THE Housing Executive says that “no decision has yet been taken” on the future of its Armagh office.
Last week the Executive’s south area manager, John McCartan, wrote to political representatives to tell them that its Customer First Service Channel Strategy “is reviewing the best way to deliver services in light of the changing trends in ways our customers interact with us”.
In this area it is considering a number of options for its offices, located in Armagh, Banbridge, Craigavon, Portadown and Lurgan, which include phased relocation and reduced hours.
The correspondence, which has been seen by the Ulster Gazette, states: “Our main proposal is that South Area front line services from our four local outlets are relocated to an integrated hub in Marlborough House, where we have the opportunity to provide the full range of Housing Services in one location.
“It is proposed that we implement this relocation on a phased basis commencing with the immediately adjacent offices in Lurgan and Portadown.”
The Housing Executive say in their correspondence that offices in the area have seen a 27% drop in footfall between 2014 and 2018 due to changes in the benefit system and increased mobile / agile working.
“The sustainability of smaller offices to maintain a walk in services is now severely under pressure with issues around adequate staffing levels to cover, premises security and health and safety issues and the ability to maintain a supportive management presence for staff at each location,” they add.
Almost 100,000 calls per month are being made to the Housing Executive’s switchboards, making telephone its customers' preferred choice for contact.
It is also proposing to introduce a tenant portal, pilot a webchat service and once fully developed, provide 24/7 access to services and information via its website within the next 6-12 months.
A Housing Executive spokesperson told the Gazette, “The Housing Executive is currently looking at how to best deliver its service and we are committed to maintaining services in local areas in line with customer demand.
“We can confirm that in south region specifically, we are looking at a number of options which include phased relocation and reduced hours given there are five offices within a short geographical distance of each other. But no decision has yet been taken.
“The Housing Executive is now entering into a formal process of consultation with union, staff, customers, the local community and political representatives. This consultation is due to be completed in winter 2019 and will also assess the impact on equality and rural areas.
“We would like to reassure customers that any decision taken by the Housing Executive will not affect the high quality service we deliver to them. We have also reassured our staff that there will not be job losses as a result of any changes to how we deliver services locally.”
UUP Councillor Jim Speers is a member of the Northern Ireland Housing Council. He said that it was imperative that local people had access to frontline services.
“The key thing here is accessibility to the community,” he said. “That has got to be maintained and that is what they are also saying in roundabout words.
“For example, council took a view, in terms of people registering a death or a marriage, that they would be able to do it locally in the buildings of each of the legacy councils.
“This is another service which is a necessity to the community and they need to have a front line service.”