Compliments and complaints policy

This policy applies to all departments within Norfolk County Council.

However some activities in Adult Social Care, Children’s Social Care, the Fire Service and services provided under the Education Acts are covered by separate statutory procedures that take precedence over the corporate policy and procedures.

Copies of these statutory procedures can be found on our website.

Objectives

The objectives of our Compliments and Complaints Policy are to:

  1. Provide a framework which is simple for customers to use and is equally accessible to all
  2. Deal with problems as close to their source and as quickly as possible
  3. Give customers confidence that their comments are listened to and their complaints are being dealt with effectively
  4. Ensure action is taken to solve problems and generate a positive attitude to feedback
  5. Learn from feedback and prevent the recurrence of problems
  6. Generate a consistent approach to compliments and complaints throughout the County Council
  7. Protect the reputation and resources of the County Council
  8. Ensure that compliments are shared with the officers concerned to recognise their contribution

Approach

The corporate complaints process has three formal stages (1, 2 and 3).

The County Council’s aim is to resolve the majority of problems as close to their source as possible, preferably before they are accepted into the formal complaints process (pre-stage complaints).

This pre stage is considered as the clarification or early resolution stage, when the complaint is first received by the Compliments and Complaints team.

The complaints case manager will work with the customer to provide clarification regarding a query; deal with low level expressions of dissatisfaction; respond to a request for information from MPs; offer guidance and advice on school complaints or achieve resolution to a concern raised prior to it entering in to the formal complaints procedure.

Sometimes further information may be needed to fully understand a complaint, and in pre-stage, the complaints case manager will work with the complainant to agree a clear summary of the complaint, to ensure that the correct points are answered for the complainant.

Compliments and other comments will also be referred to the officer(s) responsible for the areas concerned.

Complaints for which statutory procedures exist under the Children Act, the Local Authority Social Services and National Health Service Complaints (England) Regulations 2009, Fire and Rescue Service and Education Acts will be handled separately under those procedures.

The County Council will accept "representatives / advocates / friends" to assist the complainant in respect of the complaints process.

The representative / advocate / friend must act in the best interest of the complainant and respect the confidentiality of the complaints process including information provided under the process. The representative / advocate / friend will be asked to agree in writing to this effect.

The County Council reserves the right not to accept a representative / advocate / friend if in its opinion the representative / advocate / friend will not act or is not acting in the best interests of the complainant and/or will not agree to respect or is not respecting the confidentiality of the complaints process including the information provided under the process. In these circumstances an alternative representative/advocate will be offered to the complainant by the County Council.

Complaints which fall within the scope of legal processes, other procedures, appeals or fault reporting systems, will be processed using those processes and procedures.

The Complaints Servuce Manager has the discretion to decide whether a complaint falls within the scope of this complaints policy and procedure and may decide that a concern/complaint or representation can best be dealt with using a different route, ie mediation, restorative meeting, appeals, and other departmental related processes etc.

The customer will be kept informed of what is happening to their complaint.

Formal complaint stages

Stage 1 complaints are considered at an operational level, with an open definition of a complaint: "when customers do not feel they have received a satisfactory response to an expression of dissatisfaction about an action or lack of action by the County Council and when they wish to progress this to a formal complaint".

It should be possible for most complaints to be resolved at this level. It remains at the discretion of the complaints manager and complaints case manager to escalate a complaint straight to Stage 2 if the situation requires it.

Stage 2 complaints are considered at departmental level. Here a complaint will be interpreted: “as any matter that has not been resolved to the customer’s satisfaction at Stage 1, and which merits further investigation”.

A senior manager within the department, who has not previously been involved in the complaint or originating incident, may investigate the complaint, or a complaints case manager may carry out the investigation.

In some circumstances an independent investigator (i.e. from another County Council department or external investigator) may be appointed to conduct the investigation.

Stage 3 complaints are considered at Managing Director level.

This stage is used for: “those complaints that could not be resolved to the customer’s satisfaction at Stage 2 and which merit further review or investigation”. The Customer Service Complaints Manager, on behalf of and in agreement with the Managing Director, will review the case and decide whether any additional action should be undertaken by the County Council, including further investigation by an external investigator, or independent Chief Officer not previously involved.

Where the Managing Director decides that no further action is necessary, and the complainant remains dissatisfied, they may be directed to the Local Government Ombudsman.

The Managing Director’s decision will be the final response from the County Council direct to the complainant.

When appropriate, mediation or a restorative meeting will be offered at each stage within the complaints process as an alternative dispute resolution process and before the complaint is escalated to a higher stage within the complaints procedure.

When mediation or a restorative approach is agreed, the complaints process will be put on hold and will only resume in the event that the mediation or restorative process does not resolve matters.

When the County Council has fully investigated a complaint, and there appears to be no merit in a further investigation at a higher stage of the complaints process, the complainant will be advised that they can refer their complaint to the LGO if they remain dissatisfied with the outcome.

Eligibility to complain

The following people are eligible to complain:-

  • Any individual or group receiving or seeking a service from Norfolk County Council, this includes children
  • Anyone acting for an individual or group unable to complain personally

People do not have to be a Norfolk resident to make a complaint.

A complaint should normally be made within one year of the service being received. This time limit may be extended at the discretion of the Complaints Manager if the complainant has good reasons for not making the complaint within the time limit; and not notwithstanding the delay, it is still possible to investigate the complaint effectively and fairly.

The County Council will not consider, or further consider complaints/representations under this policy and corporate complaints procedures where:-

  • Complainants have stated either orally or in writing to the County Council that they are taking, or intend to take proceedings in any court or tribunal in regard to any issue connected with the complaint
  • The County Council has been notified that any person is conducting an investigation in contemplation of criminal proceedings in regard to any issue connected with the complaint
  • The County Council has been informed that criminal proceedings are pending in regard to any issue connected with the complaint
  • The complainant is an employee who wishes to raise issues in relation to their employment

However, the County Council will consider complaints from members of the public who are seeking employment with the County Council. In these circumstances, where the County Council decides that consideration or further consideration of the complaint / representation would prejudice the conduct of any proceedings or investigation, the Customer Service Complaints Manager will give notice in writing to the complainant explaining the reasons for the decision, and specify how the matter could be dealt with in the future, if appropriate.

The County Council’s policy on ‘Unreasonably Persistent Complaints’ will apply when appropriate. Copies of this policy can be found on the Norfolk County Council website

The County Council reserve the right not to consider complaints that:

  • Are malicious (that is, they are instituted without sufficient grounds and serving only to cause annoyance)
  • Use obscenities, racist or homophobic language
  • Contain personally offensive remarks about members of our staff
  • Are repeatedly submitted with only minor differences after we have fully addressed the complaint

Confidentiality

Complaints made to the County Council will be treated in confidence.

The Compliments and Complaints team will only pass the details of the complaint to those County Council staff members and partner organisations who need to know in order to investigate it.

Confidentiality can not be guaranteed, where a vulnerable person is considered to be at risk and safeguarding procedures apply. In these circumstances, the County Council may have to share the information with other departments within the Council or other external agencies.

Customers who make their complaints public in the media may forfeit their right to anonymity and the right to confidentiality.

Responsibility for the procedures

Overall responsibility for the Compliments and Complaints Policy will lie with the Practice Director nplaw in the role of monitoring officer under the Local Government and Housing Act 1989.

The administration of the Compliments and Complaints Policy lies with the Head of Democratic Services.

The Compliments and Complaints team will take responsibility for the application of all aspects of the policy at departmental and organisational level.

A complaints case manager will be assigned to all complaints entering the formal complaints process, providing an objective liaison role between the complainant and the organisation.

The Complaints Service Manager will act as overall coordinator for complaints handling and service recovery, and will be the designated link officer with the Local Government Ombudsman.

Response

Complaints may be made to the complaints team by email, fax, telephone, by using the online form, in writing or in person and acknowledged by phone, letter or email.  Final responses to complaints will be in writing (letter or email), unless this format is not appropriate for the complainant.

The service standard for responding to a complaint is to send an acknowledgement within five working days and a full response within a further 15 working days from the date that the complaint was acknowledged for a complaint at stage 1.

In some circumstances, where the matters are complex or where it is necessary for the complaints case manager to seek further clarification from the complainant, the 15 working days timescale for a response will start once the summary of the matters to be investigated has been defined and agreed with the complainant.

The stage 2 and 3 complaints response timescales are 25 working days. Statutory complaints processes may have a different timescale, but generally the above standard should be considered a minimum.

Where a complaint is particularly complicated and requires extensive investigation, complainants will be informed as to how long the process will take, and when they can reasonably expect a final response.

Remedies

The approach to remedies will be based on appropriateness, timeliness and consistency of application.

It is the County Council's policy to offer customers the opportunity to resolve their complaints and, as far as possible, restore matters to a position they would have been in, had things not gone wrong.

Reports

Reports on the operation of the Compliments and Complaints Policy and statistical information will be presented to the individual customer-facing departments and the Corporate Leadership Team.

An annual report will be provided to Cabinet.

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