HAMPSHIRE County Council has come under fire as it was revealed that most of its phone lines have been shut since March.
A number of telephone services run by Hampshire County Council have been closed since 25th March, writes Maria Zaccaro of the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
HCC said phone lines that take urgent calls have remained open and the others are set to be reopened in October. It stressed that online forms are available instead.
Call centre staff have to work in a socially-distanced way and this has reduced the capacity of the council’s call centres, HCC added.
But the news sparked criticism from opposition councillors who said not every resident has access to online services.
Phone lines for general enquiries, libraries, blue badge and concessionary travel, countryside, roads and transport, recycling, waste and planning are those that have been shut over the past six months.
HCC said the school admissions phone line was reopened in August, while phone lines for adult health and care, children’s services and registrations have remained open throughout the pandemic.
But Liberal Democrat opposition leader Cllr Keith House criticised the authority and said district councils were able to have their call centres up and running over a weekend in March. He said several residents complained.
Cllr House added: “It is beyond belief that after six months the main county phone line is still closed, as are access to a whole raft of services. This is a significant issue.
“The county council is there to provide support to all residents, not just those with decent internet facilities. For services such as getting a new Blue Badge for parking, this can limit where residents are able to shop or access other public services such as their GP or hospital.”
The county council said a new technology platform, allowing staff to answer calls away from the office, will “shortly” enable the phone lines to be switched back on.
HCC leader Cllr Keith Mans added: “I realise that many people still prefer to use a telephone to reach public services and that, for a small few, it is the only means of communication.
“I am therefore pleased we were able to maintain critical phone services during the pandemic, and look forward to resuming our other phone services very soon.
“To be clear, our telephone contact centre does not directly deliver services, but is one of several routes through which residents can get directed to the services that the county council provides.”
He said the Hantshelp4Vulnerable helpline for isolated and vulnerable residents had been launched over the past months.
“People contacting Hantshelp4Vulnerable via 0333 370 4000 can then be connected with the appropriate support services, including Blue Badge,” Cllr Mans said.
The authority confirmed that during this period call centre staff have continued to work remotely responding to enquiries submitted online, processing online applications, as well as working to manage the phone lines that remained open.