The UX of moving house: Part 6 - Officialdom

 by Martin Belam, 12 January 2010

Last week I started posting a series of blog entries based on my presentation "The UX of moving house...with a pregnant spouse". Their main focus was on the online search for a house to buy. Having made a purchase, a huge amount of information has to change hands with various service providers. Again, I tried to do the majority of this using online tools, making notes and taking screenshots along the way of the good, and the bad, in the UX I encountered.

Local council red tape

There is plenty of red tape when you move house, not least informing your local councils that you have left or entered their area in order to pay council tax. Some authorities make it easier than others.

As I was in Muswell Hill I was living in Haringey. From their website homepage there is a clear call to 'Do it online'.

Haringey website 'I want to...' panel

Since I was attempting to pull off this move with the minimum amount of phone calls or physical paperwork that is where I headed. The Haringey site provides an A-Z of online council services, and on the opening page of the A-Z they have a list of the most popular tasks, like reporting fly-tipping, viewing planning applications, and informing the council of a change of address.

Haringey's popular online tasks

In order to let the council know that I was moving out, I simply had to fill in one form. At the other end there was, I guess, some human intervention, and shortly after submitting the details I received an email message saying that the details of my move would now be passed on to the council tax department and the libraries department - the two services that I was trying to contact about my address change.

Haringey change of address form

I was very pleased with that service, but I found registering my new address in Waltham Forest to be much harder.

Waltham Forest website homepage

Firstly, the navigation path was not as clear. Although Waltham Forest has a 'do it online' section, informing the council of a change of address did not feature there. Instead I headed to the A-Z of services. Unlike Haringey, there was no summary of popular services on the opening page, and the list was purely alphabetical.

Waltham Forest A-Z of service

'M' for 'moving house' did get me further along with my task. Waltham Forest has partnered with to help residents deal with the tedious form-filling associated with changing address. I generally approve of this kind of thing. I'm happy to see that council tax has not been spent on re-inventing a wheel. [1]

I Am Moving Homepage

Sadly, the promise of being able to use this service to register with the local council did not live up to the happy image on the homepage. Having selected Waltham Forest as the organisation I wanted to contact, I filled in the information form as best as I could, with my old address and my new address.

I Am Moving form to submit change of address to Waltham Forest

Unfortunately, upon submission, I found I couldn't register that I'd moved into Waltham Forest, because I didn't already have a customer number.

I Am Moving form submission error

Now, I used to show this 'process diagram' in presentations to illustrate just how complex the BBC was - it represents the systems publishing just one small part of the BBC website in one department.

BBC new media process map

I'm not suggesting that every web transaction needs this amount of detail worked out, but you do need to work through your primary use cases. For Waltham Forest Council, they surely consist of:

  1. Someone moving between addresses within the borough
  2. Someone moving out of the borough
  3. Someone moving in to the borough

Given that one of these user journeys totally and utterly fails - you have to wonder at the extent to which this implementation was tested at all.


So far this series has tended to concentrate on negative user experiences when trying to use digital tools to support a move of house, and in the next part it gets worse, with an astonishing amount of poor customer 'service' from Sky.

[1] I also found the homepage very welcoming. Look at the woman in the picture. She hasn't finished unpacking the boxes she moved house in, but has already hooked up her wireless router, and is surfing the Internet on her laptop. If I wasn't already married, I would seek out this woman at once. [Return to article]


Oh my god! I can really see all the hard work you've done around here! I find it very difficult to look for a house online, however it isn't a bad way.
And that 'process diagram' O.O incredible, it's soooo messy.

I've found, depending on the city, their webpages can be so confusing or so clear. I wish more government sites allowed you to do simple things like inform them of your move, contact regarding garbage programs, pay your water bill, etc. Where I live currently, you cannot pay your water bill online, but it's a city service!

I must remember when I next move house - it's kettle, tea bags, router.

Unless she's leeching off someone elses wifi...

the customer number should only be mandatory for a customer moving out of waltham forest and not into it.
checking our service this is the case so i am unsure as to why this has happened on your use of the site. has provided a free, data protected online change of address service to the public since 2000 and is used by many u.k. councils as it gives the mover an option to notify not only all local authorities but also 1500 other organisations including utilities, charities etc that they have moved.

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