More staff to deal with welfare calls

Extra staff are being taken on by North Lanarkshire Council after a serious surge in welfare reform-related 
crisis calls.

Telephone calls to the team handling the Scottish Welfare Fund (SWF) rose by 332 per cent between April and September this year.

From April to July, customer service employees at the council’s 10 First Stop Shops dealt face-to-face with an astonishing 15,722 more residents, a jump of nearly 20 per cent over the previous year.

The council say if this trend continues the figure for 2013/14 would be in excess of 275,000.

Now the council has approved recruitment of six temporary workers on 12-month contracts for its First Stop Shops and is considering a number of other options to deal with soaring workload, including hiring additional call-handling staff to work alongside the SWF team; increasing the number of administration and grant-processing staff and employing dedicated call handlers at the Northline Contact Centre for SWF-related calls.

Councillor Bob Burrows said: “We knew it was going to be difficult to predict the effect of the Bedroom Tax and other welfare changes. But the rise in enquiries is shocking. We expect a spike around Christmas with the pressure continuing into next year. I fear the worst is yet to come as more changes kick-in.”

The council already employs a 16-strong team to handle Scottish Welfare Fund crisis calls and grants.

Any additional staffing costs will be met from the one-off Welfare Reform Fund of £1 million set up by the council in February.