Fears expressed for vulnerable residents should Customer Service Centres in Dewsbury and Huddersfield close

Further fears have been expressed that vulnerable Kirklees residents will “fall through the net” should the council’s plans to close its two Customer Service Centres go ahead.
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Last week, the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) reported that Kirklees Council is looking to shut its Customer Service Centres in Huddersfield and Dewsbury and instead, wants to integrate the services into the borough’s libraries.

The plans, which are set to save the council over £1.8m by 2026, have attracted opposition, with concerns being expressed for vulnerable residents who rely on the service for things like computer access, filling out forms and getting help and advice on benefits.

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In addition to the potential impact on service users, a document to cabinet next week says that the changes will result in the reduction of 47.2 full time equivalent jobs.

Kirklees Council is looking to shut its Customer Service Centres in Huddersfield and Dewsbury and instead, wants to integrate the services into the borough’s librariesKirklees Council is looking to shut its Customer Service Centres in Huddersfield and Dewsbury and instead, wants to integrate the services into the borough’s libraries
Kirklees Council is looking to shut its Customer Service Centres in Huddersfield and Dewsbury and instead, wants to integrate the services into the borough’s libraries

A council staff member who didn’t want to be named has since spoken out about the plans, fearing some residents will “struggle to get by” or “fall through the net” without the support of the Customer Service Centres.

They said: “Across the centres we deal with over 500 face to face interviews every week. Helping and advising Council Tax, Council Tax arrears, Housing Benefit, Blue Badges and Disabled Bus Passes, as well as providing support to Housing Solutions, Homes and Neighbourhoods and Kirklees Direct.

“We have become information centres for those that need signposting and have many customers who will simply struggle to get by or even worse ‘fall through the net’ without support. Not everybody can see or hear or type or understand.”

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The source also expressed concern that not all residents can be upskilled to access digital and telephony support, as it suggested in the cabinet papers. They also felt that due to receiving different training, library staff may struggle to give customers the help they need.

They added: “While I appreciate the council’s need to cut costs from the budget, this decision appears to do this at the expense of the vulnerable citizens of Kirklees, so on behalf of those voices that will not be heard I felt it important I raise this matter.

“Customer Services and Libraries are already sharing the same buildings, so retaining the knowledge and expertise of Customer Service staff to fill the vacancies that have been ring-fenced in the libraries will be the best offer for vulnerable customers.

“The closing of the centres seems to have been rushed and the impacts not considered at all and this needs a re-think.”

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Coun Paul Davies, deputy leader and cabinet member for corporate, said previously: “A key part of the council’s Access to Services Strategy is offering services to people at a local level and at a time and place that works for them.

"With this in mind, a report will be presented to cabinet later this month that will propose an integration of customer service functions with local libraries.

“This would mean residents would be able to access more support services from a location closer to home rather than having to travel into town to visit a Customer Service Centre.”

He added: “The proposals also reflect the changes we have seen since the Covid pandemic where there has been a significant reduction in face-to-face enquiries as residents use digital means to increasingly access the support they require.

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“If proposals are approved, residents will still be able to access the support they need for a wide variety of things including access to IT and WiFi, help with completing forms and a Warm Space for elderly and vulnerable residents to come together.

"Digital and telephony support will be available to ensure residents can still access the support they need including for those people who are not digitally savvy.

“In a world of challenging local government finances, Kirklees Council will be presenting a balanced budget, and this means we need to be more efficient in the way we deliver services to our residents.”