After my original post on 12th November, I've had an exchange of e-mails with the manager for Customer Services at Wiltshire County Council.
In his initial e-mail, he made a good and acceptable apology and then continued, "we have put measures in place to improve the service for those people, like you, who need to register a death. Salisbury now have a dedicated line for death enquiries which is given priority. This will ensure that Customer Services can help customers to reach the right person much more efficiently. We have also reminded Customer Service staff that, whilst there is a general agreement that calls will be returned in 24 hours (if there is nobody available at the time), in the case of death enquiries, these calls are given priority and will be returned as soon as possible. In the context of your call, it was insensitive to give you the impression that you may have to wait 24 hours as it would have almost certainly been picked up and dealt with immediately. I apologise for this."
I replied that "I think there is still some distance to go to make the process as simple as it once was.
"As a general principle, it’s good to answer the phone immediately but it’s much more important that the right service should be answering the phone. This is particularly important in the case of a death, where emotions can be raised, timescales to organise funerals can be tricky, and the process should be as seamless as possible. If the call centre had actually been able to make the appointment rather than just quiz me to establish what I knew already – that I should register the death at Salisbury – then it would have been the right service. As an alternative, technology-wise, it should be a trivial matter to arrange for the call centre to pick up calls that couldn’t be answered at Salisbury, rather than make all calls pass through the call centre...
"A Customer Services call centre has a role for people that don’t know what to do, or whose relatives didn’t die in hospital. But the bereaved are given a useful booklet at Salisbury District Hospital. It sets out the requirement very clearly. It should have the direct number for the Registration Service. Anything else, any different number, any other mandatory step in the process, is an unfair and insensitive imposition on the bereaved, and not without cost for the council tax payer. I hope that the council will make the process as simple as possible for future customers."
He then responded "I have to say that I totally agree with the points made and I know that the current process is by no means perfect.
"It is a knotty problem to untangle as the previous process of being able to ‘direct dial’ into the Registration team worked well when Customers got through but there were a lot of complaints from customers not being able to get through.
"That said, now that the Registration Team in Salisbury have released another line specifically for death enquiries, it seems to me to be a sensible next step to start making that number available to the public. This is a proposal I am going to put to the Registration Operational Managers. "
I think that's a very fair response, and would like to thank Wiltshire CC for the consideration given to the points I raised. I hope that the right decisions are made - and that I don't have a reason to use the service again. Of course, any feedback is most welcome.