Swindon Tenants Campaign Group Media release November 14th 2018

Hanging on the telephone…unfair and unequal access

Swindon Tenants Campaign Group is calling on the council to increase the number of staff answering phones at its call centre. Council tenants are finding it increasingly difficult to report faults on the phone. Commonly it is taking from 20-40 minutes to have a phone call answered. Many of course, simply ring off. We know of people who have been forced to go into Watt Tyler House after days of failing to get an answer. It is needlessly costing tenants money as well.

The council has introduced on-line reporting for repairs so it is hoping that most tenants will use this system rather than phoning. The message when you ring the housing number  informs you that current waiting time for reporting faults is “over twenty minutes”. Council officers admit that the call centre has insufficient resources, though, of course, it’s not their decision but that of the political group which runs the town.

STCG Secretary Martin Wicks said:

“It is  unacceptable that tenants are having to wait for so long when they ring in. With winter coming we do not want a situation where tenants are unable to report problems with their central heating and other significant issues. This situation can adversely impact on their living conditions.

There are simply not enough staff on the phones. The current capacity is around 19,000 calls per month but the number of calls received was nearly 29,000 in October. The council is making the life of their staff so difficult that many are voting with their feet. Over 2018 so far the average number of agency staff in the call centre has been two thirds. There are supposed to be 12.4 Full-Time Equivalent staff but the number has been way below this, with as few as 8.52. In October it was 9.58.

The average number of calls abandoned is more than 38%. We suspect that for housing, which makes up a high proportion of calls, it will be higher still. We are told the industry target standard is 8-10%.

Obviously if the on-line reporting system works then that would enable ease of reporting for those who are able to use it. However, we have yet to see how good the system is.  If you look at the council’s website they are clearly trying to pressure people into going on-line.

The target of 85% of all ‘transactions’ by 2020 is clearly unfeasible. Most likely the council will downgrade it. But their job is to provide a service, not to make it more difficult for tenants to use the service that they pay for.

We need more staff on the phones. A 20 minute plus wait is simply poor service. It is unacceptable. The council should honour its commitment to “fair and equal access to services” to all those contacting the council.”

Swindon Tenants Campaign Group would like to hear from tenants about their experience if they have used the on-line service; has it worked well, or have they had any problems. Email us at stcg@btinternet.com


Customer Access Strategy

The council’s Customer Access Strategy, with its 85% target said that

“This ambitious target was set because the Council wishes to offer more convenience to residents by offering the opportunity to interact with us at a time which suits them.”

It included “a digital access strategy which outlines how the council will seek to support those for whom access to digital services is more difficult for whatever reason.”

You would imagine from reading the documents that it was being done for the benefit of the customers. In reality it was simply a money-saving exercise as a result of the austerity agenda which they readily accepted.

One of the declared principles of the strategy was: 

“All customers have fair and equal access to services and greater control over how they receive and access those services”

Tenants who need to phone in are not getting “fair and equal access to services” nor “greater control” over how they receive them. They are being pressured to go online. We have seen what this means in relation to banks where they have tried to force people on-line by cutting staff number in their branches or closing them down. At least with a bank you can move to another provider. We cannot move council.