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How local gov is using online self-service to tackle COVID-19

“Local government shines at the heart of a crisis,” writes Heather Jameson in her recent article for The Municipal Journal, alluding to the courage of councils as they guide their citizens through the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact social distancing will have on business, personal care, finance, and community is unprecedented. Your residents will lean on you more than ever before.

So how do you provide essential services to the community while reducing social contact and reallocating resources for this crisis? Many local governments are building the case for online services, like govService.

In this article, we’ll cover how our customers are successfully using online self-service during COVID-19.  You’ll find out how they are:

Disclaimer: Government guidelines are changing constantly. As a result, some forms may be appropriate to meet guidelines at the time of writing but are now out of date. We want to show you a snapshot of the platform’s flexibility and how quickly government can react to changes using govService.

Shifting to online channels

For many years, local government has been encouraging channel choice, making it easier for the public to self-serve online and freeing up traditional channels for those who need it. In times of crisis, people will reach for the method that gives them the quickest result — that means your call centres may be experiencing high call volumes already.

In times of crisis, people will reach for the method that gives them the quickest result.

Using social media, Nottinghamshire County Council and Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council asked the public to make use of the online services available before calling their customer service teams.

Facebook post by Nottinghamshire County Council provides a flowchart for residents to determine if they should call.

Nottinghamshire County Council provides a flowchart for residents to determine if they should call.


Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council uses Facebook post to refer residents to their website.

Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council refers residents to their website.


Ideas for encouraging online self-service

  • Advertise your MyAccounts.
  • Provide quick links to your Self portal for high-volume online services.
  • Create a webpage dedicated to COVID-19 resources.
  • Spread the word about online channels you’ve created to address the crisis.

Pro tip: Remove telephone numbers for nonessential services from webpages. Check with other members of your organisation first to determine if this is the right thing to do in your community, especially if you have not done this previously.

Encouraging community well-being

The social responsibility to calm, care, and cater to the needs of your residents has never been more important. Using govService, two councils — Cheshire East and Gravesham Borough — have been able to create forms and capture information to encourage citizens to volunteer as well as identify residents who need help.

Cheshire East Council created two forms, one for those who need assistance, and one for those who can offer their help.

Cheshire East's website offers an "I can help" form and an "I need help" form. via buttons.

Cheshire East offers two form options for residents.


Gravesham Borough Council is working with a local volunteer centre and other community partners to make it easier for people to volunteer. They have been requesting help through govService to capture information of willing parties.

Graveshams website offers buttons to go to a "Register to Volunteer" form and a "Register for help" form.

Gravesham uses govService to capture information of volunteers and identify those that need help.


Ideas for taking care of your community

  • Inspire young people who may be facing a long summer without school or university to do their bit. Waltham Forest developed a form for young people who are carers to access help during the pandemic.
  • With social distancing and shielding measures in place, it can be hard to get help to those who need it. Should a caller not be able to get through to your phone lines, they can request community support for the elderly and those who are vulnerable with a form like this.
  • Consider how you can help rough sleepers and homeless people access £3.2 million of national emergency support. How can you provide services online for a group that has relied on the face-to-face services in the past?

Pro Tip: Using forms makes it easy to capture pertinent information. You can require answers to questions like, “Do you have a current DBS check?” You can avoid reviewing forms that were not filled out properly, saving you time.

Accessing financial assistance

The Government has announced a £500 million hardship fund for businesses. You may already be receiving requests to access the fund from businesses in your community.

Middlesbrough Council has developed two forms with govService to help to field these requests — the COVID-19 Emergency 25k Grant Request form and the COVID-19 Emergency 10k Grant Request form.

Tower Hamlets has developed a Business Continuity Survey to obtain feedback on what businesses in their area are doing and how the virus has impacted them.

Now, more than ever, the public will need to access support for their personal finances. Some local authorities have gone above and beyond to provide this access online.

North Warwickshire Borough Council has allowed residents to access help for debt and personal finance issues with their referral form covering discretionary housing payments, food bank referrals, income and expenditure assessment, and help and support.

Ideas for providing access to financial assistance

  • Send a survey to businesses and residents to identify gaps, resources, and those in need.
  • If you have a program in place, create an online form for those that may want to apply.

Supporting students & parents

Schools remain open for the children of key staff only and childcare is at the forefront of requests.

Kirklees Council added a banner on their website with important links. They have added a helpful link to an education and childcare enquiry form for parents who are key workers and whose children will still attend school. Kirklees has also created a form for school staff to report absences due to coronavirus, available through their internal Dash portal.

Kirklee's provides a form to fill out asking for Name and contact information.

Kirklees’ education and childcare enquiry form.


Dundee City Council and Highland Council are developing online access forms for key staff to request childcare services, while Kent County Council has developed an internal form for schools to provide feedback about their intentions to remain open during the outbreak. See the screenshot below for the kinds of questions they have asked.

Kirklees' survey asks questions with the option or a yes or no response.

Kent County encourages responses by offering one-click answers.


Ideas for supporting students & parents

  • Distribute a form to understand who in your community needs childcare services.
  • Create a webpage specifically for students in your community who may not be in school. Include links to educational resources.
  • Send out a survey periodically to continue to adapt to the needs of your community.

Adapting internal business processes

Just like all other businesses, local authorities must adapt to a new way of working. Working from home may be foreign for most local authority workers, but many councils have provided workers with the ability to work remotely with govService.

It’s important to maintain a caring community with your council staff who are working from home. Nottinghamshire County Council have gone the extra mile to develop a Communication Hub on the Staff Portal, using a form to develop a whole intranet community for their staff.

Angus Council, Bolsover Borough Council, Coventry City Council, and many more local authorities have made it simple for their staff to report coronavirus sickness via the govService through their internal Staff Portal. East Ayrshire are attending to their staff’s well-being with their Caring, Kind, and Connected Workforce Preparedness form.

Lincoln City Council developed a survey to identify staff with pre-existing health conditions to help lower the workforces risk to the virus and maintain well-being at the council.

The intro to the Lincoln City Council survey

Lincoln City Council uses a survey to help lower workforce risk.


Ideas for keeping your staff healthy

  • Switch to online where possible so staff can work from home.
  • Check in on employees and use surveys to maintain engagement.
  • Create a hub specifically for employees.

Bringing it all together

Your residents are looking to you for guidance. You’re trying to reallocate resources, answer pertinent questions, and lead your community. Encourage online services to streamline operations and capture valuable information.

Want to offer residents self-service options?

Granicus is committed to helping government agencies during this public health crisis. Schedule time to learn about our digital services >>