentage although I’m sure it’ll be classed as “commercially sensitive” Also, isn’t it uncanny that you’re suddenly getting your skates on to introduce prior notification submissions now that the government plans to introduce a fee of around £80 I believe? All the time these applications were free and therefore no income for you, you had no interest! Whilst I’m sure the local authorities are joyous at your software tinkering, maybe you could make some simple changes for the benefit of the users that are actually paying for it! Such as allowing more than one file to be uploaded at a time – it’s so tedious at present. . . .

    • sarahchilcott permalink

      Hi Andy. The critical thing here is that we need to maintain a balance of income versus cost in order to be able to continue to invest in the service. There is much that we’d like to do, but we can’t do it all at once and we try to prioritise what we believe will make the biggest difference, based on feedback we receive. Prior notifications are raised consistently by agents and local authorities. Of course we will not stop there. Sarah

    • Lee permalink

      Hi Andy, its like being told that chocolate is in smaller bars because its for our health, when in reality its made Charlie and his band of Chocolate Factories more profit!

      Same with the supermarkets. They tell us they have held food prices down, when a huge number of products have reduced in size by around 20-25%, yet remained the same price. Just wait until the outcome of Brexit, whatever it is, as it will then get used as an excuse to increase prices and then we will have seen a 50% increase in prices in the last 2-3 years – increase by stealth.

      As for the portal and Sarah’s comments, I suspect that it is very much a balancing act of trying to make a profit in a small fee, whilst expending on new facilities and covering the ever increasing cost of staff etc. It is likely made worse by this being a new type of business and no business model that has gone before. The danger however is that significant increases of around 25% as the case, can only draw attention and despite comments to the contrary, it still looks very much like the reason given for the increase is a very poor one and only likely to alienate users. It would have been much better to state that the increase was to support the measures stated and a new list of initiatives and listed them.

      Oh well, its not my business but I know what the majority of my clients would say if I hiked my fees by 25%. At the rate its going however with increases everywhere, I may have to!

  3. ian permalink

    I personally think it’s wrong that there is no choice in using this service now, some councils will not accept applications direct. So there is no choice but pay to use this site which appears to be a private business making profits from the ‘admin fees’ and adverts on the site!
    Secondly this increased admin fee is a large increase on householder applications, when for major applications where the amount of data involved is significantly more but for the same admin fee!
    I’d like to know when there will be an alternative to submitting applications via this site.

  4. Nigel permalink

    What i find disappointing is the cost itself. I understand that if the planing system / planing portal requires more money then it needs to be charged, but is this the right way of obtaining revenue. It cannot simply be a charge to process the card or bank payments as these were always absorbed by the local authorities when payment was made direct. And card payments / bank transfers do not cost £20 a pop. What is particularly galling is that it is payable on any application (regardless of this ineffectual reduction for minor applications). My work is mainly with private individuals and small developers, so household applications one off housing and small developments. The flat fee is simply disproportionate. For example a household extension now costs £226, an increase of almost 10%, whereas a small development of 5 units now costs £2330 an increase of less than 1%, and for larger developments it becomes so small they are insignificant. Why is it that the householder is paying the bill? Surely it would simply be fairer to apply a small, say 1% ‘tarriff’, on any application to cover the administration of the planing portal?

    • sarahchilcott permalink

      Hi Nigel. Thanks for your comment. We do understand your view and in fact looked at a sliding scale of charges as an option before we launched the service last September. Unfortunately UK legislation on charging changed early last year and different amounts cannot be charged for the same product or service. That said, feedback on the service from homeowners has been really positive, particularly on the nominate option where they like the control and transparency it gives them. Sarah

  5. lough441 permalink

    Ian, LPAs cannot refuse to validate an application that is not received via the Portal. This is clearly set out in PPG, and the Development Management Procedure Order. Applications can be made on paper or by e mail direct to the LPA.

  6. Michael Pollington permalink

    This is a further disgrace. There should only be a fee from Planning Portal if they can guarantee an application is in acceptable form and will be registered as complete. That they cannot do as every Council looks at applications in different ways and will always find something to give themselves more time.
    This is also another example of greedy civil servants making money out of government give away.

    • sarahchilcott permalink

      I’m sorry you feel that way Michael. If you follow this blog, you will have seen the rationale for the launch of this service which was discussed at length last year. Since we were privatised we had been running at a significant loss year on year. This service is giving us the money to invest in 1App and is already helping to reduce validation issues. More is on its way, as described. Sarah

  7. Like we have started, we are telling the customers what the fees are and adding them on. Most of our work is being via another provider as the Portal are not the only ones you have to use. We also directly sending stuff to the council where customers dont want to day. At the end of the day, the Portal can charge what they choose, but, at the same time people can use other service providers or send the forms direct!!

    • sarahchilcott permalink

      Hi James, Thanks for your comment. As you say, most agents are telling customers this is a fee and showing it separately. Experience to date shows that the majority of agents and applicants are happy to pay the fee for the speed and efficiency provided by the payment service. Sarah

  8. christopher page permalink

    Hi Sarah,

    The Conditions placed on my property (Class E), have withdrawn any Permitted Development Rights. Not previously a problem when, due to this LPA enforcement, planning applications were, (for requests that would normally be PD) without application charge.

    Now I find myself in a position whereby ANY permission requested that would normally be covered under Class E has to be paid for at a rate of over £200 per application!

    As my property is within the Green Belt I have been told by the LPA (*name redacted*) that it is extremely likely that any planning applications I forward will be refused. Hence, £200+ paid to the LPA for a virtually guaranteed dismissal.

    And what do the Council say to try to justify this ‘money for nothing’ charge? ‘…You can appeal to the HMI (Planning Inspectorate) for a decision! How much must this ridiculous situation be costing taxpayers?

    How on earth can this process be considered to be moral or indeed legal?

    This really does need sorting out!

  9. Trevor Bell permalink

    The Planning Portal is not the only independent submission service option available to Applicants and I have regularly used an alternative since the £20.00 charge was introduced. Sarah is always quick to point out how their service has improved the validation and payment processes but I never had any issue with those before. Maybe I am lucky with the Local Authorities that I regularly deal with in so far as they can handle a simple payment process without drama. A high proportion of validation issues are caused by the applicants/agents not submitting all the relevant information so the adoption of any amount of “admin” fee is not going to solve that issue.

    I had a small glitch with one application recently which was a “computer error” but was resolved quickly and painlessly. When discussing the issue with the Local Authority they asked why I did not just send the application to them direct electronically and pay by card over the phone? I had to admit that would have seemed the most obvious solution. It had worked smoothly for years and attracted no additional “admin” fees. Presumed progress is not always a positive step forward.

    I am not criticising Planning Portal as they are like any other business, they want to offer the best service at a perceived affordable cost. However they need to realise that they do not have a monopoly on this service type and they have recently alienated a lot of professionals. Applicants and Agents have other options available to them which attract no additional costs. All businesses are open to competition and whilst Sarah goes to great lengths to justify the service to the users, have they actually convinced themselves that their costs are really justified?

    • sarahchilcott permalink

      Hi Trevor. It does sound as if you have been fortunate! The validation data we’ve shared provides national picture from LPAs and agents, though of course there will always be local differences. You and others have pointed out that we are not a monopoly. We are aware of that and indeed have always tried to put our customers first, even when we were part of government. We are now a commercial business, but one that believes that we should focus on our service quality and customers’ needs – if we get that right then the money should come to support and invest in the business. Our customers will rightly continue to hold us to account. Sarah

  10. Adam permalink

    The thing I cant work out with the admin fees you are charging. I regularly sumit applications in Cardiff and do not have to pay a fee only the planning application fee. I assume ‘Planning Portal’ runs both of these sites but whay am I not paying a fee for Wales?

    • sarahchilcott permalink

      Hi Adam. You’re right that we do operate planning application services for England and Wales, but they are separate services, with different planning policy, web design etc… We deliver the service for Wales on behalf of Welsh Government and there are no plans to extend the payment service to Wales at the moment. Sarah

      • Adam Morgan permalink

        So don’t you supply the same service to the English government? Because it seems like you can’t submit an application to any LPA through anything other than the planning portal.

      • sarahchilcott permalink

        The company is 25% owned by MHCLG, but we don’t deliver the service for them under a commercial contract, as we do for Wales.

  11. richard permalink

    I have just paid a fee of £103 to which a further 25% is added for your costs
    This is out of all proportion to the actual cost to you, ( which must be close on nil)
    I recall that credit card charges are illegal and so should your fee

    • sarahchilcott permalink

      Hi Richard, Sorry you feel that way. The service charge of £20.83 + VAT is to cover the cost of managing the service in its entirety, and the complexity and high cost of that is well documented in this blog. Sarah

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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