Newcastle’s top council boss has vowed to cut waiting times for people trying to call the authority’s phone line – after complaints that some are waiting 40 minutes to get through.
Pam Smith, the city council’s chief executive, admitted this week that residents are “not getting the service that they should be” when trying to speak to local authority staff on the phone.
At a civic centre meeting on Thursday, Elswick councillor Nicu Ion asked what could be done to deal with the long waiting times, saying his residents had been left particularly frustrated by the delays.
He told the council’s overview and scrutiny coordination committee: “You have the switchboard answering in five minutes, but by the time you get through to the council tax officer that is another wait. In order to get to the right person, the reports I’m getting are about 40 minutes.”
The council’s website urges visitors to fill out online forms “whenever possible” to contact the council about issues including council tax, business, rates, penalty charge notices, and school places.
Its general phone line is open from 8am to 6pm on Mondays, and 8.30am to 4pm Tuesday to Friday – but council tax and housing benefit help is closed every Wednesday.
Ms Smith said: “The phone system we have now is not optimal, I understand that residents are not getting a good experience.”
She added: “I appreciate that residents are not getting the service that they should be getting, [but] there have been some improvements in the service.
“I can tell you that waiting times are on average 5.49 minutes, but that won’t help someone’s experience who is waiting longer.
“We are reviewing that area in terms of workforce and systems. We are looking at the back office part of that system too, because if that is detached from the front office answering then it is going to take longer.”