Local council websites and the chamber of secrets

Rebecca Lambert Neu, on her brief time temping in the NLA’s Policy Office…

Who knew local council websites could be so frustrating? After spending a day and a half with the Policy Team at the NLA I could happily testify in a court of law to this fact.

I arrived at the NLA with a clear task: I had two days to compile a list of the Housing in Multiple Occupancies (HMO) licensing fees set by the various local councils across England. This was essentially googling every council in England’s mandatory licensing fee and putting it into a spreadsheet, which 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 listed at all, or it was deeply entrenched into the site and listed with all other types of 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 with relative ease. But after the 5th council website I got to where I could not find any relevant information about HMO licensing fees, I began to despair for those who were less technically minded than me, or those 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, I resorted to phoning councils themselves. This managed to take just as long as searching through the websites and in fact 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 enquiry 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?! Surely it’s in everyone’s best interest for information to be listed clearly?

So I issue a big thank you to England’s councils and highlight this as a prime example of just how vital good e-communication is in today’s world. As for the council phone call void, I don’t have a solution, merely a request for no pan flute music on holding lines any more.

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