The Parish Council Domain Helper Service
A new support service set up by the Cabinet Office

At a recent briefing session with the National Association of Local Councils, SALC were informed of the above new service designed to assist town and parish councils move to a domain.  This is known as the Parish Council Domain Helper Service.

Click on this link to view a video all about this service.

The Central Digital and Data Office's vision is that by 2025, the UK Government will be a transformed, more efficient digital government that provides better outcomes for everyone.  This includes an ambition to make town and parish councils work in a secure and effective way.

So what is a domain? 
A domain acts as an address to help people find you (like a street address).  The difference between a domain and a one is that are only available to government departments and agencies.  This means registration is strictly controlled and this can help provide assurance that your council is an official layer of local government.

What are the benefits and risks?
As a grass-roots government organisation, it is vital that town and parish councils work securely and effectively.  The benefits of having a domain includes better controls and protection against cyber harm and consistency on the way information is handled and stored.  This will result in enabling a more efficient way of handling freedom of information or subject access requests.  Administratively it also easier when somebody leaves the organisation for a host of reasons including ensuring data is deleted which is currently not possible where individual private email addresses are used.

Recommendation in The Practitioner's Guide 
If you have used the SALC internal audit service you will have noticed a recommendation around the use of domains and we have had a number of enquiries ask for more information about this over the last six months following us highlighting good practice in audit reports.  We have routinely signposted councils to this checklist on the Information Commissioner's Office website (link to the checklist).

Section 5 2.07 of The Practitioner's Guide (2023) (use this link to access the relevant legislation webpage on the SAAA website) states "using a domain for your council website and email accounts demonstrates the council's official local government status ..... Members of the public are increasingly aware of cyber security so a domain can also help build trust and credibility and visually demonstrates authenticity.  Many people will now increasingly expect a local council to have a domain name."   

The 2024 version of The Practitioner's Guide will contain stronger language.  Currently, however, it is not a legal requirement to have a domain only a recommendation.

So what is the state of play in the local council sector?
Currently (Jan 2024) only approximately 1,800 out of 10,000 English parish councils own a domain.   As a result in 2023 research was undertaken which identified a number of barriers to making the move:

perceived complexity
knowledge and capability and
resistance to change

So what is happening to help address this
The new Parish Council Domain Helper Service has been set up to help raise awareness and provide some financial assistance of £100 plus VAT  to help with the initial set up domain or email costs.  This financial support does not include the ongoing costs of email accounts which it is recognised will be a challenge for smaller councils.

The service also aims to provide better and easy to understand guidance and support from start to finish and simplify the process itself.  It will also work with domain registrars to provide better technical support and work with the Society of Local Council Clerks, NALC and County Associations like SALC.

More information will be coming out in future months but in the meantime here is a link to the government website on how to apply for a domain name.   Your current website provider may also be able to give you assistance and support.  

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