1.1 To present to the Board an overview of
both Corporate and Statutory complaints and compliments activity
1.2 The number of corporate complaints and representations received in 2021/22 was slightly lower than in 2020/21, although there was a slight increase in the number of complaints progressed to the second (and final) stage of the complaints procedure.
1.3 The number of complaints about Adult Social Care Complaints reduced by 2 (from 35 to 33) and the number of Children’s Social Care complaints increased by 2 (from 52 to 54). There was a decrease in the proportion of statutory Children’s Social Care complaints resolved within the 20 working day timescale but the quality of responses was maintained.
The report before the Scrutiny Board provided Members with an overview of both Corporate and Statutory complaints and compliments activity for 2021/22.
The Customer Relations Manager introduced the report.
Members were informed that the report addressed Children’s Services and Adult Social Care statutory complaints procedures and Corporate Complaints procedures. The number of Childrens and Adult Social Care complaints had decreased slightly compared to the previous year, as had those pertaining to residential care homes.
Although the number of Corporate Complaints had slightly decreased there had been a rise in those going forward to formal complaint stages. Complaints progressing to the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) remained relatively low.
Members of the Scrutiny Board raised several related questions to the report, which in summary included the following matters.
Councillor Gibbin queried how Council staff were supported when managing vexatious complaints. The Customer Relations Manager informed the Scrutiny Board that a Council policy was in place addressing vexatious complaints. In the case of vexatious complaints, the complainant would be contacted and provided with a specific telephone number/e-mail address to contain the complainant from reaching wider staff groups.
The Council’s Complaints Team liaise with relevant senior managers regarding vexatious complaints and offer support daily to those staff members addressing the complaint. The Complaints Team also has the means to act as a first line of contact for on-going communications for such complaints, as well as liaising with the Human Resources department as part of the staff support protocols as needed.
Having received the introduction to the report, Members of the Scrutiny Board raised several related questions to the report, which in summary included the following matters:
Councillor Allen highlighted the table within the report which detailed categories of issues raised within complaints received and noted that there appeared to be a definite trend in relation to the categories of Attitude or Behaviour of Staff and Unsatisfactory Communication. Councillor Allen noted that both categories were fundamental as to how Children’s Services should be delivered and queried what actions were being taken to address these issues.
The Customer Relations Manager informed Members that the relevant line or team manager completes a learning form according to the nature of the complaint received. The Complaints Team follow up through the established complaints learning processes in place, which requires the service area involved in the complaint to confirm to the Complaints Team that all related learning arising through the complaint had been implemented in the business area. Furthermore, the Corporate Leadership Team received complaints data on a quarterly basis for review and Directorate Leadership Teams also received complaints reports data.
Councillor Allen stated that the learning processes in place did not appear to be addressing apparent difficulties with client communications and sought further detail as to how learning was evaluated. The Customer Relations Manager advised the Scrutiny Board that all highlighted learning was collated and that officers from the Complaints Team attended the respective services team meetings to discuss the nature of the complaint and what further actions could be implemented to potentially reduce the number of future complaints to a minimum.
Councillor Parker observed that to prevent a repetition of the same type of complaints from arising, the route cause of the complaints had to be first identified, which may involve changing existing practices and/or staff training. Regarding the complaint feedback forms issued to line managers and senior managers, Councillor Parker queried how much of the Complaints Team time was taken with reviewing the feedback forms.
The Customer Relations Manger confirmed that all feedback forms issued were returned completed to the Complaints Team, with the majority having been returned with responses from relevant social workers when requested.
Councillor Moses highlighted learning issues about the lack of communication, specifically those highlighted in the report which detailed:
- Ensure that social workers understand the impact of how they present information to families
- Continue to remind social workers of their duty to respond to a request in a timely way
- Undertake reflection about how the complainant perceived use of language and tone
Councillor Moses questioned whether the necessary learning was not in fact being undertaken due to factors such as time constraints and availability of resources.
The Customer Relations Manager advised that the complaints Learning Forms did take account of factors such as required resources to successfully implement the learning arising from the review of the complaint. Furthermore, the Learning Forms did require the relevant manager to state how the learning from the complaint would be achieved, how it would be delivered and by whom.
Councillor Moses stated that a proactive approach should be taken by service areas when addressing complaints and he was concerned that the trend analysis available appeared to show that some staff attitudes were an issue as a source for complaints arising. In respect of taking learning from complaints received, Councillor Moses observed that equal learning could be taken by service areas from compliments received and questioned whether compliments received were fed back to the teams/officers concerned.
The Customer Relations Manager confirmed that learning from compliments received was managed in a similar way as for identifying any best practice by a social worker to share and highlight with others.
Councillor Tildesley sought clarification as to whether all compliments received were recorded and noted that the report had not addressed what happened to those employees who were dismissed / resigned, or who had received final written warnings and how were such cases dealt with.
The Customer Relations Manager confirmed that a pro-active approach was taken in respect of all compliments received, with staff being reminded to raises instances of compliments having been received, as learning and best practice was taken where possible from compliments. Regarding employee disciplinary procedures, the Council’s Human Resources (HR) service managed any such cases. Such confidential information could only be shared in a relatively limited way, especially as any disciplinary cases pertained to the responsible manager and the H.R. service.
Councillor Tildesley clarified that he was only seeking clarification as to the numbers, not identity, of those employees who had been dismissed or received a written, final warning, as such information was vital to establish how the Council was dealing with such employees.
The Director of Resources and Deputy Chief Executive informed the Scrutiny
Board that disciplinary statistics for Council employees and the related issues as raised by the Scrutiny Board would be brought forward to the Scrutiny Board as part of a wider encompassing HR report scheduled as part of the Scrutiny Board’s 2022/23 work programme for the latter half of the municipal year.
Councillor Adeyemo queried how repeat complaints were managed, specifically whether they were classed under one heading or if the constituent components of the complaint, if applicable, were recorded separately. The Customer Relations Manager advised that complaints were recorded separately by individual. If a repeat complaint is received that had been managed through to the end of the formal complaints process, the person concerned would be advised that they had the option of approaching the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) to pursue their complaint further as a final recourse. The complaint would not be logged repeatedly thereafter.
Councillor Adeyemo noted that it was not made clear how many complaints were put on hold, for example due to on-going related Police investigations. Members were informed that this would not be relevant to the Council’s complaints process, as people would be re-directed to the appropriate organisation if the complaint was not relevant to the Council. If the originator of a complaint was in the process of taking legal action against the Council, the matter would not be dealt with through the Council’s complaints procedures.
In respect of Childrens Services, Councillor Adeyemo sought clarification as to what redress was available to a complainant in instances of undue stress having been caused them through the fault of the service. Members were informed that in any such cases, the LGO offers advice as to remedies that could be offered to the complainant in settlement. Factors to be considered in reaching a settlement would include time, trouble and distress caused to the complainant and typically would range between £100 - £500. A formal apology would also be issued from the Council to the complainant.
The Director of Resources and Deputy Chief Executive clarified further that it was not a case of any fiscal recompense being ‘claimed’ as such, but rather it was the Council making a payment proposal if deemed an appropriate response.
Councillor Clements queried how many officers formed the Complaints Team, whether complaints received by telephone were recorded and whether e-mail/telephone complaint transcripts were used as part of staff training and development.
The Customer Relations Manager advised that 4 officers comprised the Complaints Team for Childrens Services and Adult Social Care, whilst 2 officers formed the Corporate Complaints Team. The Complaints Team administered the complaints process. The Complaints Team would have a conversation directly with the complainant once an e-mail complaint had been recorded. A desired outcome arising from the complaint would be identified with the complainant before the complaint was passed on to the appropriate manager in the service area for a formal response. All available information pertaining to the complaint would be reviewed and relevant staff spoken with as part of the complaint investigation process.
Any learning arising from the complaint’s investigation process would be identified and discussed at relevant management meetings (in terms of generic learning) and / or applied specifically to an individual officer’s learning and development needs.
The Strategic Lead (Customer Services) advised Members that not all telephone calls were recorded, although a live report for a call would be available. Each telephone call would be evaluated immediately if in response to a complaint. Broader service complaints were reported to Directorate Leadership Teams on a quarterly basis. Any complaint trends/ spikes identified by the Corporate Complaints Team would be pro-actively raised and discussed immediately with the relevant service area.
Councillor Allen noted Table 8 ‘Complaints by Ward’ and requested a breakdown of complaints relevant to her ward to be made available directly.
Having considered the Annual Complaints and Compliments Reports – 2021/22, Members of the Resources and Delivering Value Scrutiny Board:
i) To note and endorse the content of the Annual Complaints and Compliments Reports 2021/22.
The Resources and Delivering Value Scrutiny Board meeting
closed at 7:44 p.m.