Agenda item

Complaints Annual Report 2017 - 2018

This annual report sets out complaints performance in Brent for the period April 2017 to March 2018 and focuses on the nature of complaints and the learning and improvements from complaints and Ombudsmen cases. 


Councillor McLennan introduced the Complaints Annual Report 2017 – 2018 to the committee which focussed on the nature of complaints and the learning and improvements from complaints and Local  Government Ombudsman (LGO) cases. Customer Services and Parking Enforcement were the top two complaint themes across the Council.  The former mostly related to the Housing Management service, with which historically there had been a number of issues; this service had recently been brought back in house. Overall there had been improvements in the volume and timeliness with which complaints were addressed which reflected the hard work of the Performance Team with service areas.  Councillor McLennan introduced Irene Bremang (Head of Performance and Improvement) to the committee, advising that she was present to help address members’ queries.


In the subsequent discussion the committee emphasised the importance of the neutrality of the Annual Complaints Report and highlighted that both increases and decreases in complaints for different service areas were interpreted as positive trends, with the former cited as an example of improved customer awareness of how to make a complaint. Councillor McLennan welcomed and accepted the feedback and explained that service areas were encouraged to view complaints as a means of service improvement.


The committee then questioned what evidence was drawn upon to determine when a service had acted correctly. Comment was sought on whether the categorisation of the cause of a complaint as ‘customer dissatisfaction with a policy decision’ could obscure incidents of poor customer care and it was queried whether the Deputy Leader would support a greater emphasis on customer care in the recruitment process. Further comment was sought on the reduction in the percentage of stage 2 corporate complaints resolved within the target timescales. Queries were raised regarding the implementation of LGO recommendations and how the learning from these was embedded across the organisation. Members questioned how the council ensured that all departments followed the same robust approach to resolving and acting upon complaints. It was queried why the benchmarking data provided was not drawn from neighbouring boroughs. Members highlighted that residents had reported difficulties in getting through to the council via telephone and sought an update on the matter. The committee questioned whether the council could broaden the ways in which people could submit feedback, for example by providing emoji reaction buttons to indicate positive or negative experiences for those using the council’s online services. In concluding their questioning, the committee asked what further analysis could be undertaken to provide assurance that members’ expectations would be met with respect to those areas with the greatest volume of complaints.


In response to the queries raised, Irene Bremang explained that all complainants had the right to proceed to stage 2 of the procedure and further if they felt their complaint had not beed addressed satisfactorily at the firs stage. If the complainant was objecting to a decision determined by council policy, the service area was deemed to be not at fault and this would be reflected in the council’s response to each stage of a complaint. It was emphasised that there was no excuse for poor customer care and members’ attention was directed to Appendix C which set out a root cause analysis of complaints and associated remedial actions. There were 237 complaints related to customer care in Brent Housing Partnership/Housing Managment, of those 181 had been upheld. The Complaints Team had worked closely with the service area to identify issues and an action plan was in place which included customer service training to be provided across the whole service. Councillor McLennan confirmed that she would be supportive of a greater emphasis on customer care in the recruitment process, if existing provision was not sufficient; however, noted that the expectation was that if the council’s standards were not being met, this should be addressed via the capability procedure.


Addressing members’ concerns regarding the timeliness of Stage 2 complaints, Irene Bremang highlighted that the challenge principally related to the Children’s Statutory Complaints procedure. Whilst there was only a small number of cases per year, these were very complex and required investigation by an independent investigator. The Complaints Team have implemented a tracker to monitor Children’s Statutory Complaints. It was noted that there had been a significant improvement in the timeliness of dealing with corporate complaints.


Irene Bremang explained that LGO responses and decisions were reviewed by the Complaints Team and senior managers to ensure that any learning points for the organisation were captured. There had been 168 complaints referred to the LGO for 2017/18: approximately half of these were returned to the council for local resolution and 21 had been upheld. The recommendations of the LGO in such cases would be discussed with the senior managers of the relevant service area to ensure they were appropriately implemented. The LGO also provided an annual report to the council and this was analysed and discussed with the Council Management Team which comprised the Chief Executive, Strategic Directors and other senior officers. Part of the analysis of the annual report included a review of the outcomes and remedies at the first and second stage prior to escalation to the LGO.


There was an expectation that all complaints were addressed with the principles of best practice in mind; namely early resolution where possible, clear responses setting out corrective action and, where a complaint is upheld, ensuring an apology is issued. However, it was important that service areas tailored the response as appropriate for the service user. Councillor McLennan emphasised that the Cabinet also received quarterly complaints report to enable collective monitoring across Lead Members’ portfolio areas.


The committee was further informed by Irene Bremang that benchmarking data had been drawn from other councils’ published data. Unfortunately, there was no requirement to publish information on non-statutory complaints and therefore, it was not always possible to obtain comparable data from neighbouring authorities. Councillor McLennan welcomed the suggestion to broaden the modes of feedback for residents and added that the council’s telephony system was shortly due to be changed.


The committee was assured by Irene Bremang that there were a number of improvement plans in place to address reoccurring issues in the Housing Management Service.  A summary of the improvement actions were listed in the  Root Cause Summary Report in Appendix C.  The complaints for the parking service related principally to parking tickets or to a perceived lack of enforcement action, both of which fed into officers’ review of enforcement activity. It was emphasised that the council fostered a learning culture around complaints and took complaints very seriously.


During the discussion, the committee requested that the following information, which could not be provided during the meeting, be made available to the committee subsequently:


-       anonymised LGO recommendations made to the council in the resolution of complaints;

-       confirmation of whether any disciplinary action had been taken against any council staff for reasons of persistent poor customer care.

-       An update on the back-log of blue badge applications.




i)     That it be noted that Cabinet approved the Annual Complaints Report at its meeting on 10 December 2018;

ii)    That Brent Council’s performance in managing and resolving complaints be noted;

iii)   That the Deputy Leader, together with the Strategic Director of Resources ensure consideration is given to promoting good customer service skills and experience via the recruitment process;

iv)   That the Director, Performance, Policy and Partnerships provide an overview of the features of the new telephony system due to be used by the council, including whether it logged callers who had hung up due to a long wait and timescales for full implementation. 

v)    That the Deputy Leader, together with the Director, Performance, Policy and Partnerships consider ways to broaden opportunities for members of the public to provide feedback to the council across different means of interaction, including the provision of an online feedback mechanism, such as emoji reaction buttons.


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