Agenda item

Update on access to Council services


Bobby Mulheir gave a presentation on access to Council services.


Bracknell Forest Council’s website had met the AA accessibility standard and was tested by The Shaw Trust who were able to advise if something was not working and suggest a fix.  Key aspects of digital access included:


  • The website was mobile friendly and would automatically re-format, as would the embedded forms, dependent upon what device was being used to access it.
  • The website was accessible to those using assistive technology.
  • Once a user had created an account, their information was stored and would populate into other forms.
  • Householders were able to view their Council Tax account online.
  • An easy-read website had been created enabling users to click on the imagery or vocabulary of their desired service.
  • The ‘Help Yourself’ website included a Wellbeing Planner which was aimed at helping those with additional needs.
  • The ‘Listen’ tool had the ability to adjust the volume and stop/start and users could read the text alongside listening to the voice.  The voice was computer generated but the Group were advised that it was quite good in terms of replicating the human voice.
  • The e+ card could be used for proof of age, as a bus pass as well as for library and leisure membership.
  • Users could take part in a live web-chat with a customer services advisor if they ran into difficulties and doing so would not mean they had to abandon the page they were on.


The widely publicised contact centre number – 01344 352000 – received hundreds of calls each day and staff had been trained to deal with callers with autism, sensory needs and dementia.  E-mail contact had also proved popular with regard to issuing reminders for things which were due or overdue and had proved more effective than using post.  Text messages were also used for overdue payments which had resulted in less people being issued with a Court summons for non-payment of Council Tax, for example.


Payments to the Council could be facilitated by DD, online and pre-paid cards.  Work was being undertaken to facilitate payment being made via chip and pin and contactless in the near future.


The use of social media – Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – had increased and allowed customer services staff to monitor traffic and the reasons for using those platforms as well as respond to any issues raised.


In order to increase digital inclusion for those starting at the beginning of using a computer/device and accessing the internet, free courses were being held in libraries and the Open Learning Centre.  The courses included basic computer skills, how to browse the web, sending an e-mail and online safety.  The Group were informed that the Good Things Foundation and Silva Homes were also involved in helping those needing to learn basic digital skills.  


Self-service kiosks in libraries – which were felt to be easier to navigate than supermarket self-serve terminals – could also be used for paying fines.  In the future it was intended that library users would be trained to access their library when it was unmanned – this was already underway in Binfield with 50 registered users and 40 already using the facility.  The Group were advised that the self-service kiosks used bar codes and had proved very reliable and could be used to return up to 10 books at a time.  Birch Hill and Sandhurst libraries were moving towards extended opening hours and Harmans Water was due to go extended imminently.


The Time Square customer service area had undergone improvements, including:


  • The removal of physical barriers to provide more open space and more turning space for those using wheelchairs and scooters.
  • Touch-screen computers which could be used by those with no mouse or keyboard skills.  The next step could include voice-activated computers that responded to users in the same way as Alexa or Siri, which would be particularly useful for those with additional needs.
  • Telephones were available for customers to make internal calls to other departments and services.
  • Three meeting rooms were available for confidential contact and 2 areas had been screened off to afford some privacy but also allow for staff to be seen by their colleagues. 


Following questions and discussion the following points were noted:


  • Customer service staff would not know if someone contacting the Council had a mental health condition, for example, unless that person told the staff member.  If that was the case, the staff member may make a note of it for future reference.
  • For security purposes, biometric voice recognition would be used so that the voice had to be recognised first before proceeding to the login stage.  This would prevent anyone attempting to impersonate someone else.
  • The question of security and ethics would be looked into and worked through before voice recognition was introduced.
  • It was noted that in the past, simply removing your name from the electoral roll afforded privacy whereas now supermarket loyalty cards, e+ cards and contactless payment cards left behind a footprint of an individual’s movements.  This made information gathering easier and could lead to identity theft.
  • Data suggested that most customers did want the technology available for them to be able to create accounts and access services easily and the next step may be that citizens held their own personal data and gave public services and other institutions the ability to view/permission to share their information.
  • In the meantime, only necessary information was asked for and customers were told what their information was used for and how it was stored.  Customers could request at any time to have any information held about them removed from the Council’s databases.
  • Staff had to be trusted and any data breaches would be dealt with; all information security training was undertaken by all staff regularly.
  • The majority of information stored about individuals was not linked to other members of their family or household except in the case of those living at the same address for Council Tax purposes and for safeguarding purposes.

Most people did not use cheques anymore to make payments and the use of this method of payment was being phased out.  This was due to the fact that there was no longer a cheque guarantee card so the cheque could bounce leading to a delay in revenue receipt, as well as the high cost of processing cheque payments.  Payments made by credit or debit card could be received immediately or rejected immediately, reducing the lengthy and expensive process of chasing people for monies owed.

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