Petition calling for customer service centres to remain open presented to HDC

Protestors gather outside Pathfinder House, in Huntingdon. Picture: ARCHANT

Protestors gather outside Pathfinder House, in Huntingdon. Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

A petition calling for customer service centres in St Neots, Ramsey and Yaxley to remain open has been presented to Huntingdonshire District Council (HDC).

The document, which has 836 signatures, was handed in at Pathfinder House, in Huntingdon, on July 4 by members of the St Neots' Labour branch.

HDC plans to close the customer portals at the end of August and has been further developing online services to respond to queries about benefits and Council Tax.

HDC has said the closure of the three satellite offices are expected to save £90,000 in the current financial year.

Members of the St Neots Labour group say the centres provide a physical contact point for some of the most vulnerable residents and closing them would be detrimental to some groups of people.

St Neots Labour Party chairman Michelle Edwards, said: ""Without the St Neots Customer Service Centre anyone who has no transport, has mobility difficulties, no access to the internet or simply can't afford the bus/train fare to Huntingdon will be unable to contact the district council in a timely and convenient manner. Many residents of St Neots will have no easy access to local benefits, Council Tax and housing queries as the customer service centre is the last remaining contact point between the largest town and the district council.

For the most vulnerable, HDC are proposing replacing this service with a home visit, but exactly how HDC will identify these residents when they have an issue is unclear. In addition vulnerable people often feel threatened by having a stranger in their home.

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In the lead-up to this decision the service has been systematically under-advertised and deteriorated over the past few years in order to reduce footfall and provide an excuse to close it. We have left people behind accidentally, left them behind incidentally. Let's not leave them behind deliberately."

Member for customer and digital at HDC, councillor Darren Tysoe, said: "On the day of the official launch, the 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.

In February, independent councillor Tom Sanderson described the decision as "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 petition will be debated at a meeting at Pathfinder House on July 24.