Council moves range of services online amid satellite office closures

Darren Tysoe helped launch the new online portal. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Darren Tysoe helped launch the new online portal. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

Huntingdonshire District Council has launched its new online customer portal ahead of the planned closure of three satellite offices.

The authority said the online service had been in development since the start of the year and would allow residents easier access to a range of council services, such as benefits and Council Tax information, 24 hours a day.

The launch, which took place at Pathfinder House, in Huntingdon, on April 30, comes as the council prepares to close its offices in St Neots, Ramsey, and Yaxley.

The closures are expected to happen by the end of August and will save the council £90,000 in the current financial year.

Member for customer and digital, Councillor Darren Tysoe said: "On the day of the official launch, Huntingdonshire District Council recorded five times the usual number of customer registrations, with almost half of those new customers linking their Council Tax account. And since launching, around 50 per cent of registrations are out of hours, highlighting the need for this new digital access to council services.

"Our residents are choosing to engage with the council online and access their accounts, which also include housing benefits and Council Tax support, at a time that is convenient to them. The customer portal presents an opportunity to experience a more modern and flexible approach to accessing council services."

When the decision was made to close the satellite offices in February, independent councillor Tom Sanderson was critical of the decision.

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He said: "I think [the decision] is short-sighted. It seems to be a counter intuitive way of working to close these offices and then say to staff 'drive round and meet people'. It's better to have that one-stop shop for people."

Cllr Sanderson said the move would affect Ramsey and Yaxley in particular, because of a lack of public transport links between the two locations and Huntingdon.

The satellite centres deal with enquiries about benefits, Council Tax, elections, and housing, and they also allow residents to make payments for services.

The facilities also offer free internet access, printing, and a direct line to the main hub in Huntingdon.

The district council defended the decision to close the centres, however, saying that most services had moved to a new online portal, in response to growing demand from users and in the face of declining footfall at the satellite offices.

The St Neots office was based at the Priory Centre, the Ramsey office was based at the library in Great Whyte, and the Yaxley centre was based at the library in Lansdowne Road.

The district council has said support would be put in place to help residents who may not have access to online facilities.