HPeacock presented the policy, noting that it is a part of the Customer Strategy, as approved by Cabinet in February 2022. The strategy focuses on putting the customer at the centre of services and providing a positive customer experience, which includes looking at the complaints process with the aim to make it more effective and positive. The first phase looked at mapping the existing complaints process through workshops with customers and officers. This process identified a number of pain points within the policy and procedures behind it, and the second phase of implementation is taking these lessons learned by amending the policy to reflect these lessons. The key changes within the policy include speeding up response times to provide a more effective and efficient response. The other change is regarding the levels of responsibility where a team leader completes stage 1 and head of service or above completes stage 2. This recognises the understanding of issues that team leaders will already have as well as providing a wider pool of officers to respond to complaints, thereby improving response rates. Calling customers to address informal complaints has also been added to the policy to ensure that officers are having conversations with customers and helping mitigate any issues before becoming formal complaints.
Cllr Harden asked what is the preferred method of communication to the council from a resident.
HPeacock responded that the majority of complaints are via the webform on the intranet and internet pages, though further statistics on contact routes could be provided.
Cllr Harden commented that there is an issue that people are unable to get through to officers via telephone and that they need to consider how they manage the expectation people have that someone will pick up the call. Cllr Harden stated that they also need to look at how they promote the preferred route of communication to help reduce complaints.
Cllr Harden commented that people are unable to call up to book bulky item collection and that Homelessness can't be contacted out of hours via phone.
On contacting the Homelessness service, NBeresford advised that this can't be contacted directly out of hours, though this issue has been addressed and scripting has been reviewed with the Customer Service Unit to allow the handler to assess the call and then contact the out of hours homelessness officer. The number isn't readily shared with residents, though officers proactively engage with call handlers.
Cllr Hollinghurst commented that he was pleased to hear that the issue has now been addressed, noting that homelessness needs to be on the menu when people are calling the out of hours number.
HPeacock noted that officers will receive training on the process for handling complaints and what customer expectations are. The expectation on officers is also addressed through the strategy and ensuring that this is embedded in all their work.
Referring back to Cllr Harden's earlier comment regarding bulky item collections, HPeacock advised that they are working in partnership with Ignite on a series of improvement workshops to look at individual processes on customer-facing and high-volume processes. This process will be mapped to look at how it can be made more effective and efficient, and whilst bulky items isn't part of the first phase of this work, learnings will be taken and applied to further processes in future.
Cllr Hollinghurst commented on the usefulness of geographical identification when logging complaints and asked if this could help identify any hotspots.
HPeacock confirmed that this information could be obtained from the e-form and that these locations are mapped to then be fed into the complaints data that is provided back to the service.
Cllr Adeleke commented on item 5.12 in the report regarding receiving a formal response within 20 working days and asked if this is the normal working standard.
HPeacock advised that this is in line with the Housing Ombudsman policy and is the industry standard.
The Chair remarked that complaints from residents tend to be regarding services provided by contractors.
NBeresford noted that any complaints about contractors should come to the council to investigate further to help identify any remedial action required.
Cllr Griffiths said that it doesn't matter who is delivering the service and that if DBC has given the contract out then it is is their responsibility to pick up any issues. Ownership should be taken and internal procedures should then be part of the contract arrangement with the third-party.
The Chair commented that the timeline set out has not been followed before with contractors and that they would now be told to respond within the timeframes set out.
Cllr Pringle noted that residents have reported incidents, including ones that pose a danger to children, and that they have ended up in the Osborne system, which isn't up to the same standards as with DBC. Issues raised with Osborne may not be picked up and therefore performance targets could then be misrepresented. Cllr Pringle continued that they should scrutinise Osborne's complaints handling process and this should be part of any contract to ensure that third parties align to DBC's complaints policy.
NBeresford thanked Cllr Pringle for the comments and confirmed that she would liaise with HPeacock on this further. NBeresford confirmed that they actively engage with Osborne and other contractors regarding ongoing complaints and joint liaison meetings take place in relation the customer interface and contract. It was noted that MPurnell could demonstrate to members the approach that is taken regarding monitoring satisfaction and responses to complaints. (ACTION: N Beresford)
Cllr Pringle commented that some complaints may not be accounted for and asked how they capture the population that give up on a complaint.
NBeresfordadvised that they need to ensure that both staff and residents are aware of the revised policy. HPeacock added that they are looking to improve data quality and the monitoring of outstanding complaints.
Cllr Griffiths noted that the complaints policy will be available on the website, meaning that residents will know the timelines for complaints, and that staff now take personal ownership of an issue that comes to them, which will be assisted by the data monitoring and IT that will be brought in. This will help identify any gaps around poor staff performance or understanding. Cllr Griffiths commended the work and noted the importance of understanding the data involved.
Cllr Pringle asked if they are taking away learning points regarding systemic failures, particularly when there is a high turnover of staff.
Cllr Griffiths advised that this would be addressed through a CRM to allow issues to be documented. HPeacock agreed, adding that that they are looking to streamline the database to help provide an overview of concerns. Staff are being centralised into the Customer Service unit and repetitive complaints will be addressed through service improvements.
Cllr Dhyani asked for an update on the CRM.
HPeacock confirmed that a CRM system is being investigated as part of the customer strategy and that further detailed work is being developed on this, which will then come back through for member consideration given that it will be a considerable investment.
Cllr Dhyani asked if it is realistic for the policy to begin from 1 December.
HPeacock confirmed that time is required to put the policy in place and that it will go to Cabinet in November, though work is also being done regarding the centralisation of staff and resource as well as the production of procedures that form part of the policy.
Cllr Johnson stated that it would be useful for residents to have an index so that they could be signposted around where to send complaints.
HPeacock acknowledged the comment, noting that this is a challenge of local government, and that when the policy goes live, wording will be included to detail what items are within DBC's remit or other services that they can contact.
The Committee noted the report.
ACTION: NBeresford to ask MPurnell to share approach regarding monitoring satisfaction and responses to complaints with members.