Southwark Council to axe free phone line for repairs in bid to save £65k
Lib Dems claim tenants 'were not consulted properly'
Southwark Council is to axe its free telephone line for tenants to report their repair problems in a bid to save £65,000 a year.
Currently, council tenants wishing to report a repair can telephone a free 0800 number – but this is set to be phased out and replaced with an 0300 number.
Unlike the free 0800 service, the cost to call an 0300 number, used by many public sector and not-for-profit organisations such as charities, is the same as calling a landline.
Customers will pay the same amount to call the 03 number as a landline call to a 01 or 02 number and the price is the same for calls from mobiles.
Calls to 0300 numbers are also included, at no additional cost, in most mobile phone plans.
The move comes as part of the council’s budget proposals and should save the public purse £65,000 a year.
Opposition Liberal Democrat councillors have criticised the council for failing to sufficiently highlight the ending of the free service.
They claim that tenants were only notified of the change the day before the decision was made, and that the detail was “tucked away” in an appendix listing the proposed savings for the year ahead.
Councillor Ben Johnson, Southwark’s Liberal Democrat housing spokesperson, said: “This new repairs charge will bring misery to our most vulnerable council tenants.
“This backwards step shows that, yet again, the Labour council is unwilling to consult its tenants.
“Tenants know best how to improve services and we should involve them in these decisions, not hide them in lengthy council documents hoping they won’t notice.
“The cross-party housing scrutiny committee has now recommended that we involve tenants and residents better in changes to their services.”
In response, Cllr Stephanie Cryan, Southwark’s cabinet member for housing, said tenants were consulted via the area forums and tenants council twice.
“It also appeared in the indicative HRA [Housing Revenue Account] budget, and the resulting cabinet reports were approved in the public domain,” she said.
“Using the 0800 number meant that tenants bore the cost indirectly via the housing revenue account.
“The move to the 0300 number means that now tenants who don’t need to use the repairs line will no longer be indirectly paying for the overall cost.
“It is also worth noting that 0300 telephone numbers have been allocated to public sector bodies and non-profit organisations such as charities partly because such organisations are not permitted to profit from their use.
“Furthermore, we have invested heavily in improving our online services and went live with our new website at the beginning of December.
“Tenants and leaseholders can view their rent or service charge details online and request and monitor the status of repairs.”