Fed-up tenants are begging the council to sort out problems with their phone lines which sees dozens of calls abandoned every day.

Figures from Swindon Borough Council show that nearly 38 per cent calls to its customer lines are abandoned before they are answered.

Swindon Tenants’ Campaign Group says tenants are told when they ring that waiting times are “over 20 minutes” and when the Advertiser rang the housing repairs line it rang unanswered for about five minutes

The group’s secretary Martin Wicks said: “It is unacceptable that tenants are having to wait for so long when they ring in. With winter coming we do not want a situation where tenants are unable to report problems with their central heating and other significant issues. This situation can adversely impact their living conditions.

“There are simply not enough staff on the phones. The current capacity is said to be around 19,000 calls per month but the number of calls received was nearly 29,000 in October. The council is making the life of their staff so difficult that many are voting with their feet.

“For 2018 so far the average number of agency staff in the call centre has been two thirds of what it should be. We have been told there are 12.4 full-time equivalent posts but the number has been way below this, with as few as 8.52. In October it was 9.58.

“The average percentage of calls abandoned is more than 38 per cent. We suspect that for housing, which makes up a high proportion of calls, it will be higher still. The industry target standard is 8-10 per cent."

The council says getting people to report routine matters such as repairs online frees up resources to answer calls for people who cant use computers or who are ringing in an emergency.

But Mr Wicks said the new system is not fully working: “Obviously if the on-line reporting system works then that would enable ease of reporting for those who are able to use it. However, we have yet to see how good the system is. If you look at the council’s website they are clearly trying to pressure people into going on-line.

The target of 85 of all ‘transactions’ by 2020 is clearly unfeasible. Most likely the council will downgrade it. Their job is to provide a service, not to make it more difficult for tenants to use the service that they pay for.

We need more staff on the phones. A 20 minute plus wait is simply poor service. It is unacceptable. The council should honour its commitment to “fair and equal access to services” to all those contacting the council by whatever means.”

Coun Keith Williams, the council’s cabinet member for corporate and customer services, said: “The aim of the strategy is to improve the way in which we interact with residents. We want to make it easier for people to contact us, and that involves changing how we operate.

“Every year, we receive half a million calls to the contact centre and 69,000 visits to our offices. We also know that 80 per cent of Swindon residents regularly use the internet to perform online transactions. It is clear that making more of our services accessible online will bring huge benefits in terms of ease and efficiency to everybody.

“It is worth noting that we are currently answering more than 80 per cent of calls at the contact centre, which is a significant improvement on the 2018 average of 62 per cent. Earlier this month, we launched our online repairs system, which will make reporting housing repairs much easier for tenants.

“But despite our ambitions to go ‘digital first’ by 2020, we will ensure there will still be a telephone service available for those who, for whatever reason, cannot access the internet.”

Swindon Tenants Campaign Group would like to hear from tenants about their experience if they have used the on-line service; has it worked well, or have they had any problems? Email at stcg@btinternet.com