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Housing chiefs hit by deluge of calls for council home repairs

Camden failing to answer the phone within two minutes for half of calls

05 September, 2019 — By Richard Osley

HOUSING chiefs have admitted they have failed to cope with the number of calls from council tenants needing repairs.

The Town Hall said its deluged contact centre was being hit with around 650 calls a day this summer and conceded it did not have enough staff ready to deal with the volume of reports.

It has also reported that less than half of calls were being answered within a target time of two minutes meaning many residents desperate for a fix may have spent longer listening to the phone ringing and ringing, or hold music.

The performance of the repairs system will be discussed by Camden’s cross-party Housing Committee on Monday evening.

The New Journal reported last week that tenants said it had taken 13 weeks to get repair work started on a lift broken in Levita House in Somers Town, leaving older residents and parents with prams and buggies stuck with the stairs.

Labour housing chief Councillor Meric Apak said: “It is clear the contact centre is currently struggling to meet the demand of enquiries. On a typical day in the summer period we would expect to handle approximately 350-400 calls per day. Recently this has been averaging around 600-650.”

He said this was partly because of the number of follow-up calls being made about the same repair and a staff shortage due to vacancies and annual leave during the holiday season.

“At any one time, nine staff could be taking calls – nowhere near enough,” said Cllr Apak. “We are pulling together new rotas to ensure staff are in the office four days per week from September 1 and revising the lunch/breaks timings.”

He added: “We must also reduce the number of follow-up calls and I have asked officers to look into the underlying reasons on why numbers have increased so sharply so that we can address those issues directly.”

The line, known as ‘Right First Time Camden Repairs Service’ is staffed five days a week for ten hours from 8am.

There is also an out-of-hours line but tenants can only report the need for a repair without speaking to an officer during these times.

“We have agreed to completely redesign our online offering and we will be doing this with our residents rather than this simply being an officer led project,” said Cllr Apak, who is himself a council tenant in Kentish Town.

At the same meeting next week, councillors will discuss how the caretaking service on estates should look ahead of an upcoming restructure.

New elements of “insourcing” – using directly employed staff rather than outside private contractors – are likely to be included in the new set-up on estates.

Tenants have called for more attention to be paid to nuisance behaviour, rough sleeping and fire safety, but also improved estate cleaning services, according to survey results circulated this week.

“Residents wanted greater accountability and the ability to escalate issues when they were unhappy with performance and consistency,” said a council report into the service. “A new role of caretaking manager is proposed to replace the estate supervisor role. “

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