Council, April 2016.

Approved by: Head of Customer Services

Date approved: April 2016

Introduction

Purpose

The Council is committed to the delivery of quality services to meet the needs of its customers in line with our Customer Service Strategy. The Council welcomes feedback from customers as this provides opportunities for learning and improving services.

Scope

Customers are encouraged to inform the Council if they are dissatisfied with any aspect of our service.  The Council will resolve complaints in a fair, timely and confidential manner in order to achieve positive outcomes for customers and staff.

Policy

2.1 Definition of a complaint

A complaint is defined as follows –
“Any expression of dissatisfaction about the Council service or action of a staff member that cannot be resolved at the first point of contact”. Examples include:

  • Taking too long to take action or failing to take action
  • Not following policy or rules
  • Not making a decision in the prescribed way
  • Giving wrong or misleading information
  • A member of staff failing to deliver on a commitment made

Every effort will be made to resolve an issue as quickly as possible at the first point of contact.

If a customer’s request cannot be resolved at the first point of contact then this will be managed in accordance with section 4.0 – Escalation Stages and Response standards.

2.2  Support for complainants

The Council encourages customers to seek the support of a family member or friends in submitting the complaint. Where someone is acting on behalf of the complainant, this must be notified at the start of the process, along with the contact details to be used for any communication.

If the assistance of an interpreter is required to facilitate the issue, the Council can arrange this.

2.3 Exceptions

Although it is intended that all issues will be dealt with under this process, there may be exceptions that arise as a result of other processes of review or statute. Possible examples

  • Complaints that are criticisms or disagreement with Council policy or decisions
  • Complaints that constitute a disagreement with or refusal to accept matters that the Council is obliged or required by statute to apply
  • A complaint where the customer or Council has started legal proceedings or has taken court action
  • A complaint that has already been heard by a court or tribunal
  • Insurance claims
  • Any other complaint where another formal process has been commenced
  • Where another formal complaints process exists, e.g. a statutory requirement
  • Where a formal right of appeal already exists

The management of such complaints falls outside this policy, with each situation suitable managed given all the circumstances.

2.4 Unacceptable actions by complainants

Customers may behave out of character in times of distress. There may be circumstances leading up to a complaint. The Council does not accept that forceful or determined behaviour is appropriate behaviour towards Council staff. The Council will not tolerate abusive behaviour towards staff, verbal or otherwise.

A complainant may be deemed to be unacceptable action if, for example:

  • They are abusive to Council staff
  • They persistently make the same complaint, despite it having been fully investigated under the complaints policy, or persist in seeking an unrealistic outcome.
  • They repeatedly change aspects of the complaint or the desired outcome part way through an investigation

Where staff handling a complaint consider that the complainant’s behaviour is unacceptable, they should advise the complainant of this fact and their reasons for that evaluation, and that the investigation process will be suspended. The investigation will recommence on receipt of an undertaking from the complainant that they will suitable modify their behaviour.

Should a complainant disagree with the suspension, they can escalate this through the standard stages of the feedback policy.

An ‘Investigating Officer’ may refuse to investigate a complaint if he/she considers that the complaint is frivolous, habitual or vexatious. If the Investigating Officer is considering refusing to investigate on these grounds, they must consult with the appropriate Unit Manager before making a decision. If the decision is that the complaint will not be investigated on any of these grounds, the ‘Investigating Officer’ must confirm this to the complainant in writing. If the complainant disagrees with this decision, they retain their right to escalate their complaint to the next stage of the procedure.

2.5 Monitoring

As indicated earlier, all complaints will be investigated and dealt with in confidence, consistent with the needs of the investigation. To enable the Council’s policy to be adequately reviewed and revised, monitoring of our compliance with the policy will be undertaken.

The information will be used to produce management information to monitor our performance, highlight areas of failure and feed into the process for identifying areas for service improvement. The information will be reported to a range of key stakeholders, including Elected Members and the Council’s Executive Team. This will be the responsibility of the Head of Customer Services.

2.6 Informing the public and staff

The complaints policy will be publicised through the Council’s website.  Leaflets outlining the complaints policy will also be displayed at all Council Customer Service Desks.

All staff are to be made aware of the complaints policy.  The responsibility for ensuring awareness and knowledge of the process is with the Head of Customer Services.

2.7 Responsibility and Review

The complaints policy is the responsibility of the General Manager of Customer and Community and will be subject to regular review.

Procedure

3.1 Making a Complaint

A customer (or their representative) can make a complaint in person, by visiting a Customer Service desk during normal business hours, or by telephone, letter, email, or via our website. Please include your name and contact details to allow a response.

3.2 Acknowledging Customer Complaints

Acknowledgement correspondence will include a reference number, a brief summary of the issue, and the contact details of the person investigating. In the event that a full response can be made within two working days, an acknowledgement will not be sent.

3.3 Responding to Complaints

Issues will be responded to as quickly as possible by the most appropriate method. Where a response or resolution is made by telephone, written records will be kept and written confirmation sent. This will cover –

  • Details of the investigation
  • The outcome (e.g. whether the complaint is upheld, action taken, apology, or reason why the Council is unable to assist)
  • Information on the right of further redress and escalation if the customer remains dissatisfied.

3.4 Extending Complaint response times

Issues of a more complex nature may take longer than the specified time limits to investigate. If this is the case, the customer will be informed of the reasons why the time scales cannot be met and when they can expect to receive a full response.

3.5 Escalating Complaints

If on completion of Stages One and Two (as outlined in 3.6), the complaint is not resolved to the customer’s satisfaction, they will be advised they have 28 working days from the date of the full response letter to provide details of why they consider their complaint unresolved. At this point the customer will pass to the next and final stage (Stage Three) involving the Chief Executive or their designate.

3.6 Escalation Stages and Response Standards

As per Appendix A, Process Map:

Escalation Stages and response times;

Stage One:

  • Service area/Group responds to customer. Overseen by the appropriate Unit Manager
  • Acknowledged within two working days of receipt and a full reply within 10 working days from the date of receipt.
  • If no satisfaction at this point, the issue will escalate to Stage Two.

Stage Two:

  • Appropriate General Manager/Director reviews the first response to the customer, investigates and responds to the customer.
  • Acknowledged within two working days - full reply within 10 working days.
  • If the customer is not satisfied, the complaint will escalate to Stage Three.

Stage Three:

  • Chief Executive or designate review the previous response to the customer and responds. This is the final stage of the procedure.
  • Acknowledged within two working days and a full reply within 10 working days.

3.7 Complaints involving more than one service or business unit

Generally, issues involving more than one unit will be managed by the first unit receiving the complaint. This unit will co-ordinate and agree a response on behalf of any other units concerned.

3.8 Misdirected Complaints

If any complaint is misdirected, the receiving unit will acknowledge the complaint, inform the customer which unit is responsible and pass the issue immediately to the correct group for action.

3.9 Complaints against an individual staff member

The Council is committed to ensure that complaints are dealt with fairly and impartially.  If a complaint is received about a staff member, the appropriate Unit Manager will be responsible for the management and resolution of the issue.

3.10 Complaints against the Chief Executive

Any complaint against the Chief Executive will be referred to the Mayor, who will determine the most appropriate means of investigation and resolution. The procedures and timescales for any such complaint may fall outside the normal standard, and, should this be the case, this would be formally advised to the complainant.

3.11 Complaints against Elected Members

Elected Members must comply with the Councillors’ Code of Conduct. This Code describes the high standards of conduct required from Councillors in carrying out their duties. Complaints regarding the conduct of a Councillor should be referred to the Mayor, who will manage such complaints in conjunction with the Chief Executive, in accordance with the procedures prescribed in the Code of Conduct.

3.12 Anonymous complaints

Complaints made anonymously will be given consideration and dealt with as appropriate depending on the information given. This includes any issues that may be laid anonymously under the “whistle-blower” legislation.

3.13 Monitoring

For all stages of the procedure, the responsible member of staff within a service area, business unit or group, will be responsible for the compliance with the policy and for maintaining adequate records for recording and reporting the following information:

  • Name and contact details of the complainant (where there are no requirements for anonymity)
  • Details of complaint
  • Tracking/progress information
  • Resolution information

Further redress information provided and any action taken.

Appendix A, Process Map:

customer complaints process map