ReachOut: supporting Folkestone and Hythe District Council to re-engage their residents struggling with Council Tax debt

ReachOut: supporting Folkestone and Hythe District Council to re-engage their residents struggling with Council Tax debt

Overview

With a shared ambition to reach their residents most in need, Folkestone and Hythe (FHDC) have become the first council to pilot ReachOut, a service from Sigma Connected focused on engaging and supporting unengaged customers in debt. Initially supporting residents with Council Tax arrears, ReachOut has been able to engage with 33% of disengaged residents, helping the council to offer further support to their residents who need it most.

Challenge

Through the delivery of our ReachOut service we know that those in debt are less likely to engage with their creditors for fear of the consequences of their debt. If they do engage, it can sometimes be to make a payment they can’t afford, to simply buy some time.

Without meaningful and positive engagement with residents, it’s hard for councils to raise awareness of the immediate help available, either from themselves or from third parties. This makes it all the more difficult to provide long-terms solutions for residents.

It’s that lack of engagement that has prevented Folkestone and Hythe residents hearing about and accessing the support they so desperately need. This is especially disappointing for those struggling with Council Tax debt, as there is a vast range of help available.

Folkestone and Hythe, for example, can support with benefits and debt advice, discretionary payments, food and fuel vouchers, help with household essentials like white goods, curtains, carpet, boiler servicing, the list goes on.

Solution

The goal of the pilot was to connect with those disengaged residents struggling with current and historic Council Tax arrears. Some were at the pre-court summons stage, some post-court summons, and both groups included residents where the council suspected they were not receiving their full entitlement to welfare support or ad hoc support from the council.

In each conversation with FHDC residents, our Pathfinders (our agents) were able to take the outstanding balance off the table and create an impartial and confidential environment where residents felt safe to be honest and open. We could then discuss the debt in the context of their wider circumstances and identify the right level of holistic support that would have a lasting impact.

Having promoted the support available directly from FHDC, we then arranged for either a callback from the council or conducted a warm transfer directly to the council’s welfare or recoveries team.

Results

Positive engagement with 33% of disengaged residents

Our Pathfinders positively engaged with an average of 26.5% of those residents who had missed payments and had not responded to FHDC. The results were even higher for those residents in early arrears/pre-court summons where we achieved 33% positive engagement. These results reinforce our firm belief that early engagement is essential if we are to stop debt escalating.

Through the service FHDC have not only been able to help residents manage their outstanding debt, they’ve also been able to raise awareness of the support they have available to residents, including their Home Essentials Fund and Financial Support Payments.

Together we have been able to help FHDC to build stronger relationships with residents who previously only saw the council as an organisation that they owed money to.

We’re thrilled with the success of the pilot and are excited to enter 2024 with further pilots scheduled! We’ll have more data to share on the success of the pilot as well as long term outcomes for residents in the coming months, so make sure to revisit the website soon or get in touch. 

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ReachOut have enabled us to start conversations with residents that we had previously been unable to liaise with. This has enabled us to offer further support to more low-income households using the support and advice available to us.”

Andrew Hatcher, Revenues and Benefits Lead Specialist, Folkestone & Hythe District Council

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