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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.