Anger over Wakefield District Housing plans to close service access points in South Elmsall and Airedale
Wakefield's biggest social housing supplier has been accused of "abandoning communities" after it announced plans to permanently close two face-to-face service points.
Wakefield District Housing (WDH) says it will shut its access centres in South Elmsall and Airedale, because its tenants now prefer using the phone and the web to make contact.
Its two other service points in Wakefield and Pontefract will remain open.
However, the plans have sparked outrage from local councillors, who point out that tenants have been unable to use the service points for most of the last year because of lockdown.
WDH, which manages around 30,000 properties across the district, said footfall had been falling before the start of the pandemic.
But South Elmsall councillor Michelle Collins said it was unfair for people living in smaller towns to be offered a "tier two" service.
She said: "This smacks of WDH using the pandemic to abandon communities.
"It might be a cost cutting exercise, but there is more than just value for money at stake when you’re talking about people, some of them vulnerable, being able to access services.
"The lack of consultation about this has been disgusting.
"It’s called a service access point for a reason. Closing it down now when access to public transport is so limited is shameful."
Airedale councillor Les Shaw was also critical of the move.
He said: "It’s OK saying to people that they're going to keep Wakefield and Pontefract open, but some people, especially given the pandemic, won’t have cars to drive to those places, or the money to use public transport to get there.
"What I have suggested is that they keep them open for either a six or nine month period, and look at how much footfall is generated, then we can have a conversation about it.
"But I don’t think having four access points open is too much to ask.
"I do understand that all organisations are looking at what they might do differently once we’re out of the pandemic, but I think to arbitrarily close them is premature."
The organisation's Wakefield and Pontefract premises are expected to reopen on April 12, alongside non-essential retail.
Mick Walsh, executive director for housing at WDH, said: "Before the pandemic started to impact our communities, we had seen a consistent reduction in the numbers of tenants who were using our service access points (SAPs) at South Elmsall and Airedale and increasingly were choosing to access our services in ways that most suit their needs, such as on the phone or online.
"We responded to this by reducing the opening hours at both SAPs in 2019, however, when we reopened between lockdowns last year, our tenants continued to prefer to use these other channels and simply did not return to either SAP in any sustainable level.
"This shift in how our customers are preferring to interact with us is changing how we will provide some services in the future and after careful consideration, we have concluded that we cannot use our tenants' money to support outlets, with such low levels of use, and have consequently announced the closure of both SAPs."
Mr Walsh said that the move would allow WDH's customer services to respond to more calls and online enquiries.
He added: "For tenants who had been regularly visiting either SAP, we will be contacting them to discuss alternative ways they can access our services, which best suit their needs.
"Our OneCALL customer service team is still available 24 hours a day and can be contacted on 0345 8 507 507 or by email at, [email protected]"
Local Democracy Reporting Service