Council services by letter

Agenda item


Corporate Complaints - Annual Report

Report of the Director of Customer Services and Business Transformation


The Committee received a report which provided information on complaints received by Harrow Council and how they were handled. The officer reported that the number of complaints recorded on CRM had risen to over 1,500 and this could be viewed as positive.  If complaints were understood, they could be rectified and responded to and common themes could be addressed. 85% of complaints had been responded to within timescales set.


The officer reported that it was necessary to do more promotion to advise residents of the complaints procedure.  Currently, only 4% of complaints were received through the web and officers would like to increase the usage of this channel.  In terms of the next steps, officers would be looking at the possibility of sharing complaints data with neighbouring authorities.


Having considered the report and the figures contained therein, Members made comments and asked questions as follows:


·                     A Member stated that it would have been helpful if the officer had spoken to the officer that had attended the last meeting of the Committee to present the reports on Adults and Children’s Services’ complaints in order to address the issues raised at that meeting in the report currently before Members.


·                     In terms of communications, a Member advised that Aberdeen Council were doing well in this area and she questioned how Harrow was performing.  The officer responded that a considerable amount of data was collected via Access Harrow and that the complaints database was operated through a CRM system.  Work would continue with the Communications team in order to convey the message in terms of complaints reporting.


·                     A Member challenged the officer, questioning the aim of the report and what it sought to report.  The Member stated that the report contained 2 sets of unrelated data and that there was no basis for comparison.  It appeared that the complaints process was isolated from the operation of the Council and he questioned what residents actually complained about as the report did not provide that information.  The officer advised that the report detailed the 2011/12 figures compared with previous year’s, highlighted issues and provided information on Local Government Ombudsman complaints.  The officer reported that there was a mismatch of data as in previous years as not all departments had used CRM.  This would be improved in future years as the quality of data improved.  There were regular meetings of the complaints co?ordinators and information was shared at the quarterly improvement boards.  In order to try to address some of the Member’s concerns, the officer undertook to try to make the report clearer in the future.


·                     Responding to a Member’s question, the officer advised that the increase in the number of complaints recorded was due to the CRM system and that previously there had not been a holistic approach.  He advised that the complaint’s co-ordinators were authorised to respond to stage one complaints in their service area.  The Member reiterated the view that he had expressed at the Committee’s previous meeting in that the Chief Executive should see all stage 3 complaints prior to submission to the Local Government Ombudsman.  In terms of the number of complaints seen by the Ombudsman, the officer advised that of the 147 considered, approximately 1/3 had bypassed Harrow’s complaints process.  Once the Ombudsman’s annual report was received, it would be possible to identify which complaints had progressed to stage 3.


·                     A Member questioned the reasons for late responses from Housing and was advised that sometimes the Council let itself down by not keeping the customer informed of any on going investigation.  There was a need to manage customer expectations.


·                     A Member stated that he could not tell from the report whether complaints was properly resourced.  The officer advised that, in terms of benchmarking, information had been requested from other boroughs.


·                     Following questions from a Member as to the accuracy of recording complaints, the officer advised that the issue was determining whether a matter was a complaint or service request and that a stage 1 complaint was an issue that could not be resolved on the spot.  In terms of a complaint that had not been resolved within the specified service standard, he advised that he would expect the matter to be escalated.  In terms of the procedure in place, he advised that he chaired the customer service group and that a regular report was submitted to the Corporate Strategy Board, which was also shared with the service lead.  The Councillor enquiry email address was monitored by Access Harrow and he was looking to see if councillor requests could be captured through CRM on their dedicated enquiry line.


·                     A Member commented that it would be beneficial for the Chief Executive to see the whole process and added that, in the re-structure, complaints did not appear to be cross cutting.  The officer advised that a regular report was considered by the Improvement Boards, that all directorates were represented at the quarterly complaints meetings and that a number of complaints were initially directed to the Chief Executive’s office and he was therefore aware of the process.


·                     In terms of equalities, the officer would be discussing this issue with the Council’s Equalities officer in 3-4 weeks.  He would like to see an increase in the use of the web form to capture equalities information.


·                     A Member questioned the use of mystery shoppers and was advised that whilst such exercises had been carried out annually, from January 2012 they would be monthly.


The officer advised that both his Director and the Assistant Chief Executive participated in a back to the floor exercise on a monthly basis in order to better understand customer demand. Corporate and Divisional Directors were also encouraged to take part.  He invited any Member that was interested to contact him if they wished to work in Access Harrow to see how it operated.


The Chair thanked the officer for his report and responses.


RESOLVED:  That the report be noted.

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