Agenda item

Annual Complaints & Service Update report


Ian Anderson - Business Manager, Complaints & Enquiries Team, introduced a report detailing information and analysis of complaints and Members' Enquiries received between 1 April 2021 and 31 March 2022.


The report was summarised, which showed that there was an overall increase in the number of informal complaints received, an increase in Stage 2 complaints, and an increase in investigations by the Ombudsman.  The service areas that had received the most number of informal complaints were Housing, Waste and ASBET. The number of Stage 2 complaints had increased because the Council had made a conscious decision to give complainants the option to escalate to Stage 2 if they were dissatisfied with the Stage 1 response, rather than a direct escalation to the Ombudsman from Stage 1. The number of Ombudsman investigations had also increased, mainly because the Ombudsman paused their investigations for 4 months during 2020/21 and they had caught up in 2021/22. It was recognised that the Covid-19 pandemic had likely contributed to the increase, as more people had been at home to experience issues previously unrecognised when away at work.


Compliments had been seen to have decreased when compared to the previous year, though this was expected as the planting of borough-wide wildflowers had resulted in a disproportionately high number of compliments during 2020/21.


Member’s Enquiries (ME’s) were similar to the previous year, with the most common queries on the subject of Planning, Housing and Waste (particularly issues of fly-tipping). ME’s on adult/children social care issues were comparatively fewer in number, but were more complex and demanding to resolve.


Response times were broadly positive, though in some areas could be better. However, Members were reminded that Hillingdon had set a much tighter deadline for responding to Stage 1 complaints than most other Local Authorities i.e. Hillingdon’s target for responding to Stage 1 complaints was 10 working days, as opposed to 20 working days.


It was commented that residents would lodge complaints about the application of a policy, such as the Social Housing Allocation Policy, rather than the principle of the policy itself. These complaints tended to escalate to the Ombudsman.


Members sought further information on a number of points. Regarding the use of mediation and conciliation to de-escalate issues, the Committee was advised that mediation was available to residents but rarely progressed as all parties had to agree to mediation and usually one party would decline. It was agreed that the officer would look into whether staff in the Council had been trained as mediators and whether there was any potential for staff to receive mediation training. The importance of learning from errors and striking a conciliatory tone when responding to residents had been recognised. Data, as set out in the report, was presented to Corporate and Senior Managers to identify trends and issues to be overcome.


Customer satisfaction on the complaints process was difficult to gauge, with previous feedback exercises showing that ratings were often dependant on whether or not the outcome had been positive for the resident. Members suggested that officers review the potential for a pop-up feedback survey on the Council’s website.


The new ME process was confirmed to provide a greater amount of real-time data, including a distinction between service requests and Members Enquiries.


Regarding ME’s on fly-tipping, it was requested that the clerk forward the most recent report on Hillingdon’s review of littering and fly-tipping to Cllr Mand. The Chairman advised that the topic was also being reviewed within the LGA, with harsher penalties for offenders being considered.


On the matter of delays, it was confirmed that most complainants were responded to within 20 days. When delays did occur, the timeline was missed in most instances by 1-3 days. The Committee requested that further data, broken down by service area, be provided following the meeting.


It was requested that future reports include detail of Hillingdon’s performance versus its statistical neighbours.


RESOLVED:  That the report be noted.

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