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Doing the hard digital work to make fishing simple

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Defra digital, Defra services, Digital transformation
Fish poster
Rod Licences are now available to buy on

Our new digital rod licence application service has recently moved from private to public beta.

It’s taken our multi-disciplinary team about 18 months to move through the agile development process from discovery, through alpha and now to public beta. From the start, our goal was to make it as simple as possible for people to go fishing. We wanted to replace the old approach, where anglers had to go through a number of different channels, with a simpler one that’s easy for everyone to use. So: how did we do it?

Fishing matters to lots of people

The law says that anyone who wants to fish for salmon, trout, freshwater fish, smelt and eel with a rod and line in England, Wales and the Border Esk region of Scotland must carry a rod licence. Failure to present it when asked by a Fisheries Bailiff can result in prosecution, and a fine of up to £2,500.

Issuing rod licences is a big deal. We currently issue around 1.2 million of them every year. There are several different types of licence: adult, junior, senior, concessions, short term and annual licences. The income generated is reinvested into initiatives that benefit anglers.

Although we have a diverse group of users of all ages, rod licence sales show a trend towards an aging customer base. People aged 25-55 tend to buy online, whereas over-65s tend to buy at the Post Office counter.

We did lots of user research

During development, we engaged with 50,000 potential users to understand the complete user journey from the start. We looked at why people go to the Post Office for their rod licences, and whether people needed help using online services.

We did user research at angling shows and events – including Great Yorkshire Show, Fish O Mania and Countryfile Live. We made a special effort to focus on the needs of users who are less comfortable with computers and the internet, which included running a testing day at the Digital Accessibility Centre to identify issues around moving to a digital service.

Our user research told us:

  • the Post Office counter is seen as easy and convenient
  • people don’t want to read guidance before starting
  • users don’t want usernames and passwords
  • users want confirmation of purchase - an email, a text message, or a print-out

A key part of our channel strategy has been to focus on making the service so easy to use that we drive more people from using the Post Office to using the digital service on

Helping people who need more help

We know that large number of anglers are over 60, and our research showed that some of them struggle to use online services. Some anglers rely on family to purchase a rod licence on their behalf, and that over 50% of licenses are bought over the counter at the Post Office. All of this pointed to a need for some digital assistance for people struggling to use an online service. The vast majority of anglers said a telephone helpline would help them - so we’ve set one up. We’ll monitor feedback to see if we need to provide a face to face support option in the future.

Helping young people to get into fishing

Ours is one of the few services at Defra that engages directly with young people - junior rod licences are available for 12-16 year-olds, and until now cost £5 for an 8 day licence.

As of 1 April 2017, junior rod licences will be free. They will only be available as digital licences via the new online service. As you might expect, our research showed that the younger anglers are quite happy getting their rod licences online.

We didn’t assume that, though. We did make a point of conducting plenty of research with young people - we even took the research team to a school and a college and spoke to young anglers and potential young anglers about their needs.

We’re already planning new features

We’re already planning lots of iterations and new features for the service, including:

  • A “multi buy” for people who need more than one licence
  • A way for people to replace lost licences
  • Fully digital licences that users can keep on their phones (so there’s one less piece of paper they have to worry about)

It’s been a lot of fun building this service, and the team has learnt a lot. We’re looking forward to the next phase, and moving towards moving to fully live.

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  1. Comment by Gary Crews posted on

    Is there a cut-off date for when people will no longer be able to buy a license from the Post Office?

    • Replies to Gary Crews>

      Comment by Dominic Burton posted on

      Hi Gary, fishing rod licences will be still available over counter with the post office until the contract runs out in the 2019/20 season. We are still deciding what to do after that. Thanks, Dominic.