Customer service on Kingston Council's website is so bad that when one resident searched for 'when is the council open?' he was met with the response: 'when someone dies - changes to your council tax'.

New Malden resident and campaigner James Giles has told a council committee about how bad the search function on the website is.

He said that when he searched 'how do I get to the Guildhall?' he was given 'how to apply for sheltered housing'.

And 'the dump's opening times' led him to 'Wolverton Centre sexual health Christmas opening times'.

Kingston residents have been frustrated by poor service when trying to deal with the council while making complaints, or trying to get access to services and council bosses have now admitted just how bad it has been.

Council leader Cllr Liz Green spoke at the September 19 Community Engagement Committee when a new strategy was discussed.

Five 'parklets' to be set up in Kingston - here's what they are

She said: "This is a first step, and it's about everybody recognising how bad the customer service has been, because everyone recognises that it really is bad. This is the first step to make it better.

"Will this immediately make it perfect and award-winning? No, it won't. I would like to think we will get there, but it's not going to happen in the next couple of months."

Cllr Green said the strategy is the beginning of a "conversation" involving council staff, councillors and the public.

The new strategy document was created in a joint effort with Sutton Council, with whom Kingston began sharing a customer service team in late 2017.

It recognises the council website was "poor" and not accessible to some residents with disabilities, although work has begun on improving it.

Kingston Council has admitted its customer service needs to improve

The strategy document describes the situation at the start of 2018, calling it a "stretched" service with small teams lacking the depth of skills needed to deal with residents efficiently, poor staff satisfaction, an over-reliance on temporary workers and a "clear lack of service standards" - all leading to poor perception by the public.

There were long waiting times on the phone, as well as some services giving late responses to more than half of their complaints and Freedom of Information requests.

The document argues there have been improvements since January, with a full team of permanent staff hired to work across the two boroughs, training underway to ensure staff have enough varied skills to deal with a wider range of issues, and better communication within the council itself.

And there is a positive future envisioned for the service: phone waiting time targets cut to five minutes (or 10 during busy periods), more training of staff and a website that is accessible and easy to use.sdt