benefit office opening times have been cut by Gosport Borough Council in an effort to tackle a backlog.
The office will now only be open on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday afternoon, from 1pm to 5pm, following the closures to deal with a sharp increase in workload.
Officers in charge of the section say that the closure is necessary to allow staff to focus on processing assessments within their target time of one week, along with preparing for benefit changes coming in April 2013.
It comes after total claims and notifications of changes in circumstances reached 34,469 in the first two quarters of 2012/13. For the whole of 2011/12, there were 42,554, which was an increase from 34,392 in 2010/11.
Cllr Graham Burgess, Tory deputy leader of the council, said claimants can still make appointments.
‘It’s a case of what do you do? Do you try and clear up some of the backlog? Do you try and answer for everybody that comes to the front office? You can’t do both.
‘And I think in this time where there is a bit of a backlog, the sooner we try and resolve that and ensure that those who are claiming benefits, get the benefits to which they are entitled, especially at this time before Christmas – it’s far more beneficial.’
Before the changes, which came into effect on December 7, the office was open four days a week and only shut on Wednesdays.
Claimants with complex cases can still make appointments to see staff on Wednesdays and evening appointments are still available.
And if claimants bring in paperwork to the council on days the office is shut, their claim will still be recorded as starting processing from then.
The leader of the Lib Dem opposition Councillor Peter Chegwyn said he is concerned that the council need more staff or claimants could lose out with the reduction in opening hours.
He said: ‘Quite clearly, the council is being overwhelmed with benefits claims. It’s got way behind on dealing with these, which is causing enormous problems for both landlords and tenants.
‘Just saying it’s going to close the office to the public for several days so it can catch up with the backlog simply isn’t good enough.’