After the COVID-19 pandemic, is the local government ready to face the cost-of-living challenge?

Accurate customer (citizen) data plays an important role in helping local governments with their digital transformation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. And it will continue to influence their responses to new crises.

In this blog, we share 3 tips on how local governments can stand in good stead with better data as they face the cost-of-living crisis, protect their revenue, and ensure the fraudsters don’t get through while delivering services to those who need it most.

After two years of supporting people through the COVID-19 pandemic, local councils are once again thrust into the spotlight as the UK is experiencing the worst cost of living crisis in a decade. It is vital that local councils identify those in need of support and target help towards those who are facing the most complex challenges.

Data quality lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic

Data was central to the way local councils responded to the pandemic, yet they were faced with several challenges including how to deal with variable data quality, and how to better share data across teams and departments.

According to our recent research The Role of Data Quality in the UK Public Sector, many councils discovered that their data was not in the state they needed it to be:


of councils say they uncovered major shortcomings in their data (inclusing 6% who stated that their data was not fit for purpose).


of councils felt their data was a strength.

Several factors contribute to the data quality issues:

  • Much of the data local councils receive is self-reported by individuals or businesses. Manually entered data is subject to errors and omissions.
  • Data quality can quickly erode as people move, marry, change names, or change jobs. Without a dedicated data strategy to validate all that data at source and keep it current, data quality challenges can quickly lead to larger strategic and operational errors.
  • The existence of multiple systems and formats can lead to duplicate, or often conflicting, information on an individual or entity. Cleaning up one database is fruitless if the changes are not applied to others held within the organisation.

For some local councils, poor data quality proved to be a catalyst for innovation. Some don’t have the data they need, while others have it but are unable to join the dots between departments and services. After COVID, councils recognised the need to invest in and improve their customer (citizen) data, with over 47% saying they plan to invest in new technology to manage customer (citizen) data.

How can local government do better to face the cost-of-living crisis?

We will be covering 3 key topics below:

  1. Investing in digital identity verification and identity resolution
  2. Creating a single citizen view
  3. Preventing “inflated” databases


1. Investing in digital identity verification and identity resolution

Now, more than ever, local governments need to know exactly who their citizens are. Identity verification was moved online during COVID-19 as more people came forward to access services and grants. This will be critical once again as people apply for cost-of-living benefits. To achieve this, local authorities must continue to carry out effective electronic ID verification.

The good news is that by investing in identity verification, 58% of councils have improved their data quality by upgrading systems, centralising and re-organising data and migrating data to the cloud. This does leave a significant minority who have achieved no improvement and 13% have seen data quality suffer. This presents a significant area of risk for those councils as they seek to identify the people most in need during the cost-of-living crisis.

Adopting the Identity Resolution solution can help local governments to properly identify citizens and their needs by preparing, cleansing, merging and migrating data. When cleansed data from different sources is combined, it illustrates where relationships already exist with a citizen across multiple departments, associating them to a single record of a person or identity.

2. Creating a single citizen view

A central issue that emerged was the lack of a Single Customer View: 42% of councils said that a lack of a single citizen view held them back at the start of the pandemic. Creating a 360 degree or ‘unified’ view of each citizen gives local government a solid platform to improve communications and interactions with their citizens. It successfully detangles overwhelming, un-cleansed data into a single, focused stream, uncovering deep insight into citizens, their needs and behaviours. This knowledge and understanding can then be used to create targeted engagements that deliver a better citizen experience and drive process efficiencies, saving time and money.

Having a Single Customer View can also be invaluable when it comes to reducing fraud and collecting debt for local councils. The DWP reports that in 2021, there was an estimated £6.3 billion of welfare fraud, up from £2.8 billion from the year before, coupled with £2.1 billion of error, the combined loss because of fraud and error was £8.4 billion or 3.9% of benefit expenditure.

Through data matching and Identity Resolution, it is possible to identify cases where benefits may be being claimed fraudulently or in error. Data can be run against a variety of data sources to generate a summary for each resident with a makeup of the household identifying all the likely occupants. It returns the results by priority risk category, meaning you can investigate the most likely cases first to save money, use your resources as effectively as possible, increase fraud detection and maximise council tax revenue.

3. Prevent “inflated” databases

Local governments across the country are at the centre of a complex web of information. This information is typically trapped across an array of siloed and disparate legacy systems, databases and departments. Often, these databases are littered with duplicate or incomplete entries, errors and inconsistencies. Compounding this is the fact that data held on citizens is constantly ageing and decreasing in value as people move home, change their names, get married and pass away. This is exacerbated by the continuous arrival of new, unverified data. Citizen records end up out-of-sync, work is unnecessarily duplicated, or vital information can be missed. And data inflation creates uncertainty in this digital-first age for the Public Sector. So, investing in data quality, data agility and data management strategy can enhance your digital capabilities to serve the twin masters of your citizens and your budgets for future.

How can we help?

The pandemic exposed gaps in data quality that held back many councils, yet it also helped them to improve and learn. This will be invaluable as they move forward facing the cost-of-living crisis, supporting those in need, through all channels, while remaining vigilant against fraud and protecting their revenue.

At Experian, we believe that trusted information empowers better and faster decision-making, leaders can make strategic decisions from a single customer view they can trust.

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