Consideration was given to the report of the Assistant Chief Executive that presented the annual summary of compliments and complaints received by the Council. The Cabinet Member - Finance and Corporate Services, the Assistant Chief Executive and the Corporate Complaints Manager attended the meeting to present the report.
In introducing the report, the Cabinet Member - Finance and Corporate Services noted that the purpose of the annual complaint report was to outline the complaints and compliments that the Council had received in the period 1 April 2020 – 31 March 2021 and to highlight key themes and also longer-term trends that it highlighted.
The key issues detailed in the report were:
· The overall number of complaints received by the Council had decreased by 32%, going from 1,372 in 2019/20 to 931. This decrease had been driven by the reduction of complaints in the first quarter of 2020. 349 complaints were received in the first quarter of 2019/20 compared to 135 complaints received in the first quarter of 2020/21(61% decrease).
· All Council departments had seen a decrease in complaints from the previous year. It was fully expected that the number of complaints received in the current financial year, 2021-22 would return to near average levels continuing the trends seen over the last five years.
· The largest percentage decrease of complaints received had been in the Finance and Customer services directorate with the number reducing from 182 to 76, 58%, followed by Children and Young People’s Services reducing from 147 to 86, 41%. In line with the overall Council average decrease (32%), Housing Services complaints had decreased from 551 to 367, 33%. Adult Social Care complaints had reduced from 72 to 48, 33% and Public Health complaints had decreased from 4 to 3, 33%. The smallest percentage decrease had been in Regeneration and Environment Services that decreased from 411 to 346, 16%. Complaints received by the Assistant Chief Executive’s directorate had remained unchanged with five complaints being received.
· Overall, 86% of complaints had been responded to within timescales, compared with 89% of complaints during 2019/20.This had been better than the five-year all council average of 84%. The response rate had significantly increased in Adult Social Care (85% 2020/21 from 73% 2019/20). The response rate had remained the same in Children’s and Young Peoples services (83% 2020/21 and 83% 2019/20). Response rates in other areas had decreased slightly but remained over target overall.
· The number of compliments that had been received decreased to 695 received in 2020/21, in comparison to 794 in 2019/20.
· The most frequent category of complaints that had been received by the Council had again been ‘quality of service’, accounting for 35% of all complaints (325 of 931.)
· Fewer complaints had been escalated to Stage 2 of the complaint’s procedure, at 25 (in contrast with 31 in 2019/20.) Of the 931 complaints that had been taken through the Council’s formal complaints procedures, fewer had been upheld in 2020/21 at 235 or 26%, in contrast with the 365 or 27% that had been upheld in 2019/20.
The full Annual Compliments and Complaints Report 2020/21 was attached as an appendix to the officer’s report. The Annual Review letter from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, received on 21 July 2021, that set out their records of referred complaint investigations was also attached an appendix to the officer’s report.
The Assistant Chief Executive made a presentation to the meeting that covered the key headlines, trends and planned activity around complaints for 2021/22.
Members welcomed the report and noted with approval the lessons that had been learned that had been used to improve processes around the issuing of blue parking badges. Members noted that the Council had much to be proud of with regard to how it handled complaints and that the good performance figures were evidence of the investments that had been made into improving customer services and the customer experience.
Members asked whether there were any procedures, such as peer reviews in place for reviewing complaints that had been upheld or not upheld in order to ensure that all complaints had been investigated and resolved correctly. The Corporate Complaints Manager noted that all internal complaints processes were to an extent an authority “marking its own work”, but assured members that the conclusion of any complaints investigation would have been based on a thorough and tested process. The Corporate Complaints Manager detailed the stages that each complaint could go through as part of the corporate complaints process that ensured that each complaint was investigated fully and fairly as part of a robust procedure. The Corporate Complaints Manager also noted the role that the independent ombudsman provided in the opportunity for a further investigation if a complainant felt that the complaint process had not been applied correctly or fairly.
Members noted that 86% of complaints had been responded to within the agreed timescales. Members asked why this figure was not higher and whether the Council should be aiming to respond to more complaints within the target time scales and have a more stretching target than 85% for complaints responded to within the agreed timescales. The Corporate Complaints Manager advised that the target time for responses for complaint was 10 working days, and for complaints regarding Children and Young People’s Services the target response time was 20 working days due to additional legislative requirements regarding the handling of complaints in this service area. The Corporate Complaints Manager advised that the target for responding to complaints had been set with regard to benchmarking activities that had been carried out over many years. The Corporate Complaints Manager agreed that it was always preferable from a customer service point of view for as many complaints to be responded to with the target time scales as possible and assured members that there were strong performance management and reporting procedures in place surrounding the handling of complaints. Members asked whether consideration could be given to making the target for the number of complaints responded to in the target time more stretching. The Cabinet Member - Finance and Corporate Services noted that the current target was already very stretching due to the complexity of many of the complaints received. The Corporate Complaints Manager advised that consideration would be given to amending the target for the number of complaints responded to within the target timescales.
Members asked with regard to the 14% of complaints that weren’t responded to with the specified target timescales how many were subsequently escalated through further stages of the complaints process. The Corporate Complaints Manager advised members that he would look into this and that the information would be circulated to members outside of the meeting.
Members asked for further information on how residents submitted complaints to the Council noting that online forms on the Council’s website did not give the option of marking the enquiry as a complaint. Members also noted problems that they and residents had experienced with online forms “timing out” before they had been completed and requested that the number of “abandoned” forms should be monitored in order to drive improvements to the complaints procedures and processes. The Corporate Complaints Manager detailed how complaints were submitted online but acknowledged that further work was needed with regard to the online forms.
Members asked whether complaints received by phone or email were recorded as complaints. The Corporate Complaints Manager advised that many “complaints” received by phone or email by the Council’s Complaint Team would be recorded as formal complaints, as a formal complaint could be submitted in as many ways possible to make sure that it is was easy as possible to complain. The Corporate Complaints Manager noted however that residents who contacted front line Council services with a problem and who expressed dissatisfaction that the first response by the Service would be to resolve the problem. It was confirmed that these contacts were not recorded as formal complaints as the issue had been resolved at first contact.
Members noted the increase in satisfaction levels regarding the resolution of complaints regarding Children and Young People’s services due to the increased role of service area managers in the complaints process and asked whether this approach would be rolled out to other service areas. The Corporate Complaints Manager advised that this approach was being developed further and was being trialled in other directorates.
Members asked for further clarification regarding the section of the Annual Review Letter from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman that stated that none of the cases referred to the ombudsman had received a satisfactory response prior to their involvement compared to an average of 11% at other similar authorities. The Corporate Complaints Manager assured members that only three cases had been referred to the ombudsman, and that due to the nature of the process of the complainant contacting the ombudsman when they were not satisfied with the Council’s own response without first advising the Council then it was extremely difficult to provide a resolution in advance of the ombudsman’s involvement.
The Chair noted with concern the comments of Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman contained in the Annual Review Letter regarding the continued problem of the Council not replying promptly to information surrounding complaints that they had asked for and asked why this issue was continuing. The Corporate Complaints Manager assured the Chair that the delays were in no way intentional, but that due to the complexity of the information requested by the ombudsman that it was often frequently extremely challenging to provide the information that had been requested within the required timescales. The Corporate Complaints Manager advised that in all cases where there was a delay that the ombudsman had been kept fully informed.
The Chair thanked the Cabinet Member - Finance and Corporate Services, the Assistant Chief Executive and the Corporate Complaints Manager for attending and answering member questions.
1) That the report be noted.
2) That officers give consideration to how the processes involved in how the Council deals with complaints and compliments be further enhanced in order to drive further improvements to the service for both residents and the Council.
3) That officers give consideration to amending the target for the numbers of complaints responded to within the required number of days in order make it more challenging and to drive further improvements to the service that residents receive.