West Oxfordshire District Council maintains reduced helpline hours after ‘clear shift to online services’

Local authority, which serves population of 115,000 residents, conducted a trial in which more staff were dedicated to helplines during the lunchtime rush, while phones were shut from 2pm onwards

West Oxfordshire District Council has announced that it will continue to operate telephone lines for reduced hours after a trial period that reinforced residents’ desire to switch to the use of online services instead, the authority claims.

In September 2023, the council began an experiment in which its call centre’s core opening hours were reduced. The lines were previously open from 9am to 5pm from Monday to Friday but, during the six-month pilot exercise, closed at 2pm each day. This meant that the call centre was shut during afternoons that are typically “quiet” – but, during the “busy lunchtimes”, additional staff were deployed to answer calls.

A 24/7 emergency telephone line – offering help with services such as homelessness support and other urgent response issues – remains in operation, and council offices are also open to provide in-person assistance from 9am to 5pm on weekdays. Non-emergency callers are greeted with a message and advised to use digital services or to call back on the next day that the lines are open.

This decision to scale back telephone services was taken as 80% of citizens already used the internet to locate information about council services, a trend which “has been reflected in our data which shows phone calls to us are reducing and online service use is increasing”, according to the authority’s website.

The council added that, in the past three years, the number of calls made to its helplines have reduced by about 37%, while usage of online forms has increased more than fourfold.

Related content

During this time, the authority said it has introduced a range of new digital services while improving others and its range of online tools now cover areas including missed bin collections and bulky waste pick-up requests, as well as council tax and benefit payments.

With this in mind, the council has announced that the reducing of telephone support to five hours a day will now become a permanent move.

Council chief executive Giles Hughes said: “Our residents have shown a clear shift towards using online services over the last six months, and by making the trialled call centre hours permanent, it will allow us to enhance our digital services even further.  The trial has brought positive changes, including a decrease in average wait times over the busy lunch period, an overall improvement in customer satisfaction and a reduction in costs of the service which will help us meet our financial challenge and protect vital community services.

He added: “During the trial months, the council featured in the national top ten for telephone service customer satisfaction in almost every month, even ranking in the top three during March 2024, which was our busiest month. Outside of the new telephone operation hours, our customer services staff have also been able to dedicate more time to service areas where demand is highest due to the cost of living crisis, in particular Revenues and Benefits, and the Housing Service.  The trial has proven that we can maintain high levels of customer satisfaction, keep a phone service for those who need it while also providing a better digital service for the majority of people who now like to do business online.”

West Oxfordshire District Council serves a population of about 115,000 people, in a region whose towns include Witney, Carterton, and Chipping Norton.

The authority’s decision to maintain reduced telephone hours is in contrast to HM Revenue and Customs which, similarly, trialled closing its income tax helpline for the months of the year that are typically quietest. The department then announced that services would be scaled back on a permanent basis – but backtracked on the decision just 24 hours later and was subsequently given £51m to invest in improving the performance of its customer call centres.

Sam Trendall

Learn More →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *