Council tenants should have the choice of how they access housing services

A statement by Swindon Council tenant representatives

Swindon Council has unilaterally decided that council tenants can only ask for non-urgent repairs through the on-line reporting system. There was no consultation with us as tenant reps or with the wider tenant body about this change. The council also changed the Tenant Handbook in line with this. This document is supposed to be agreed with tenants.

This change to compulsory on-line reporting is not only wrong in principle, but given the on-going problems with the on-line system, it is very frustrating for tenants as well.

A new IT system with on-line reporting was a by-product of the council’s Customer Access Strategy, which said:

All customers have fair and equal access to services and greater control over how they receive and access those services.”

The decision to make reporting of non-urgent repairs on-line compulsory (save according to the website for ‘vulnerable’ people, undefined) takes away the choice for tenants of how to report faults in contradiction with the commitment of the council that tenants, and other residents, would have “greater control over how they receive and access those services”. The housing repairs webpage does not even say that tenants without internet access can continue to report via the phones.

The council, which has often tended to go through the motions of consultation only to introduce what they had already decided on, has in this case even denied us formal consultation.

Tenants have suffered the consequences of a call centre which has been under-staffed, so it took a long time to get through, and an on-line system which has not been ‘fit for purpose’. Even the council recognised this when they set up a Tenants Process Review Group, though this fell victim to the pandemic.

It’s bad enough that the Housing department took this decision without consulting tenants. Even worse, they present the information on line (‘request a housing repair’) in a cynical way. Instead of the explanation as to how you report a repair being at the top of the page, it says

If you are a council tenant and there is a problem in your property that is our responsibility to fix, you can request a repair.
However, you may be able to fix the problem yourself. It is often quicker and easier to do minor repairs than arrange an appointment and wait for one of our engineers to come to you.”

They may as well have said, do it yourself rather than waiting for us to do it! Indeed there are do-it-yourself videos there to help you out.

The fact is tenants pay their rent for a housing repairs service. What sort of impression does it create when the council is effectively saying it’s quicker for you to do some of the work yourself than to have to go through the trouble of booking an appointment and waiting for our staff?

This high handed behaviour is unacceptable.

We are calling for this compulsory on-line reporting of non-urgent faults to be withdrawn.

Tenants should have the right to chose how they report faults and receive the service, in line with council’s commitment in their Customer Access Strategy.

Keith Andrew

Maggie Hathaway-Mills

Thomas Jeffery

Tricia Neville

Di Pithers

Brian Shakespeare

Martin Wicks

5 Comments

  1. By Swindon Council informing council tenants on the subject of housing repairs ” You may be able to fix the problem yourself ” This will give the green light to every cowboy plumber, electrician, bricklayer, glazier. solve the problem at source, install more call handlers.

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  2. You are right. They have used lockdown to do far more than this. STV must step up to find ways to make them accountable. We were told that we would be able to use online sites to hold meetings. We were even given a site to log in to but it went no further. We need to point out that lockdown can not be used as an excuse to downgrade our rights to tenant participation.
    As for their website, it is not fit for purpose as it keeps logging you out.

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    1. Well, we did have a virtual CMAG meeting using the TEAMS system but it was a technical failure. The lead member kept dropping out and there was loads of noise making it difficult to follow things. When does the site log you out? Have you been able to report anything on-line successfully?

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  3. The council offers the use of the computers in the various town libraries for those who do not have internet access at home, then closes this facility due to COVID19.
    By not replacing this facility with a viable alternative, they are silencing the less fortunate members of our society.
    Is this democracy?
    We can elect our Councillors on their merits and promises.
    But who selects the council officers and holds them to account when they go against the principles of democracy by making a decision and then holding meetings with tenants groups to ratify this decision.
    Then it is said that the tenants groups agreed with this decision.
    Even if, as in most cases, the tenants groups disagree with the decision and explain, in a clear and logical manner, that the decision is wrong.

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  4. The decision is not only ridiculous, it is thoughtless and cruel. Quite aside from those who don’t have computer access, there are many people like myself who, due to failing sight, use the computer as little as possible. or can’t use one at all. What are they supposed to do? I have always found Housing the most reliable of the Council departments. Not any more! When I phoned I was told that my electrical repair wasn’t “urgent!”. No details were taken of my name or circumstances or of the actual fault and it was not until I phoned again and persisted that I got someone out the same day. Not good enough!

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