Council digital policy leaves residents behind

Moves by Southwark Council to shift its services online to reduce costs are leaving behind many residents, it has been claimed.

As part of its cost-saving measures, the Council agreed to move more services online and close the Bermondsey one stop shop where people could speak to a council officer face-to-face.  The Council has previously reduced the operating hours of its telephone call centres.

The aim of moving more services online is to increase convenience for working people, reduce waiting times and introduce 24-hour access. The Council is also looking to save £1.85m by reconfiguring its customer contact centre.

Fears have been expressed though that many Southwark residents do not have access to the internet, do not feel confident about using online services or prefer to speak to somebody in person.  They argue that a new ‘digital divide’ has been created in the borough.

The problem was highlighted recently when a Dulwich couple contacted their Liberal Democrat councillor.  They complained that when they reported a missed refuse collection, they were told by council officers that they should report it online instead.  This was despite the couple having no internet at home and being deemed vulnerable because of their age.

East Dulwich Liberal Democrat councillor James Barber said:
“The Council is steaming ahead to become an online council when almost one in ten Southwark residents have no internet access at all and thousands more are affected by snail’s pace broadband speeds.  They are creating a digital divide in our borough.

“This elderly couple have always paid their way.  They pay over £1,000 every year in council tax and never complain.  But they feel taken for granted as even the basic services aren't working and when they complain they are treated badly and just told to report it online.

“It’s not right that what should be a customer-focused organisation tries to force people to go online instead of speaking to someone.  Many residents do not want to commit their personal details online, yet the feel like they have no choice.

“To add insult to injury, when the couple said they didn’t have internet at home, they were told to go to the nearest library and use a computer there.  They are in their 80s and not completely mobile.  It seems that the Council’s ‘fairer future for all’ slogan only applies if you can use the internet or have access to it.”