Council call-handling for housing issues improves after ‘extreme concern’ over missed targets

The housing triage team ‘did not have the capacity’ for the surge in calls last year

The way housing calls are dealt with in Islington has improved since the height of the pandemic, according to a scrutiny report.

Jo Murphy from the homes and communities department told councillors she was “extremely concerned” about  performance when the service was missing calls from residents.

The housing triage team fell short its target of handling 80 per cent of its calls between July 2020 and July 2021.

The team was set up in December 2019 and had to work from home during most of the pandemic, and has only recently returned to the office.

It also missed its target of only 20 per cent of calls being abandoned in nine of those twelve months.

In July 2020, after full lockdown ended, the team was contacted 11,314 times and answered 50 per cent, or 5,607, of the calls.

Murphy said there had been “a massive surge for us” and explained to the housing scrutiny committee that “we didn’t have the capacity”.

By January, there was beginning to be a “levelling out of volumes of calls”, she told councillors, who had requested an update at a meeting in the spring.

In March, the committee heard there had been “a significant backlog of increased casework” during the first stage of the pandemic

Extra staff were brought in on a temporary basis at the beginning of 2021 to tackle the backlog.

The feedback team was on hand to escalate urgent calls such as imminent evictions and risk of harassment and domestic violence.

By March this year, calls had reduced to about 800 per week, with an average wait time of two minutes.

In July, the average call waiting time had dropped to 24 seconds, compared with one minute and 49 seconds in October 2020.

The number of calls had dropped to 6,399, with 90 per cent answered and just 10 per cent abandoned.

Murphy said new computer software was monitoring the amount of time calls take and the number of people who drop out.

She added: “We had an eight-fold increase in anti-social behaviour calls at one stage – people not wearing masks, and also people were concerned about neighbours. That contributed to a  rise in calls.”

She said people also called the service several times if they did not get call backs.

“We are not having that now,” she said.