RESIDENTS have been unable to access face-to-face council services since the beginning of the pandemic, and it’s still unclear when they will reopen.

It has been a year and eight months since Covid first hit in March 2020, and despite most of the country now back in offices, the majority of staff at Brighton and Hove City Council remain working from home.

Hove Town Hall, the once busy workplace for councillors and the location for many services for residents, is still largely empty.

These services including housing, planning and parking are all available online - making it difficult for those without internet access.

Tory councillor Steve Bell says that Brighton council stands on its own compared with other councils and government departments that returned to normal operations when Covid restrictions were lifted during the summer.

The Argus: Tory councillor Steve BellTory councillor Steve Bell

In a column for The Argus he said: "While remote working was understandable during the early months and lockdowns of the pandemic, residents of the city – who are back to work themselves – are beginning to become frustrated with the council’s continued working from home policy, which contradicts the national advice.

"If Brighton and Hove City Council was delivering its services to residents at the same standard as before the pandemic hit then its approach might be justified, however this is clearly not the case."

He lists parking permits, allotment services, emergency support for carers and housing as issues that have arisen for residents while the services have been online.

A council spokesman says that they are working to improve their digital services in light of technical problems some have experienced.

He said: “As we emerge out of the Covid pandemic we have had to rebalance how we provide services to our customers with how our customers access them.

“We have seen a continuous rise in the number of residents accessing our services digitally over the last five years. This started well before the pandemic, and we are determined to match this need.

“To do this, we have been working to improve our website and make it much easier to access services through it.

“This includes services that were previously available at our Hove Customer Service Centre before the pandemic.

To support people those without access to computers or phones, the council have also opened the Brighton Customer Service Centre.

The spokesman added: “This is so that people can access services digitally, including receiving support from our customer services advisors in doing so.

“We know that moving to some of our new processes has caused a number of technical problems that have negatively affected our residents, and we apologise for these.

“But our digital systems are now working much better overall, and we are confident that these systems going forward will make things much easier for our customers.

“This is making services much more accessible to people from the comfort of their own homes and improving how council services work more cohesively together."

The council says that the changes are on an "interim basis" and will be reviewed to ensure they are able to "work to make improvements based on customer needs".

Have you been affected by council services moving online? Would you like to see face-to-face services return?

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