Consideration was given to a report, presented by Justin Homer, Head of Policy Improvement and Partnership, and Stuart Purcell, Performance Officer, concerning the Customer Complaints Annual Report received by the Council during 2014/15
The report provided information about complaints made to the Local Authority between 1st April, 2014 and 31st March, 2015, under the Corporate Complaint’s Procedure, the Adult Social Services, Children’s Social Services and Housing Complaint Regulations. The figures in the report included details of the number of customers and the number of complaints made. Each Directorate area had also provided information and a breakdown summary.
Tailored annual complaint reports by Directorate had also been presented recently to senior management teams and these were included in the appendices to the report. The total number of complaints received by the Council in this twelve months’ period was 693, being an increase of 3% on the 672 complaints received during 2013/14).
The report also confirmed the Complaints Team had continued to maintain improvements in the following areas:-
· Learning from complaints to identify service improvements.
· All responses quality assured.
· Training provided to investigating managers.
· Fewer Local Government Ombudsman complaints received.
· Fewer informal complaints received.
· Fewer complaints escalating through the Council’s complaint procedure.
· More Councillor Surgery enquiries (via the E-Casework system).
In addition to formal complaints, the report also provided information on compliments received, Councillors’ Surgery enquiries and Members’ of Parliament correspondence received by the Council, which were managed by the Complaints Team.
A summary of some of the actions being taken during 2015/16 was provided in response to the 2014/15 Annual Report findings in order to effect further service improvement through learning from complaints and ensuring management action was taken to resolve them. An interim update on the latest position with regard to complaints received and managed during the current year, to date, was also provided.
The Overview and Scrutiny Management Board sought clarification on a number of points including whether complainants were spoken to initially about their complaint, professional input for the handling of complaints especially those escalated past Stage 1, the difference between a complaint and a service request and the advantages of managing complaints through one corporate team.
Commissioner Manzie provided some insight into her own experiences of complaints processes working in four different Local Authorities.
Discussion ensued on the best practice techniques and the advantages/disadvantages of an Elected Member taking ownership/oversight of the complaints process. It was also suggested that complaints form part of the induction process for newly elected Councillors and how these can be progressed. In addition, it was suggested that a drop-in session to raise specific concerns be arranged for all Members.
Councillor Hughes made reference to the percentage of complaints at Stage 2 responded to within timescales and how this had decreased from 2013/14. Information was shared about how complaints were dealt with in directorates and the process for investigations in Children’s Services. It was also noted that the majority of the complaints were primarily housing related.
In terms of learning from complaints the report seemed to indicate that some of the complaints were from a previous year and it was suggested for future reporting some explanation and staff outcomes be incorporated into the text.
Commissioner Manzie confirmed discussions had taken place with the Senior Leadership team on various issues and how best these could be incorporated into future reports. The new corporate performance framework had been established to ensure that performance in both the management of complaints and responding could be measured and the intelligence fed back into the complaints system.
Councillor Reynolds provided various examples of surgery reports and advice was given that if complaints were still not being addressed this should be raised with the Director for Housing, Asset Management and Neighbourhood Services.
The Chairman sought clarification on how a complaint could be made and was advised accordingly. However, whilst some analysis of the complaints could be made, especially around a post code, it was not possible to differentiate between gender or religion, but it was agreed that this would be considered further.
Councillor Sansome suggested there be some further training with front line staff who may receive complaints, given the staffing changes, and was advised this had already been undertaken or was in the process by the Manager leading on Customer Services.
Councillor Julie Turner also sought advice on how best to take forward a complaint on behalf of residents or from residents wishing to remain anonymous, especially around sensitive community issues. She was also advised accordingly.
Councillor Mallinder had also observed from the report the number of complaints by service area and was advised by officers that this was largely as a result of the majority of complaints about repairs and reflected the number of inspections. It was also pointed out that the number of complaints about repairs had decreased, this was in part due to joint complaints now being registered with the Contract and Service Development Team, but in the main was due to the reduction in the number of complaints about contractors and the amount of resource available.
The Overview and Scrutiny Management Board were advised about the internal processes for the arrangement of complaints, the current staffing structure under one umbrella and how this was managed.
The concerns about the use of plain English and appropriate training for staff were noted.
Resolved:- (1) That the contents and key messages of the annual Customer Complaints report for 2014/15 be noted.
(2) That the 2015/16 service and performance improvement actions and provide any further comments on areas for further and continuous improvement, in partnership with service teams, moving forward be noted.
(3) That further information be provided on the demographic information of complaints where appropriate.
(4) That the use of plain English be incorporated into staff training for dealing with the complaints.
(5) That a drop in session to raise awareness/concerns/complaints be arranged for all Members.