Housing bosses are planning to shut down a valuable lifeline for the elderly with a ‘hi-tech’ housing service, claims a concerned councillor.
South Tyneside Homes has revealed it is looking into removing nine ‘face-to-face’ counter service staff at the housing offices in South Shields and Jarrow town halls.
Bosses say the workers who are affected will be redeployed and only 18 per cent of weekly transactions by tenants who live in one of their 18,000 homes, take place in person.
Instead they have seen an increase in interaction on their 24 hour payments line and the use of E-services.
However, the Bede ward’s, Coun Lee Hughes, of the Putting People First Party, believes scrapping human interaction may have a detrimental effect for some residents.
He said: “For some people, the elderly especially, they look forward to having a conversation with a real human. I some cases, it might be the only chance they get.
“They also find it hard to navigate all these new hi-tech services. They’re not used to waiting in a virtual queue or having to push a button on a dial pad to speak with someone. Many are hard of hearing or have arthritis. This really won’t help matters.”
He added: “There’s already hardly any staff you can speak to face-to-face and removing these last few would have a massive impact on some residents.”
Bosses at South Tyneside homes say they are looking at a range of options, including free phone lines offices and holding surgeries in community venues.
They also say the changes are not about reducing services, due to Government cutbacks, but to sustain them in a different way.
The spokesman said: “We are looking at a range of options for our customers to access information and services which include free phones in the area offices - Skype, Chat, Self-service, text, email, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
“We will also be looking at increasing home visits as we have rolled out mobile working across the service. We are also looking at holding Surgeries in community venues.
“We continue to face Government cutbacks to our funding but this is not about reducing services, it is about sustaining them in a different and better way making best use of the funds we have.
“The people of South Tyneside will continue to receive the support they need, however, we must look at new and more innovative ways of delivering services.”