APPENDIX 2 Corporate Services Procedure Ref COMPLAINT HANDLING PROCEDURE Version CHP1 Staff Affected All Staff Lead Officer Christine Fenton/Jeanette Marples Approved by Head of Finance, Property & Revenues Services V1 Issue Date 2013 Review Date April 2015 1. PURPOSE The purpose of this document is to outline Council’s Complaint Handling Procedure and how we ensure that all complaints are registered and dealt with efficiently and effectively. The recent introduction of a Housing Ombudsman dealing with complaints specifically relating to Housing has added a further step in to the complaints process for Housing complaints. 2. RISKS PROCEDURE IS DESIGNED TO CONTROL The procedure is designed to implement a number of robust controls to effectively manage complaint cases 3. ABBREVIATIONS CRM – Customer Relationship Management System HOS – Housing Ombudsman Service LGO – Local Government Ombudsman 4. DEFINITIONS The following definitions for the purpose of this procedure are: Complaint – is defined as “when dissatisfaction is expressed about our service (whether that service is provided directly by the council or by a contractor or partner) that requires a response. Complaints should be lodged promptly, preferably within 6 months of the event which is being complained about occurring and can be done in person, via the telephone, email or in writing. Therefore, when a customer contacts us because they are dissatisfied with something we have or have not done; we will consider this to be a complaint. A customer complaint could include one or more of the following: A customer is dissatisfied with a delay in providing them with a service A customer is dissatisfied because we have failed or refused to provide a service A customer is dissatisfied with the poor quality of service they have received or a mistake has been made A customer is dissatisfied because we have withdrawn a service A customer is dissatisfied with a staff member’s behaviour A customer considers that we have acted against our policies A customer considers that they have been unreasonably disadvantaged by our policies A customer considers that we have unfairly discriminated against them Unreasonable, persistent or vexatious complaints – complaints which involve aggressive or abusive behaviour, unreasonable demands or unreasonable persistence Comment – a comment is a general statement about policies, practices or a service as a whole. Comments may question policies and practices, make suggestions for new services or for improving existing services Compliment – an expression of praise. It is a positive statement about a service provided by or on behalf of the Housing Department, or about the helpfulness, attitude or approach of a member of staff Complainant – A member of the public or a representative acting on their behalf directly affected by the services we provide or the actions of our staff, contractors or partners whilst working on or undertaking council business. Housing Ombudsman – a service set up by law to look at complaints about registered providers of social housing. From 1 April 2013, Mansfield District Council, as a stock retained local authority will automatically become a member of the Housing Ombudsman Service by effect of the provisions of the Localism Act 2011. Local Government Ombudsman - looks at complaints about all other council services. Appendix A details the complaint categories that should be referred to the Housing Ombudsman service. It is important to note that not all Housing related complaints are handled by the Housing Ombudsman and therefore a list of the complaints that are the responsibility of the Local Government Ombudsman is also included. Designated person – The Localism Act 2011 introduced a potential extra external stage to the complaints process for Registered Social Housing Providers from April 2013. A social housing tenant has to go through a “Designated Person” in order to refer their complaint to the Housing Ombudsman once the landlord’s internal complaints procedure has been exhausted. (or wait 8 weeks after exhausting the internal complaints procedure before referring their complaint directly to the Housing Ombudsman) “Designated persons” are defined in the Localism Act as an MP, a local councillor for the district in which the complainant’s home is located, or a designated tenant panel. 5. COMPLAINT HANDLING PROCEDURE What is a complaint? Whilst the definition of a complaint is outlined in section 4, appendix B provides a range of examples of complaints we may receive, and how these may be handled. A complaint is not: A routine first time request for a service A request for compensation only Issues that are in court or have already been heard by a court of a tribunal An appeal against a decision where there is an established appeal route; these should be heard through the appropriate appeal process An attempt to reopen a previously concluded complaint or to have a complaint reconsidered where we have already given our final decision Appendix C gives more examples of ‘what is not a complaint’ and how to direct customers appropriately. This includes an example of when an anti social behaviour complaint may and may not be considered a complaint. Handling anonymous complaints We value all complaints. This means we treat all complaints including anonymous complaints seriously and will take action to consider them further, wherever this is appropriate. Generally, we will consider anonymous complaints if there is enough information in the complaint to enable us to make further enquiries. If, however, an anonymous complaint does not provide enough information to enable us to take further action, the officer may decide not to pursue it. Any decision not to pursue an anonymous complaint must be authorised by a senior manager. If an anonymous complaint makes serious allegations, the officer taking the complaint will refer it to a senior officer immediately. If the decision is taken to pursue an anonymous complaint further, the officer will record the issues as an anonymous complaint on the CRM system. This will help to ensure the completeness of the complaints data we record and allow us to take corrective action where appropriate. What if the customer doesn’t want to complain? If a customer has expressed dissatisfaction in line with our definition of a complaint but does not want to complain, tell them that we do consider all expressions of dissatisfaction, and that customer complaints offer us the opportunity to improve services where things go wrong. Encourage the customer to submit their complaint and allow us to deal with it through our complaint handling procedure. This will ensure that the customer is updated on the action taken and gets a response to their complaint. If, however, the customer insists they do not wish to complain, record the issue as an anonymous complaint. This will ensure that the customer’s details are not recorded on the CRM, and that they receive no further contact about the matter. It will also help to ensure the completeness of the complaints data recorded and will still allow us to fully consider the matter and take corrective action where appropriate. Please refer to the example in appendix B for further guidance. Who can make a complaint? Anyone who receives, requests or is affected by our services can make a complaint. This obviously includes our tenants. It also includes a member of the public who could have access to or be affected by our services Sometimes a customer may be unable or reluctant to make a complaint on their own. We will accept complaints brought about by third parties as long as the customer has given their personal consent. These complaints are treated in the same way as any other, regardless of who brought the complaint. The complaint handling procedure Our complaints handling procedure aims to provide a quick, simple and streamlined process for resolving complaints early and locally by capable, well trained staff. Our complaints procedure provides 3 opportunities to resolve complaints internally: Fig. 1 - The Complaints Handling Procedure STAGE 1. FRONTLINE RESOLUTION STAGE 2. INVESTIGATION REVIEW For issues that are straightforward and easily resolved, requiring little or no investigation. For issues that have not been resolved at the frontline or that are complex, serious or high risk. For issues that have not been resolved at the investigation stage On the spot apology, explanation or other action taken to resolve the complaint quickly. Investigations completed by a senior manager for the appropriate service area Complaints addressed by any member of staff or alternatively referred to the appropriate point for frontline resolution. A response provided within 15 working days following a thorough investigation of the points raised Complaint details, outcome and action taken, recorded and used for service improvement Housing Department responses signed off by complaints coordinator The complainant is not happy with the outcome of the investigation stage Review completed by Customer Services Manager A response provided within 15 working days following a thorough review of the points raised and initial response Responses signed off by Managing Director Appendix B gives examples of the types of complaints we may consider at any stage of the complaints process and gives suggestions on how to resolve them. Frontline Resolution Frontline resolution aims to quickly resolve straightforward customer complaints that require little or no investigation. Any member of staff may deal with complaints at this stage. The main principle is to seek early resolution, resolving complaints at the earliest opportunity and as close to the point of service delivery as possible. This may mean face to face discussion with the customer, or asking an appropriate member of staff to deal directly with the complaint. In practice, frontline resolution means resolving the complaint at the first point of contact with the customer, either by the member of staff receiving the complaint or other identified staff. In either case, you may settle the complaint by providing an on the spot apology where appropriate, or explaining why the issue occurred and, where possible, what will be done to stop this from happening again. You may also explain that, as an organisation that values complaints, we may use the information given when we review service standards in future. How can complaints be made? A customer can make a complaint in writing, in person, by telephone, by email or online, or by having someone complain on their behalf. You should always consider frontline resolution, regardless of how you have received the customer’s complaint. What to do when you receive a complaint 1. On receiving a complaint, you must first decide whether the issue can indeed be defined as a complaint. The customer may express dissatisfaction about more than one issue. This may mean you treat one element as a complaint, while directing the customer to pursue another element through an alternative route. 2. If you have received and identified a complaint, record the details on the CRM system (a guide to handling complaints can be found on the CRM system) 3. Next decide whether or not the complaint is suitable for frontline resolution. Some complaints will need to be fully investigated before you can give the customer a suitable response. You must escalate these complaints immediately to the investigation stage. 4. Where you think frontline resolution is appropriate, you must consider four key questions; What exactly is the customer’s complaint? What does the customer want to achieve by complaining? Can I achieve this, or explain why not? If I can’t resolve this, who can help with frontline resolution? What exactly is the customer’s complaint? It is important to be clear about exactly what the customer is complaining of. You may need to ask the customer for more information and probe further to get the full picture What does the customer want to achieve by complaining? At the outset, clarify the outcome the customer wants. Of course, the customer may not be clear about this, and you may need to probe further to find out what they expect, and whether they can be satisfied. Can I achieve this, or explain why not? If you can achieve the expected outcome by providing an on the spot apology, or explain why you can’t achieve what the customer wants, you should do so. The customer may expect more than we can provide. If so, you must tell them as soon as possible. An example would be where the customer is so dissatisfied with a kitchen refurbishment that they demand a new kitchen, but we are only willing to repair any broken units You are likely to have to convey the decision face to face or on the telephone. If you so face to face, by telephone, or by email, you are not required to write to the customer as well. Although you may choose to do so or the customer may ask you to do so. It is important, however, to keep a full and accurate record of the decision reached and passed to the customer. If I can’t resolve this, who can help with frontline resolution? If you cannot deal with the complaint because, for example, you are unfamiliar with the issues or area of service involved, pass details of the complaint to someone who can attempt to resolve it. Timelines Frontline resolution must be completed within 5 working days, although in practice we would often expect to resolve the complaint much sooner. You may need to get more information from other services to resolve the complaint at this stage. However, it is important to respond to the customer within 5 working days, either resolving the matter or explaining their complaint is being investigated. Closing the complaint at the frontline resolution stage. When you have informed the customer of the outcome, you do not have to write to the customer, although you may choose to, or the customer may ask you to. You must ensure that our response to the complaint addresses all areas that we are responsible for and explains the reason for our decision. It is also important to keep a full and accurate record of the decision reached and given to the customer. The complaint should be closed and the CRM system updated accordingly (see appendix C) When to escalate to the investigation stage A complaint must be escalated to the investigation stage (stage 1) when: Frontline resolution was tried but the customer remains dissatisfied and requests an investigation into the complaint The customer refuses to take part in the frontline resolution procedure The issues raised are complex and require detailed investigation The complaint relates to serious, high risk or high profile issues If a previously closed complaint is escalated from the frontline resolution stage, the complaint should be logged again on the CRM system as a stage 1 complaint escalated from Informal and linked to the earlier informal complaint matter on CRM. Investigation stage (Stage 1) Not all complaints are suitable for frontline resolution and not all complaints will be satisfactorily resolved at that stage. Complaints handled at the investigation stage (Stage 1) are typically complex or require detailed examination before we can respond. These complaints may already have been considered at the frontline resolution stage, or they may have been identified from the start as needing immediate investigation. An investigation aims to establish all the facts relevant to the points made in the complaint and to give the customer a full, objective and proportionate response that represents our position. What to do when you receive a complaint for investigation (Stage 1) It is important to be clear from the start of the investigation stage exactly what you are investigating and ensure that both the customer and the service understand the investigation’s scope. It may be necessary for the investigating officer to contact the complainant to acknowledge receipt of the complaint, to establish why they are dissatisfied and whether the outcome they are looking for sounds realistic. In discussing the complaint with the customer, consider three key questions: What specifically is the customer’s complaint or complaints? What does the customer want to achieve by complaining? Are the customer’s expectations realistic and achievable? It may be that the customer expects more than we can provide. If so, you must make this clear to the customer as soon as possible. Where possible you should also clarify what additional information you will need to investigate the complaint. The customer may need to provide more evidence to help us reach a decision. The investigating officer should update the CRM system with any further details including preferred method of communication, gathered at this stage and again when the investigation ends. Timelines The following deadlines are appropriate to cases at the investigation stage: Complaints must be logged and acknowledged within five working days (on receipt of the complaint) by the Managing Director’s Personal Assistant A full response should be provided within 15 working days where possible, from the time the complaint was logged on the CRM system. Extensions to the timeline Not all investigations will be able to meet this deadline. For example, some complaints are so complex that they require careful consideration and detailed investigation beyond the 15 day limit. However, these would be the exception and you must always try to deliver a final response to a complaint within 15 working days. If there are clear and justifiable reasons for extending the timescales, the Head of Service will set time limits on any extended investigation, as long as the customer agrees. The investigating officer will keep the customer updated on the reason for the delay and give them a revised timescale for completion. If the customer does not agree to an extension but it is unavoidable and reasonable, then the Head of Service must consider and confirm the extension. The reasons for an extension might include: Essential accounts or statements, crucial to establishing the circumstances of the case, are needed from staff, customers or others but they cannot help because of long term sickness or leave You cannot obtain further essential information within normal timescales Operations are disrupted by unforeseen or unavoidable operational circumstances, for example industrial action or severe weather Closing the complaint at the investigation stage The investigating officer will let the customer know the outcome of the investigation, in writing or by preferred method of contact. Our response to the complaint must address all issues raised and explain the reasons for our decision. If the complainant has raised issues that our outside the Council’s remit, we must, where appropriate, signpost them appropriately. The investigating officer must also record the decision, and details of how it was communicated to the customer, on the CRM system and attach any relevant documents to the complaint on CRM. You must also make clear to the customer: Their right to ask for the decision to be reviewed (Stage 2) The time limit for doing so Reviewing the decision (Stage 2 – Managing Director) Once the investigation stage has been completed, the customer has the right to ask for the decision to be reviewed if they remain dissatisfied. The Officer nominated by the Managing Director to undertake the review will establish whether: The initial complaint was dealt with correctly, and within the timescales There was an administrative fault There was a service failure All aspects of the complaint were dealt with Timelines The following deadlines are appropriate to cases at the review stage: Complaints must be acknowledged within five working days (on receipt of the complaint) by the investigating officer A full response should be provided within 15 working days where possible, from the time the complaint was logged on the CRM system Closing the case at the review stage (Stage 2 – Managing Director) The investigating officer will let the Managing Director (via her Personal Assistant) have a draft response for the complaint together with any relevant investigation details. Once satisfied that the investigation and complaint response is appropriate the customer will be notified of the outcome by their preferred method of contact. As before, the response to the complaint must address all areas and explain the reasons for the decision. Once the response has been issued, the investigating officer must also record the decision, and details of how it was communicated to the customer, on the CRM system. A copy if the decision letter, or email as appropriate, must be attached to the complaint record in CRM. The response issued must also make it clear to the customer of: Their right to approach the Local Government Ombudsman (in the case of nonHousing complaints) Their right to directly approach the Housing Ombudsman Service in the case of Housing Complaints: Their right to approach a ‘designated person’ (in the case of Housing Complaints) if they remain unhappy with the outcome of the review The role of the designated person and contact details (for Housing complaints) Their right to directly approach the Housing Ombudsman Service. RECORDING, REPORTING, AND PUBLICISING One of the aims of the Complaint Handling Procedure is to identify opportunities to improve services across our business. We must record all customer feedback including complaints in a systematic way so that we can use the data for analysis and management reporting. By recording and using customer feedback in this way, we can identify and address causes of complaints and, where appropriate, identify training opportunities and introduce service improvements. Recording complaints To collect suitable data it is essential to record all complaints on CRM in line with the Ombudsman/Housing Ombudsman’s minimum requirements, as follows: The customer’s name and address The date the complaint was received The nature of the complaint How the complaint was received The service the complaint refers to The date the complaint was closed at the frontline resolution stage (where appropriate) The date the complaint was escalated to investigation stage (Stage 1) Action taken at each stage The outcome of the complaint at each stage The date the complaint was closed at each stage The underlying cause of the complaint and any remedial action (lessons learned and changes made) Reporting and publicising complaints Complaint details should be analysed by service areas for trend information to ensure we identify service failures and take appropriate action. Regularly reporting the analysis of complaints information helps to inform management of where services need to improve. We will publish the outcome of complaints on our website, in our newsletters and, for Housing complaints, in the annual tenants report and report on the actions we have taken in response. This will demonstrate the improvements resulting from complaints and show that complaints can influence our services. It also helps ensure transparency in our process and will demonstrate to our customers that we value complaints. Appendix A Complaints for referral to the Housing Ombudsman Unless stated otherwise the Housing Ombudsman considers complaints about housing associations and local housing authorities for: Leasehold services Shared ownership and sales processes for leasehold properties Shared ownership stair-casing Full ownership and sales processes for leasehold properties owned by housing associations Right to buy and right to acquire for tenants of housing associations Repair responsibilities under the lease Mortgage rescue schemes Leasehold services provided by the landlord Moving to a property Transfer applications that are outside Housing Act 1996 Part 6 Type of tenancy offered Mutual exchange Decision to renew a fixed tenancy Decants Mobility Schemes Rent and service charges Rent or service charges Occupancy rights Terms and conditions of occupancy rights Succession Assignment Ending a tenancy (eg notice periods) Abandonment of property Possession proceedings Property condition – repairs and improvements Condition of the property when first let (eg void works) Responsive repairs Planned maintenance or cyclical works Improvement works carried out by landlord or tenant Rechargeable repairs Disabled adaptations Tenant behaviour Anti-social behaviour Noise nuisance Harassment Estate management Cleaning or repairs of communal areas Boundary issues Grounds maintenance Parking Use of communal areas Complaint handling The landlord’s handling of a complaint in their complaint process, including delays Compensation Home loss or disturbance payments Improvements carried out by the tenant Payment for damage to property or tenants belongings Discretionary payments The following housing related complaints should be referred to the Local Government Ombudsman rather than the Housing Ombudsman Housing allocations under Housing Act 1996 Part 6 Applications for re-housing that meet the reasonable preference criteria (dealt with by the local housing authority or any other body acting on its behalf, which could include a housing association). Includes complaints about: o Assessment of such applications, the award of points, banding or a decision that the application does not qualify for reasonable preference o Operation of choice based lettings schemes and about the suitability of accommodation offered under those schemes. Homelessness under Housing Act 1996 Part 7 Applications for assistance under the homelessness legislation (dealt with by the local housing authority or any other body acting on its behalf, which could include a housing association). Includes complaints about: o Homelessness advice and homelessness prevention activities o How applications are dealt with and decisions about eligibility for and allocation of interim and temporary accommodation. General housing advice General advice from the local authority about housing options Handling of reports from tenants of private landlords about unlawful eviction, harassment and other matters Housing benefit Handling of applications for housing benefit Housing improvement grants Applications for mandatory and discretionary housing improvement grants. Includes complaints about: o Provision of advice, processing of applications, preparation of schedules of work, payment of grant and other decisions on grant eligibility and entitlement o Actions of social services occupational therapy services with regard to assessment and eligibility for disabled facilities grant Antisocial behaviour Antisocial behaviour which does not fall within the remit of a social landlord. Noise nuisance Reports of statutory noise and other nuisance to environmental health services Sale or disposal of land on housing estates Applications or requests to buy parcels of land owned by local authorities Sales processes for properties owned by local authorities Right to buy and right to acquire for tenants of local authorities Planning and building control at properties owned by a social landlord Applications for planning permission Planning enforcement Applications and enforcement under the building regulations Appendix B Complaints The following tables give examples of complaints that may be considered at the frontline stage, and suggest possible actions to achieve resolution. In all instances the complaint should be added to CRM, along with all relevant documentation, and lessons learned and action taken recorded. Complaint types Possible actions to achieve resolution Customer Care The customer is unhappy with the way they have been dealt with when contacting the Council or requesting a service. Equality of Opportunity A customer feels that we have discriminated against them unfairly. Establish why the customer feels that way. Explain the reasons for our actions. Apologise to the customer and if applicable, advise what (if any) action will be taken/changes will be made. Lack of Service Provision A customer is aggrieved that services are provided in other areas, but not in their own. Or a neighbour has received a service and they have not. Explain the reasons why the service is not available. Apologise and explain what plans if any there are to rectify this. Natural Justice A customers is unhappy that action has been taken by the council which they believe adversely affects them. Not Recorded/Other These should only be used when none of the other complaint types apply. Policy A customer is unhappy with a Council Policy Quality of Service Provision A customer is unhappy with the quality of service they have received form us. Speak to the manager or member of staff involved to establish what happened/went wrong. Apologise to the customer and advise what action will be taken/changes will be made. Explain the reasons for our actions and how decisions were taken. Investigate to ensure all options were considered. Apologise to the customer and if applicable, advise what (if any) action will be taken/changes will be made. Explain the reasons for our actions and how decisions were taken. Investigate to ensure all options were considered. Apologise to the customer and if applicable, advise what (if any) action will be taken/changes will be made. Investigate whether the complaint is valid, have we had similar complaints from others, should we consider reviewing the policy? Explain the reasons for the policy. Apologise to the customer and if applicable, advise what (if any) action will be taken/changes will be made. Investigate the complaint, have we had similar complaints from others, should we consider reviewing how we operate the service? Apologise to the customer and if applicable, advise what (if any) action will be taken/changes will be made. Response Times A customer is unhappy with the length of time we have taken to resolve a request for service or respond to an enquiry Investigate whether the complaint is valid Explain the reasons for the delay, apologise to the customer and if applicable advise what (if any) action will be taken/changes. Staff Attitude A customer is unhappy with the manner of the staff member dealing with their enquiry and/or how they were spoken to. Speak to the manager or member of staff involved to establish what happened/went wrong. Apologise to the customer and advise what action will be taken/changes will be made. Appendix C What is not a complaint? A concern may not necessarily be a complaint. For example, a customer might make a routine first time request for a service. This is not a complaint, but the issue may escalate into a complaint if it is not handled effectively and the customer has to keep asking for the service. Ensure that you are clear about the relevant legal, policy and administrative background to the complaint. A customer may be concerned about the various decisions we make. These decisions may have their own specific review or appeal procedures, and, where appropriate, we should direct customers to the relevant procedure. Always assess whether the complaints procedure is the most appropriate way of handling the complaint. However, if a customer expresses dissatisfaction with the administrative process we have followed to arrive at a decision, we should treat this as a complaint. Consider the alternatives and discuss them with the complainant: Appeal or Tribunal Legal Action Complaint to the Standards Board of England Police Involvement Complaint about the behaviour of a Council Member Claims for compensation A customer may seek compensation from us if they consider us liable. This includes issues such as personal injury or loss of or damage to property. Claims for compensation only are not complaints, so may not need to be handled through the complaint handling procedure. However, where a customer wants to complain about the matter leading to their request for compensation, for example workmen damaging their home, you may consider that matter as a complaint and deal with the request for compensation separately. You may decide to suspend complaint action pending the outcome of the claim for compensation. If you do this, you should notify the customer and explain that the complaint will be fully considered when the compensation claim has been resolved.