The Council Website and the Chamber of Secrets

Who knew local council service websites are so useless? After spending a day and a half in the Policy office at the National Landlords Association I could happily testify in a court of law to this fact.

I was asked to do temp work for two days to complete spreadsheets in Regions office for Housing in Multiple Occupies (HMO) licensing fee in local councils. This was essentially googling every council in England’s mandatory licensing fee and putting it into the spreadsheet. Sounds pretty straight forward, no? However, at least a third of the 300 plus council websites I had to look at did not have the licensing fee at all, or it was deeply entrenched into the site and listed with all other council fees. Now I’d like to think I’m not particularly stupid, and as a 16 year old I have grown up with the internet and generally can find my way around websites relatively easily. But after the 5th council website I got to where I could not find any relevant information in HMO fees, I began to despair for those who were even less technically minded than me, who didn’t know specifically what they were looking for and would be forever ensnared in their local council’s website.

So after my adventures online with the council websites, I resorted to phoning the councils themselves to get the HMO license fee. This managed to take just as long searching through the websites. Some councils seem to do as much of an extraordinary job at hiding their contact details as they do with hiding other important information. Once you find the number, the normal call queue wait to be spoken to by a real person ensues. Apparently, very few general inquiry workers have actually heard of HMOs, and even fewer know which department to put me through to when I explain it. The average call was about six minutes, transferred through various departments and explaining again each time what a HMO was.

Why on earth would councils have such impossible websites?! It would be in everyone’s best interest for information to be listed clearly on the website. Thank you to England’s councils who show how vital good communications departments are. As for the council phone call void, I don’t have a solution, merely a request in no pan flute music on holding lines any more.

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