Venue: Oberhausen room
The Director of Finance submitted a report to seek approval for amendments to the inbound telephony opening hours for Resident and Business Support.
The report advised that the inbound telephone solution was a resource-intensive priority to the Resident and Business Support service with staff being rotated daily to respond to phone demand. During the Covid-19 lockdowns, closure of the customer contact centre and restrictions on staff working from the office in 2020 and 2021, the inbound telephony solution provided a vital contact mechanism enabling residents and businesses without the digital access or skills to use our online self-serve portals to receive financial advice and support. On 8 June 2021 the Executive Member for Finance and Governance approved proposed changes to the telephony opening hours for Revenues and Benefits, from 8.30am until 5.00pm (Friday 4.30pm) to the current opening hours of 10.00am until 4.00pm Monday to Friday which became effective from Monday 5 July 2021. As a result of these highly successful changes, the service was able to better respond to demand with extra resources being allocated during peak call times, as well as maximising cash collection ability outside of opening hours including the clearance of outstanding work and undertaking targeted outbound collection activity. Middlesbrough’s existing high levels of multiple deprivation factors have been exacerbated first by the impact of Covid-19 and more recently by the energy and cost of living crises, resulting in growing numbers of residents and businesses with complex, diverse and manifold financial support needs.
In order to address these needs, on 12 July 2022 Executive approved the council’s Welfare Strategy to combine a wide collective of support policies and implement a holistic single-touch approach to support Middlesbrough’s most vulnerable residents, incorporating debt management solutions, crisis support, Council Tax Reduction, benefits maximisation and hardship relief, facilitated by the Resident and Business Support Service. However the daily resourcing of inbound council tax and benefits phone lines restricts the effectiveness of this solution due to daily pressure to respond to high call queues, and limiting the ability of Advisors to offer end-to-end wraparound account support to those in highest need.
To advance and strengthen this innovative Welfare Strategy approach, it was essential that general inbound phone open times and demand are carefully, effectively and responsively managed. Increasing phone line downtime will ensure vital time and resources are protected for specified periods each week, in order to best utilise the skills and experience of Officers in targeted financial support campaigns directed at our most vulnerable and hardest to reach residents.
Proposed telephony solution
The initial proposal is to close the inbound phonelines for one day a week from Thursday 3 November 2022, to maximise outbound targeted financial support and income recovery. In order to mitigate impact on accessibility of the service for residents and businesses, the opening times on the remaining days will be increased to 4.30pm from the current 4pm closure time with the exception of a Friday which will remain at 4.00pm.
Following a 2-month trial period and ... view the full minutes text for item 22/3
The decision will come into force after five working days following the day the decision were published unless the decision becomes subject to the call in procedures.