City Council phone line helps hundreds of residents through coronavirus crisis

Published: Monday, 4th May 2020

Help is at hand for anyone who needs it during these difficult times, with the first point of call being Oxford City Council’s telephone number - 01865 249 811.

But behind that number is the story of a huge effort to respond to the coronavirus crisis and continue to deliver business as usual.

The team answering the calls

The City Council’s contact centre team usually deal with calls from people and businesses about money matters, missed bin collections, housing queries. The staff are highly trained to work with the caller to understand and resolve their problems at this first point of contact.

The team are now also taking around an additional 100 calls a day from people needing help to cope with lockdown, from practical support like picking up prescriptions to people needing help with their finances, feeling isolated or in urgent need of food. The contact centre still takes around 500 calls a day on all the normal issues as well.

The team of around 55 staff are working from home, and have been rapidly trained and equipped to deal with the coronavirus callers with understanding and support, as well as dealing with the normal calls.

Making a difference

How they handle the calls can make a huge difference to the people asking for help. They talk callers through all the problems they need help with and make sure they get referred to the right support. This could be a volunteer to pick up a prescription, or a locality response hub to help with food, medical needs or isolation.

Call handler Saffron Costello lives in Oxford in a busy house she shares with six other people – hardly the ideal circumstances, but Saffron has set herself up working from her dining table.  She recently received a letter of thanks for the way she helped one caller:

“It was lovely to receive a letter of thanks from a member of the public who called for help with collecting shopping.  I was able to refer her to the local hub.  From there, an emergency food parcel was delivered that same day and a local volunteer was allocated to provide ongoing support.”

The team isn’t only taking incoming calls, they are also making phone calls to check on people the council knows may be vulnerable, to make sure they know they can get support. Over 1,200 people have been contacted; to check on welfare, make referrals for extra help and often just offer a friendly chat. For those not reached, face-to-face visits are arranged.

Call handler George Watkins lives at home with his mum in Littlemore.  Having evicted his two dogs from the front room he’s turned it into his office, from where he has been helping to make calls to vulnerable residents. 

“We’re reaching out to those on the NHS “shielded” list, to older people and to our more vulnerable tenants.  Those I speak to often just don’t know that there is support available, particularly older people who have few friends of family nearby.  I make sure that they know we are here, and if necessary, pass them on to the hub for some extra help.”

Weekly statistics

Last week the Council’s contact centre took 266 calls and online requests asking for support, and overall support service for the coronavirus crisis responded to 348 new requests for help last week (Mon 27 April -Sun 3 May) for emergency needs like food parcels and health problems from prescription deliveries to tackling loneliness. 82 referrals were made by the council’s voluntary sector partner Oxford Hub.

The top reasons for calls were:

  • 143 requests for urgent supplies
  • 60 requests for picking up shopping

“I’m incredibly proud of the way our contact centre staff have quickly adapted to these difficult conditions and the way they continue to provide an excellent service to communities across Oxford.

“The team are working hard, on hand and ready to answer your call and get you the help you need quickly and efficiently.

“While helping those affected by the coronavirus is a priority, we also continue to deliver our normal business.  The council is still open – if we can help, we’re just a phone call away.”  

Councillor Nigel Chapman, Cabinet Member for Customer Focused Services

If you – or someone you are worried about – needs support associated with the coronavirus outbreak, they can either call or use the online form.

For all other queries relating to Oxford City Council’s services, at this busy time please check our website first before calling the council.