Pendle Council tax rebate queries ‘could take 62 years to answer at new, contracted call centre’
The image of years’ worth of calls was raised when borough councillors discussed how the new government-sanctioned £150 council tax rebate to lower-value homes would be passed on to different homes.
The scheme is aimed at helping people facing rising energy bills amid the current cost of living increase. But critics say it is not enough help and that opening hours and daily limits for a proposed new call centre service for Pendle Council could be insufficient to meet public needs.
Conservative Coun Nadeem Ahmed, who is also leader of Pendle Borough Council, gave an update on the rebate scheme at the latest full council meeting of Pendle Borough. He said some Pendle homes should start receiving rebates from April.
At the meeting, Lib-Dem Coun David Whipp supported a recommendation to approve payments but said households could see energy bills rise by hundreds or thousands of pounds over the next 12 months.
He said: “I think the sentiment behind this is all well and good. But people will see horrendous increases in costs over coming months when the price of domestic energy are to rocket.
“My household has been told we will pay and extra £28 per week from April. That will be over £1,000 per year. That may be an extreme example but I’ve had messages from other people saying their bills will go up by many hundreds of pounds. This £150 council tax rebate is welcome but it’s a spit in the ocean.
He added: “In October, there will be a loan of £200 from the government to help people get by. But that will be a loan (not a rebate). And people are going to be hit by many hundreds of pounds of extra costs plus National Insurance contributions.
“The government could have done something in the Spring Statement but did not. Fuel duty is being cut by 5p but VAT is increasing. The whole thing falls far-short on what is needed.”
Households that pay council tax by direct debit are expected to see reimbursed money simply put back into their accounts, it was said.
But Labour Coun Mohammed Iqbal raised concerns about potential delays which may be faced by 15,000 other Pendle households trying to contact a new council call centre service to be run in conjunction with contracting company Liberata.
Coun Iqbal was worried about the call centre not being open in evenings and a proposed limit of 80 calls being answered each day.
He said: “If each one of those households not on direct debit called the centre, it would take up to 62 years for callers get through to staff. It worries me that this would not be fair on staff or people without access to smart phones or computers, or people at work through the day.”
Coun Ahmed said various speakers had raised a number of important points, and more information was needed on some issues.
Financial officer Richard Gibson said he could ask some questions about the call centre with Liberata, but the proposed arrangements were similar to those offered to other councils.