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Government plans to roll out GOV.UK Pay for councils

The Government Digital Service (GDS) has announced that it’s looking for local authorities to test its secure online payment service, GOV.UK Pay. The system, which has already been trialled within central government, is intended to be a simple scheme that will make accepting payments much easier.

Testing the water

GOV.UK Pay is branded with the central government site and allows government service providers to take card payments and issue refunds, deliver email receipts, create reports and search transactions. Although still in its Beta testing phase, the system has already processed close to 500,000 payments totalling around £20m for Whitehall departments.

Local authority service teams are now invited to contact the GDS team to register their interest, with a view to setting up a small number of pilot projects before the system is offered to central and local government departments across the board.

Adjusting to regional challenges

One of the main goals of the testing process is to identify specific challenges faced when integrating the system with council infrastructure. Finding an effective balance may well be key to making GOV.UK Pay work for local authorities.

For example, while users will be able to customise the Pay sites with their own branding and will benefit from the 24/7 support that the GDS provides, it currently does not allow debtors to use next-gen payment methods like PayPal or Google Wallet. So, if the savings of handing over the platform to the GDS are overshadowed by fewer debt repayments, it could prove a false saving.

Wider collaboration

The rollout of GOV.UK Pay is the latest service to emerge from the GDS, the department created in 2011 to build a ‘digital culture’ that cuts costs across government departments. It follows the recent sharing of communication platform GOV.UK Notify with local authorities at the start of August 2017, and identity confirmation platform GOV.UK Verify in October 2016.

Collaboration between the GDS and local authorities has long been called for the by the Local Government Association. However, whether the GDS will be sharing data and information with councils, as well as continuing its ‘Government as a Platform’ approach, is not yet clear.

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