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Benefit fears ‘clogging up’ switchboard
WORRIED customers are clogging up city council call centres after changes to housing and council tax benefits were announced.
Oxford City Council has seen the number of calls to its contact centre rise sharply in recent months, leading to increased pressure on officers.
Critics say some callers to the council’s main 249811 number fail to get through, while others are given seven options to choose from, which they find too confusing.
New computer servers will now be installed to help the system cope.
Council chief executive Peter Sloman said concerns about Government changes to benefits had contributed to the increase.
He said: “We’ve seen about a 10 per cent increase in the number of raw inquiries coming into the centres.
“In the long term we want to drive that down, but when we look at next year’s budget I think there’s going to be a bit of pressure.”
Mr Sloman said any overspend on customer services this year would be absorbed in the council’s budget.
He said: “I am confident that by the end of the year there will be no overspend.”
Lib Dem group leader Jean Fooks said she and colleagues had had dozens of complaints about the council number.
She said: “I’m pleased to hear that they are beginning to see that this business of having seven options is really not friendly.”
Board member for customer services Val Smith said the council was putting in new servers and retraining staff to deal with issues.
Mrs Smith said: “We have had many more calls than we have had in the past, and consequently, we have discovered the server we have for the phones isn’t big enough. We’re going to put another two in, and that’s happening soon so that will help the situation.”
She said when the council moved to one main phone number from 11 different departmental contacts several years ago, customer service staff from each department only had expertise in one area.
She said: “Over the summer we’ve been training everybody so they can know about everything. That’s an awful lot of information to take in, but eventually, when we have them all trained up, we will be able to reduce the number of options.”