Huntingdonshire District Council has recently implemented a new system, a Customer Portal, which significantly improves the service available to residents. The system has been quietly rolled out since the turn of the year, and initial feedback of the system has been very positive. We take seriously our responsibility to continuously review the way that we deliver services to customers, ensuring that these arrangements meet the expectations of residents and provide excellent value for money for tax payers.

The Customer Portal, which can be accessed via our website, offers a single view of all council services for customers when they log into the secure area. Customers are offered the opportunity to retrieve personalised information, for example the amount of their next benefits payment, as well as submitting traditional requests such as applying for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support. A thorough programme of development is in place, and additional services will be added throughout the year, with the ability to view all Council Tax information, report and monitor street cleaning issues, as well as checking bin collection dates all planned.

Cllr Darren Tysoe, Executive Councillor for Digital and Customer said: "The evidence from our residents is clear - they want to be able to do more things online, at a time and location of their choosing. They expect council services to be as easily accessible online as their online banking and shopping, and these new arrangements enable us to do that, and represent a real step forward.

"This new service is available 24 hours a day 7 days a week, and works easily on a PC or laptop and ‘on the go’ using a smartphone or tablet. This is what our customers want and expect, and we are responding."

Since the portal was introduced hundreds of customers have registered. Almost half of the registrations were completed outside of normal office hours which represent the changing needs of customers in the district. This is offering new functionality, and a way for customers to check details and progress that was not previously available. To register please visit My Huntingdonshire.

As part of this wider review of customer contact, other trends that have been seen include a reduction in face-to-face contact, particularly in our outlying customer service centres.

In relation to the customer service centres in St Neots, Ramsey and Yaxley, we have seen a decline in customers using these offices as more and more choose to interact with us in a different way. Having reviewed in detail the types of requests dealt with in these centres, what is clear is that many of them can be easily dealt with over the phone or internet, saving effort for the customer. The launch of the Customer Portal is expected to increase this process, as people are able to do more and more from home, without making a special journey. Due to this, the decision has been taken to close these offices as of the end of August 2019.

We remain absolutely committed to serving our customers in the best possible way, but the evidence shows that demand is moving, and we must move to meet this demand. The move to more digital channels, alongside our phone service, enables us to enhance services for all customers regardless of location, including those in more rural areas. It also reduces the need for people to make a special trip to a customer service centre within traditional office hours.

We will work to help customers who use any of these centres to find suitable alternatives over the coming months. Many customers will be able to access services through our website, Customer Portal and by telephone, and arrangements will be put in place in the three affected areas to support this. For more vulnerable customers, we are committed to ensuring that relevant support is in place to ensure that they are able to access services once the offices close. We are also actively working with the libraries, town councils and local volunteer services, to see how we can support customers in different ways in the future, and believe this will provide further support and improvement to the services offered. This will ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible.

Cllr Tysoe continued: "Customers and residents have changed the way they prefer to access our services, and we must respond to this. The launch of the Customer Portal and enhanced online services being available offers much greater choice and convenience for most customers. The shift towards online services is something that is being embraced by many other organisations both in the private and public sector so it is important that HDC keeps pace with expectations. This ensures that we can not only continue to provide vital services to our customers, but can provide them in a fresh, modern way to reach as many customers as possible. We have thought hard about how we can support residents through these changes and will work closely with local ward members in this process."