Residents wanting to speak to City of York Council are sometimes waiting more than two hours to have their call answered due to a shortage of staff, a report has revealed.
Post-lockdowns, the council’s customer centre has struggled to retain staff, an issue which has been compounded by a pre-pandemic decision to employ fewer people on the phones in order to focus on dealing with queries online.
Average wait times have risen from 42 seconds in 2019/2020 to 18 minutes in July 2022.
For council tax calls this rises to 26.5 minutes, with housing benefit callers waiting an average of 31.5 minutes. More than 40 per cent of residents hang up before their calls are answered.
An exodus of experienced staff has also put pressure on those remaining, particularly with complex calls. Several posts remained unfilled despite a rolling recruitment campaign.
“The centre was badly affected at the end of the final pandemic lockdown when a large number of staff left the organisation,” a report produced for the customer and corporate services scrutiny management committee stated.
“Due to the nature of the role it has been accepted over the years that there will always be some turnover however more recently staff have moved out of the organisation into retail or leisure where the pay is comparative or higher.”
The overall number of people calling the council had been falling from 2015 to 2020, but started to rise again around the time of the pandemic.
Recent government support packages that have been managed by the council, as well as the council’s new digital ResPark system, have also resulted in more people calling the customer centre for help.
Customer centre staff have reported a rise in abusive and difficult customers who are becoming frustrated at waiting for so long, which in turn makes more staff want to leave.
As of this month, the customer centre will close half an hour earlier at 5pm.
“This is a small change but will help in ensuring better phone cover across the core part of the day in removing the need for multiple shift patterns worked by staff and it will also help with staff morale,” according to the report.
The council is also considering using automated phone responses for common queries deal to “shift away from human-led phone calls and provide a more interactive 24/7 service”.
“This again will allow available staff members to focus on those callers who cannot access other channels and to deal with more complex needs,” the report added.
“In the shorter term the rolling recruitment programme is starting to produce further candidates for the existing vacancies.”
A scrutiny committee will discuss the report on Monday (3 October).