Steve Mathieson is a freelance analyst, journalist and editor, covering IT, government and healthcare, often in combination, writing for publications including The Guardian, I-D Information Daily, editing Society of IT Management's magazine.


Newham council has a 99% accuracy rate in working out which unlicensed properties are rented out.

Solving Newham Council's longstanding problem with unlicensed (and quite possibly unsafe) "beds in sheds" has delivered millions in lost Council income

Geoff Connell, director of ICT for the oneSource service shared by Havering and Newham, says that the contrasting demographics of the two boroughs have allowed it to see what works for different groups.

Inner-city Newham is one of the most diverse places in the UK with no ethnic group making up more than a fifth of the population and just 7% of the population aged 65 or over. Meanwhile, 83% of Havering residents ticked the White British box in the last Census, and 18% are 65 and above.

Connell said that 80% of transactions with Newham Council are made online, and virtually every household has registered with its customer portal. But despite the older population, more than 60% of Havering Council transactions are also carried out online.

Havering used email newsletters to encourage residents to create a digital connection, and has more than 100,000 people receiving emails – equivalent to more than 40% of its population. “It’s been phenomenally successful,” said Connell, adding that the area’s enthusiasm for email was predicted by Experian’s Mosaic system.

Havering prioritised green waste, a popular service in the borough, when setting up online services. Connell said that doing this involved “putting a crap process online”, then in the following year simplifying it. Users have to use the council’s MyHavering portal to apply, and it is 90% online. The borough uses its libraries to support those residents unable to apply themselves.

Newham Council has taken a different approach, with some services launched as online-only. This includes landlord licensing, introduced to tackle what Connell described as the borough’s problem with “beds in sheds” – unlicensed rental properties that undercut legitimate landlords and may be unsafe.

The council offered a 50% discount for early applications by landlords and even where they dropped out before completing, were able to use other council owned and publicly available data to work out which properties were likely to be in multiple occupancy use.

Connell said the council now has a 99% accuracy rate in working out which unlicensed properties are rented, so it simply writes to them asking them to register: some reply, “how did you know?”. As well as bringing in millions of pounds in licence fees, the scheme has helped Newham increase council tax revenues by 1%, as many rogue landlords also owed council taxes. The service is now available for other councils to use through Amazon Web Services.

Connell, who is also president of the Society of IT Management, will move to Norfolk County Council as head of information technology and management in August.

Havering Green Waste service:

Newham landlord licensing:

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