Case Study

How Thurrock Council embedded a holistic approach to debt collection

The topic of Government debt collection is increasingly at the forefront of both central and local government thinking. The introduction of the Breathing Space initiative, the Government Debt Management Function within the Cabinet Office and the growing clamour from MPs for the creation of a Debt Management Bill are all indicators that the direction of travel is towards a more sensitive approach to debt collection that is predicated on an understanding of wider issues and vulnerabilities.

Thurrock Council were grappling with these questions back in 2009 when they introduced their Fair Debt Policy and Vulnerability Guidelines, however technology and staffing restraints always presented a barrier to effectively delivering their ambitions.

Xantura and Thurrock started working in partnership towards the end of 2018 to address both the technological and ethical questions which the challenge presented. Thurrock have now rolled out the Single View of Debt & Vulnerability service for their management team and frontline staff, putting them at the leading edge of the debt and vulnerability agenda.

What problem did we solve?

There is almost universal acceptance that the public sector is a long way behind the private sector with respect to sensitive debt collection, hence the number of current initiatives detailed above. Inappropriate and aggressive debt collection without a holistic understanding of circumstances leads to more cost, less money collected and critically a worsening of vulnerability and increased pressure on wider services including police (domestic violence), health (mental health) and children’s services (step up of cases).

Thurrock understood that transforming the debt collection processes was critical, but needed a solution that combined ethical and proportionate data sharing with services that could be operationally deployed by both frontline staff in individual cases and management teams to define and optimise overall strategies. The partnership with xantura has delivered in all these areas.

What was the outcome?

The service has only been live for a short time, but already the benefits are starting to be seen across the council.

The Single View of Debt and Vulnerability is saving considerable time for frontline staff, who no longer have to search a range of different systems or speak to other departments to get a holistic picture. This is enabling them to deliver more targeted, effective help to residents, whilst reducing the stress for residents with multiple debts who receive a co-ordinated approach from the council.

From a management perspective the insight delivered is enabling them to develop better pathways for prevention and support for those who need it ensuring there is less risk of a poor outcome such as homelessness and neglect. As the system is further embedded, the ability to improve and monitor early interventions to prevent escalations will also lead to better outcomes both financially for the council and more importantly for vulnerable residents.

Our collaboration with Thurrock has also led to a nomination in the upcoming Public Finance Awards.

How did we do it?

The xantura OneView platform has been developed over 10 years with information governance at the heart. All data extracts are pseudonymised on the council’s infrastructure prior to being shared, matched, enriched and modelled meaning that xantura does not process or hold any identifiable data. This can only be re-identified again on the council’s infrastructure by staff who have permission to view it under the council agreed data sharing protocols. This is delivered back to front-line staff through a OneView button which sits as a browser plug-in in all existing case management systems and presents the information as a textual case summary.

All aggregated data can be used by management to identify cohorts of individuals across a range of different risk factors enabling them to deliver, monitor and optimise different treatment strategies across these different cohorts and track the wider impact of these changes.

"It's great to see the council’s leading approach to debt management, in partnership with Xantura, be recognised in this year’s Public Finance Awards."

Cllr Deb Huelin, Cabinet member for central services

“This piece of work is a tremendous step forward for both residents and the council as it enables us to view a detailed picture of an individual’s debt across our services, the support they are receiving and any vulnerabilities that should be considered when the council makes decisions around debt collection."

Cllr Deb Huelin, Cabinet member for central services

"Conversations about debt, when you are in debt, is a hard thing to have to do and having a call about each debt is difficult, mentally. This approach means that people in debt have a conversation about the entire 'debt picture', rather than having to have multiple conversations with different officers about their individual types of debt.

Cllr Shane Hebb, Cabinet member for finance

"We contact residents to collectively explore their debt as 'one big picture' and work out a safe and manageable way forward for repayment. This prioritises the well-being of our residents, and also saves time and resources across many services in how we support them with their outstanding balances."

Cllr Shane Hebb, Cabinet member for finance

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