Posted: Tue 19th Sep 2023

Concerns Raised Over Affordability of Internet and Mobile Charges for Accessing Council Services Online /

CONCERNS have been raised by councillors that residents may not be able to afford to pay for the internet and mobile phone charges to access council services online.
At a meeting of Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council’s Corporate and Performance scrutiny committee on Thursday, September 13, councillors were presented with reports on both the future Customer Service and Digital Service strategies up to 2027.
Both these strategies are intertwined as the expectation is that residents will access more council services online to “self-serve.”
Commercial and customer chief officer, Bernadette Elias told councillors that residents would be helped to adapt and that customer feedback from last year showed that people do value: “the interaction and experience of in person customer service.”
Ms Elias “That ensures that we have the right interaction at the right point in time for people.”
“We know there are levels of digital exclusion in the community, and we are working hard with local and national partners on how we can support people to be more digitally included, for their life not just to access council services.”
Cllr Tommy Smith asked whether the council holds data on how many are not able to access the internet?
Cllr Smith said: “The other concern is we’re in a cost of living crisis so people who may have been able to access the internet they may not have that (mobile phone) data or internet connection now as they may have had it taken out or cut off.
“Are we looking at a call back option from the call centre.
“A lot of our constituents are on pay as you go mobiles or limited data and when they get put on hold it may put them off contacting us.”
Ms Elias said: “There’s work being done on a Gwent wide basis to understand what the digital deficit may look like, and we can do some targeted action to support people.”
She added that people accessing services in community hubs had been asked if they they felt able to use the website to “self serve” and if not explain “reasons why.”
Ms Elias said: “There’s a high level of people who told our hub officers they don’t feel able to self-serve.
“We’re collecting the information – but the largest reason is a lack of confidence or skill and less so that they haven’t got access to the internet or a device.”
She added that work was being done with Tai Calon, the Department of Work and Pension and other partners to address this problem.
Ms Elias said: “We are trying to bring together a strong package of how we can support the community to be less digitally excluded.”
Ms Elias added that the aim in the call centre is to speak to people and answer queries: “as quickly as possible” and she would look into the validity of a “call-back” option.
Committee chairwoman, Cllr Joanne Wilkins said:  “A mid-point review is absolutely essential to see how this is going and also no one is being left behind.
Cllr Ross Leadbeater said: “These are excellent strategies and shows we are moving forward into the digital age which is a positive thing.”
The strategies will go to a Cabinet meeting on October 4 to be signed off. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

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