1. Introduction

This is the council’s full complaints procedure for dealing with corporate complaints. This means any service complaints with the exception of those relating to Adult or Children’s Social Care. A

shorter version and further information is available on the council’s website.

2. What a complaint is

For the purposes of the council’s corporate complaints procedure a complaint is defined as:

“An expression of dissatisfaction, however made, about the standard of service, action or lack of action by the organisation, its own staff, or those acting on its behalf.”

An enquiry or service request is not to be treated as a complaint. Please also note matters that are outside the scope of the complaints procedure outlined in Appendix B.

3. Why we have a complaints procedure

An effective complaints procedure ensures that the council has an opportunity to put things right for an individual who has received a poor service. The council can also learn from its mistakes and improve services.

The council's aim is to develop a culture in which:

  • complaints are encouraged and welcomed.
  • staff at all levels are aware of and committed to the council's complaints procedures .
  • there is a strong and focused emphasis on learning from complaints so that mistakes are not repeated.
  • complaints are about improving services and developing staff rather than attributing blame.
  • both failures and successes are recorded and the data is shared and used to drive service improvement.
  • complaints are dealt with in a way that is fair to both the complainant and the staff involved.

4. Learning from complaints

One of the most important functions of the complaints procedure is to ensure that the council learns from complaints and uses them to improve services.

At stage 1 all teams need to analyse complaints for learning points and record them. Teams will be asked to provide evidence of learning and associated service improvement by senior officers or elected members and also for external scrutiny by agencies such as OFSTED, The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, The Independent Housing Ombudsman and when we are asked for complaint statistics via FOI requests.

All stage 2 complaints will be analysed to identify causes of complaint and make any appropriate recommendations for changes to policies or procedures to drive service improvement.

A summary of recommendations from complaints, including progress on implementing them, will be included in an annual report to the council’s Policy & Resources Committee. The annual report will be available online.

5. Compliments

Compliments are also a valuable way of learning about what we are doing right, what works well and what customers really value. Staff and Managers should forward any compliments they receive to the Customer Feedback team who will record them and report on them to DMT’s and ELT.

6. Resolving complaints informally

The council's aim is to resolve all complaints as quickly as possible and as near as possible to the point of service delivery.

It is the responsibility of whichever member of staff a complaint is initially raised with to try to resolve the problem there and then whenever possible. This may involve contacting colleagues or other departments on the complainant’s behalf to obtain a required service or agree a course of action. In some cases it may be necessary to take the complainant’s details and agree a time by which they will be contacted again.

Service teams will be expected to take ownership of the matter even if the complaint has not been formally referred to them by the Customer Feedback Team.

When a complaint is raised directly with the Customer Feedback Team and the problem is simple, Customer Feedback Advisors will contact the service team and give them 24 hours to resolve the problem.

If it is not possible to resolve the complaint informally in this way the formal complaints procedure should be used and the matter registered at Stage 1.

7. The council's corporate complaints procedure

Stage 1: problem solving

The aim of the first stage of the complaints procedure is to resolve problems as quickly as possible and, where the council has made a mistake, to put the complainant in the position they would have been in had the mistake not been made.

All complaints, whether they are received directly by the department concerned or via another department should be registered on the council’s central complaints and compliments database and acknowledged.

Acknowledging the complaint

All complaints should be acknowledged in writing within two working days of being received. The acknowledgement letter should state:

  • the name of the officer or the section dealing with the complaint and how they can be contacted.
  • when the complainant can expect a reply. This should be within ten working days of the complaint being received.

Complaints received directly by a service team should be forwarded to the Customer Feedback Team to be logged and acknowledged.

If complaints are received from a number of people about the same issue, but raising different points, they should be advised that all points will be collectively investigated and one report will be

issued in response, with a covering letter. Any points personal to an individual will be responded to separately.

Replying to the complaint

Although our procedure allows ten working days to reply, every effort should be made to respond to the problem as soon as possible.

If it is not possible to fully reply within ten working days a holding reply must be sent by the service team, apologising and explaining to the complainant why there is a delay and when they can expect a reply.

In some cases it may be appropriate and more efficient to phone or meet with the complainant to let them know what action has been taken in response to their complaint. This type of response will generally be appropriate for more straightforward matters which can be resolved quickly.

A note should be made and recorded on the case management system detailing the conversation or meeting. Even if the complainant appears happy, they should always be advised of their right to contact the Customer Feedback Team again if they wish to escalate the matter.

More complicated complaints should always receive a written reply. Responses sent in reply to complaints should:

  • be clear, concise and avoid jargon and technical language as much as possible.
  • answer all the points of concern raised by the complainant.
  • explain the reasons for the failure in service, (if one has occurred).
  • provide an apology where appropriate, and explain what action has been, or is being taken, to put things right and prevent the same thing happening in the future.
  • offer a remedy where appropriate (see guidance on remedies below).
  • explain what further action the complainant can take if they are not satisfied with the department’s response, e.g.

information about any appropriate appeal mechanism or the next stage of the council’s complaints procedure (Stage 2).

A Code of Practice on how to respond is included at Appendix C.

A copy of the Stage 1 response, or notes of the telephone call or meeting, should be sent to the Customer Feedback Team and recorded on the case management system along with details of whether the matter was upheld and any learning that was identified.

Stage 2

If a complainant is still unhappy after the complaint has been dealt with at Stage 1 they can ask for a further investigation to be carried out by a Customer Feedback Officer.

Requests for Stage 2 investigations should be submitted in writing by the complainant or their advocate, explaining why they are unhappy with the previous responses they have received and what outcome they are seeking.

The Customer Feedback Team will acknowledge the request within two working days of receipt. A Customer Feedback Manager will assess the request contact the complainant to let them know how their complaint will be dealt with.

Depending on the circumstances of the complaint and the action already taken by the department the Customer Feedback Manager will take one of the following steps:

  1. refer the complaint back to the department involved with recommendations for further action - this option would be appropriate where it is clear that the Stage 1 response from the department involved is not sufficient.
  2. decide not to investigate - this option would be appropriate in cases where:
    • the complaint has already been comprehensively investigated by the department involved.
    • The department has clearly followed the appropriate procedures.
    • The Customer Feedback Manager is satisfied, having considered the relevant information, that further investigation would be unlikely to achieve anything further for the complainant.
    • The complaint falls outside the scope of the corporate complaints procedure (see Appendix B).

In these cases the Customer Feedback Team will offer advice about other options for pursuing the complaint, such as the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman or seeking independent legal advice.

  1. carry out a further investigation - this option will be appropriate in cases where the department has provided a considered reply but the complainant is still dissatisfied about significant issues of the complaint and the Customer Feedback Manager is satisfied that there are sufficient grounds to warrant a further investigation.

If an investigation is to be carried out the Customer Feedback Manager will notify the appropriate manager in the department within five working days of receiving the complaint.

Investigations will focus on the administrative process and whether the council has acted in accordance with the appropriate policies, processes and legislation. The Customer Feedback Manager cannot consider the merits of a decision or the professional judgement of officers. However, Customer Feedback Managers will consider if the service team has acted fairly, proportionately and reasonably.

On completion of the investigation the Customer Feedback Manager will reply to the complainant detailing the findings of the investigation.

Staff involved in the investigation, will be sent a copy of the reply for fact checking and comment.

Customer Feedback Managers aim to conclude all stage 2 investigations within twenty working days. Where this is not possible, in the case of particularly complex investigations for example, the Customer Feedback Team will ensure that the complainant is kept informed of progress.

The Customer Feedback Manager will discuss any learning and service improvement recommendations with senior managers and how those recommendations might be implemented.

At the end of Stage 2 the complainant will be advised of their right to contact the appropriate Ombudsman.

8. Ombudsman complaints

Any member of the public can complain to an Ombudsman, at any time but they would normally expect to see that the council’s own complaints procedure had been exhausted first.

Ombudsman complaints will be handled by the Customer Feedback Team. A Customer Feedback Manager will act as the link and contact all relevant teams to request and collate the required information. The Customer Feedback Manager will then prepare a written response on behalf of the Chief Executive and then liaise with the Ombudsman and service managers until the matter is resolved.

Service managers and directors will be advised when Ombudsman complaints are received and of their provisional views and final decisions.

9. Complaints about council services provided by contractors

Officers must have regard to the council’s complaints procedure when commissioning services or setting up partnership working/agreements.

The council remains ultimately responsible for any service which is contracted out and contractors should be aware of the complaints procedure and comply with it.

The council service team should respond to the complaint at Stage 1 of the complaints procedure unless it is agreed that the contractors will do so. The complaint acknowledgement should be clear about who is responding and explain that the council will be aware of the complaint and the contractor’s response. The council’s contract manager must be involved and the complainant must be signposted to the Customer Feedback Team if they are unhappy with the outcome so they can escalate the complaint.

10. Complaints about staff

If a complaint involves criticism of a member of staff he or she should be advised as soon as possible and given a copy of the complaint. The member of staff should be given the opportunity to comment on the issues of complaint and be kept informed of any proposed action taken as a result of the complaint. Complaints about named officers must be formally responded to by a senior officer.

In cases of complaints about misconduct by an employee, the matter should be investigated and, where appropriate, action taken in accordance with the council’s disciplinary procedure, in Part 4 of the Constitution.

Complaints from staff

If a staff member has a specific concern about alleged malpractice in a service, they should where possible raise this with the manager of the service concerned. If this is not possible, the Council’s Whistleblowing Policy provides detailed guidance on other ways to raise concerns.

11. Recording and monitoring complaints

The council’s Customer Feedback Team act as a central hub for ensuring that complaints are recorded and dealt with in accordance with the complaints procedure. The Customer Feedback Team will also record all learning and service improvement arising from complaints and compliments.

The Customer Feedback Team will produce quarterly reports for DMT’s (Departmental Management Teams) and an annual report which will include information on the number of compliments and complaints received, what they were about, the time taken to deal with them and any learning or actions taken as a result. These reports will also be circulated to The Chief Executive and ELT (Executive Leadership Team).

The Customer Feedback Team will also meet with individual service teams to discuss complaint performance either at their request. If the Customer Feedback Team identify areas where complaint performance needs improvement or themes and trends are identified in service performance which are causing significant or unusual numbers of complaints a meeting may also be arranged.

12. Equalities and access to the complaints procedure

The council does not insist on complaints about straightforward matters being put in writing and staff should be prepared to take down details of a complaint at a contact centre or over the phone. Complainants should be asked, however, to put complaints about more serious and detailed matters in writing.

If someone has difficulty writing and it is a serious or detailed matter the Customer Feedback Team will provide details of appropriate advocacy services and in exceptional situations arrange to meet with the complainant.

13. Complaints about discrimination

The council is committed to ensuring that complaints about discrimination on the grounds of protected characteristic are investigated thoroughly.

If a complaint about discrimination is received the council’s Customer Feedback Team should be notified so that this can be recorded for monitoring. The Customer Feedback Team will ensure that the complaint is recorded on the corporate complaints database as a complaint about discrimination and is properly investigated by the department.

14. Dealing with unreasonable or unreasonably persistent complainants

There will inevitably be some complainants who will either continue to complain after their complaint has been through the council’s complaints procedure, or will continue to make a series of inter-related complaints which do not vary significantly from their original complaint.

Continual correspondence with such complainants does not help them, reduces the council's efficiency and can cause a considerable amount of stress to members of staff. However, in considering when to use this policy it is critical that we first consider and ensure we understand the customer’s circumstances. We must be sure that we have given them the right opportunity to express their views and that we have listened and given appropriate thought and effort to resolving and explaining the situation.

We also have equalities duties which means that even where someone is challenging to work with we need to ascertain

whether they are vulnerable or whether there may be any underlying cause, for example mental health issues, which may be influencing their behaviour and this should be taken into account when deciding what action to take in response to their behaviour. If this is the case reasonable adjustment should be made in terms of their contact with the council.

Having considered these issues, in some cases it is recognised that there needs to be a cut-off point. Where it is felt that the complainant is persistently complaining about matters which have already been dealt with senior officers within a service team, in discussion with the Customer Feedback Team may, after a careful review of the case, decide not to enter into further communication with the complainant about such issues.

If such a decision is taken the complainant should be written to, explaining that future correspondence relating to the issues that are considered to have been dealt with will not be replied to. The letter should give clear information about any appropriate next step for pursuing their complaint outside of the council and any other sources of help which may be available to them.

In exceptional circumstances a “single point of contact” should be appointed and the complainant must be advised that they must address all correspondence to that officer.

It is imperative that further communication or correspondence from the complainant is checked to ensure that it does not contain new issues which require a response and that a record of such checks is kept.

Occasionally complainants may use abusive and offensive language when making a complaint. In these cases, depending on the circumstances of the case, further communication may not be entered into. As above, senior officers should be consulted before any decision is made and Customer Feedback Managers can provide further advice.

If necessary the Customer Feedback Team will seek advice from the council’s legal advisor specialising in anti-social behaviour

15. Dealing with difficult and aggressive complainants

Staff who deal with complaints will inevitably occasionally have to deal with complainants who are challenging or aggressive. The council recognises that some people find it difficult to express their concerns calmly.

Complainants have the right to have their complaints dealt with but equally members of staff have the right to be treated with respect. The council recognises that it has a duty of care towards staff and that duty of care involves having a safe working space.

If a member of staff feels that the type of behaviour they are experiencing during the course of dealing with a complaint is unreasonable or concerning they should seek advice from a senior manager. Training can be provided for dealing with low level challenging behaviour and support will be given for more serious situations.

16. Further information and training

Further information on the council’s complaints procedures and any aspect of dealing with complaints is available from the Customer Feedback Team.

You can begin a complaint on our website.

Appendix A

Putting Things Right - the council’s policy on complaint remedies

If the council has been at fault the very least we should do is apologise. There will be some occasions however when an apology on its own will not be sufficient. In these cases consideration should be given to providing a tangible remedy to the complainant. This can range from the offer to provide a service which has previously not been provided to, in appropriate cases, a payment in compensation.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman suggests the following as a general principle for guidance:

“As far as possible the complainant should be put in the position they would have been in had things not gone wrong”

The remedy offered will depend on a number of factors and each case should be judged on its merits. The following list of options is a useful guide.

An apology

An explanation - In some cases, all the complainant wants is to know why things went wrong.

An assurance that action will be taken to prevent the same thing happening again - This requires follow up action and monitoring

Specific action - Consideration should be given as to whether there is any practical action which can be taken which could provide all or part of a suitable remedy. For example:

  • to effect the repairs to a council property.
  • to assess entitlement to a benefit (for example housing benefit) and make any requisite payment.
  • the processing of a planning application where this has not yet been done.

Compensation payments

Where it is obvious that the complainant has suffered some loss due to a fault by the council, consideration should be given to offering a payment to the complainant. In deciding whether compensation is appropriate the council will follow guidance from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman on remedies.

Further advice about remedying a complaint is available from the Customer Feedback Team.

Appendix B

Matters that should not be dealt with by the council’s corporate complaints procedure:

  • complaints about a decision taken by a committee of elected members of the council, or by full council.
  • complaints where the complainant or another person has commenced or intends to commence legal proceedings against the council, in which case advice should be sought from Legal Services.
  • complaints where the council has commenced or intends to commence legal proceedings against the complainant or another person relating to the matter of complaint.
  • complaints that involve an insurance claim against the council (although there may be aspects of the complaint that could be investigated concurrently).
  • matters which are under consideration via another function of the council, eg a live planning application, a parking scheme.
  • matters relating directly to a decision by the Local Planning Authority.
  • complaints where an alternative right of appeal exists, e.g. a School Admissions Appeal, an appeal against a Housing Benefits/Council Tax Benefit decision, appeal against a planning decision, appeals against Penalty Charge Notices, homelessness decision reviews, matters where there is a right of appeal via Judicial Review etc
  • a matter which has not affected the complainant personally or caused them an injustice
  • a widespread service issue which affects most people in the council's area
  • complaints about Schools management.
  • complaints about a member of staff that would more properly be dealt with through the council's disciplinary or capability procedures.
  • complaints from members of staff relating to personnel matters.
  • complaints about the decision of a recruitment process.
  • allegations of fraud or corruption that would more appropriately be dealt with by the council's anti-fraud and corruption policy or whistleblowing procedure.
  • allegations of malpractice in a service which are of such a serious nature that they need to be reviewed by the council’s Monitoring Officer.
  • complaints about contractual matters made by commercial suppliers to the council.
  • matters that the complainant knew about more than 12 months before the complaint was made unless there are good reasons for why they have not been raised sooner.
  • those matters already dealt with through appropriate complaint or appeal procedure and where that process has been exhausted. These matters will only be considered again if new relevant evidence comes to light which may change the previous outcome.
  • complaints about elected and co-opted members of the council should be referred to the Monitoring Officer.
  • complaints about Adult or Children’s Social care will be dealt with by the Customer Feedback Team under the relevant statutory procedures.
  • complaints about a breach of data protection or Freedom of Information requests. Where an issue relating to these points is raised within the context of a service complaint the Customer Feedback team will record that it has been received and alert the Information Governance team that it has been referred to the service team for response. The complainant will be advised to contact the ICO if they are unhappy with the response they receive.

Where a decision has been made not to deal with a complaint through the complaints procedure the complainant should be advised of any alternative options that might be available to them. Where alternative options are not clear the complainant should be advised to seek their own independent legal advice.

It should be recognised that the above list is a general guide and is not exhaustive. This list does not preclude individual complaints that may fall into one of the above categories, being dealt with through the complaints procedure where this would be the most pragmatic course of action.

Appendix C

Code of Practice for responding to Complaint Correspondence

This is what the council expects from you when dealing with a complaint:

  • approach all complaints with an open mind. Don’t be defensive.
  • start by reading the complaint through a couple of times. Note down all of the points, no matter how small they seem to you as they are important to the customer.
  • research/ investigate each of the points made and make an informed and balanced decision.
  • open the response by thanking the person for bringing the complaint to your attention, and explain what you have done to research their complaint. (such as: giving the titles of the people you have spoken to, the correspondence you have reviewed, the procedures you have checked, the site visits you have made)
  • respond to each point in turn in a structured way giving a simple, clear, reasoned reply. Avoid using technical
  • language as the customer is unlikely to have specialist knowledge.
  • show empathy throughout your reply to demonstrate that you understand why the person has complained.
  • where there has been a mistake, be open about it and apologise. Explain what you are doing to put things right, and when that will be done.
  • explain what you have learned from the complaint and what changes you are recommending to prevent similar complaints occurring.
  • where there has been no fault, explain why things had to be done the way they were, but show you appreciate why the person thought there was reason to complain.
  • use the standard stage 1 final paragraph, as set out on the referral form, to invite the person making the complaint to come back to you to discuss and any outstanding issues
  • if you are unsure how to deal with the complaint and would like advice, please contact the Customer Feedback Team on 1229.