Consultation: Accessing our services in Dunstable

Changing customer demand – accessing our services in Dunstable consultation

Consultation closes: 22 August 2022
Consultation opened: 28 June 2022

How we access services has changed over the years, with the advancement of technology. Many services that we used to access in-person, like going to the bank to pay a bill, can now be done online or over the phone. The same is true of our services. Applications for ordering waste bins, providing copies of documentation and paying your Council Tax for example are now mostly carried out online.

For many, being able to contact us online or over the phone is more convenient, particularly with online access being available 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

Customer demand for in-person appointments has decreased significantly over the years, and even more so during the pandemic when in-person contact has not been possible.

Despite this trend, we know there will always be times when in-person appointments are needed. We also know that for many residents travelling to Priory House near Shefford or Watling House in Dunstable is not easy. In 2018, we moved some of our customer service appointments into our libraries at Biggleswade, Flitwick, Sandy, Leighton Buzzard and Shefford.

This means residents can speak to us in person at a more convenient location.

Watling House in Dunstable previously offered in-person appointments for general enquiries, housing, Council Tax and benefits, social services and registration services. Predominantly Watling House was used as an office base for our staff. The pandemic also accelerated our approach to working in a more flexible way. Our staff have the technology to work from any location and this, in turn, means we need less office space.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of Watling House by our employees and customers has been minimal. A limited number of teams are making occasional use of Watling House, leaving most of the building empty. Some of the unused space has been leased to the NHS for a vaccination centre.

Since COVID-19 restrictions have eased, we have continued to do most assessments that were previously done in person at Watling House, by appointment over the phone or via video calls, and in some instances by post.

Most queries or problems have been successfully resolved over the phone or via video calls.

On the rare occasion that activities or issues were unable to be resolved over the phone or online, customers were invited by appointment to be seen at Watling House or another of our buildings, or our officers visited people in their homes.

When customers needed to scan and submit documents and evidence to us, this was done online or by post. Customers unable to scan and submit themselves were assisted in person.

During the pandemic, most registration services were by phone or online. The main office at Ampthill was used when restrictions eased. Recently the Leighton Buzzard registration office has re-opened for appointments.

Watling House costs around £600,000 per year to run, and there is an estimated £1.7 million maintenance backlog.

We want to ensure we make the best use of our resources and ultimately public money. We need to change our buildings and estate to reflect changing customer expectations and demand for in-person appointments.

We're proposing not to re-start or carry out in-person appointments at Watling House and to provide them from other public buildings in the local areas such as The Dunstable Centre, Grove Theatre and the new Grove View Integrated Health and Care Hub we are building (due to open in spring 2023).