Complaints Policy

South Cambridgeshire District Council is committed to being ‘A Modern and Caring Council’, as set out within our 2020-2025 Business Plan. This means providing customers with high-quality services, including efficient, transparent, and open feedback and complaints handling processes.


Our Feedback and Complaints Policy sets out how customers can submit feedback and complaints, and what customers can expect from these processes. At the heart of this approach, we aim to identify and put right where something has gone wrong, and to learn from the feedback and complaints that we receive.

In accordance with the 2018 General Data Protection policy, we will maintain the confidentiality of all personal information, and not disclose it outside of South Cambridgeshire District Council without the express permission of the customer.


Within their document, ‘Guidance on Running Complaints Systems’ (2018), the Local Government Ombudsman describes a complaint as:


“An expression of dissatisfaction about a council service (whether that service is provided directly by the Council or by a contractor or partner) that requires a response.”


This is the definition that the Council will use for the purposes of this policy and our complaints handling processes.


As per Local Government Ombudsman guidance, we do not differentiate between ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ complaints. These terms both refer to expressions of dissatisfaction that require a response. As such, all complaints will be dealt with as outlined within this policy.

 

The following case types are not dealt with under the complaints processes detailed on this page:

  • Instances where the customer has a right to appeal or legal action, and where it is reasonable to expect them to have done so (for example, a Planning appeal, Housing Benefit tribunal or Homelessness appeal
  • Complaints that relate to issues that the customer became aware of more than 12 months ago
  • Complaints relating to the conduct of Councillors. These are dealt with under the Council’s Code of Conduct Complaints Procedure. Complaints of this nature should be directed to the Monitoring Officer at monitoring.officer@scambs.gov.uk.
  • Complaints made by suppliers, partners, and other public authorities regarding our business relationships
  • Internal (including from either staff or Councillors) complaints made about staff conduct. These are dealt with under our HR policies and procedures
  • Complaints that are not about the Council, including complaints about Ermine Street Housing (these are dealt with by Ermine Street Housing under their own complaints policy).

In addition, the below sections provide details of other types of communication and feedback that we receive, but which are not dealt with as complaints. These exceptions each have their own separate processes, as detailed below.

Service requests


A service request is a request for any service that the Council provides, ranging from bin collections and fly-tipping clean-up, to assessment of benefit entitlement and determination of planning applications.


Customers can submit a service request either by logging into the My South Cambs online portal, where a range of e-forms are available, or by completing an e-form on our website as a guest (no log-in required). Upon completion and submission of an e-form, this will be allocated to the appropriate team to act upon. Where customers require support to submit a service request online, this can be provided by calling our Customer Contact Service.


Service requests are not treated as complaints and are governed by our general customer service standards (these can be found on Contact Us section of our website), or service specific targets for completion.

Feedback


We encourage customers to provide feedback, whether good or bad, about the services that they have received. Feedback is used to plan how we will deliver and improve our services going forward and is not generally treated as a complaint. 


We are in the process of rolling out a series of feedback forms in relation to each of our services, allowing customers to provide feedback in relation to a specific service that they have received. These feedback forms will be available on the section of our website that relates to the service in question (for example, the Benefits section) and on a specific feedback page. They will also be available through the My South Cambs customer portal. Feedback can be provided either anonymously or with customer details included. Until such time as all of our services have feedback forms available, feedback can also be submitted through the feedback@scambs.gov.uk email address.

Information on how to make compliments, complaints and suggestions can be found on our dedicated webpage.

The three stages of the complaints process


We recognise that on occasion we make mistakes, and that this can lead to complaints that require investigation and response.
There are three stages of complaint that can submitted about us, starting with Stage 1, and progressing to Stage 2 and Stage 3. Details of each stage are provided below.

Stage 1

If a customer wishes to submit a complaint, prompting an investigation and response, Stage 1 is the first step for this.

Stage 1 complaints can be submitted through the My South Cambs customer portal. Where customers require support to submit a Stage 1 complaint through the customer portal route, this can be provided by calling our Customer Contact Service. Where a communication is received by other means (for example, an email or letter) and it is clearly intended as a complaint, we will set this up as a complaint on the My South Cambs customer portal, contacting the customer for more information if this is required.

Once a Stage 1 complaint has been received, this will be allocated to the service manager or nominated team leader from the relevant area to act as Responding Officer for the complaint. This role includes responsibility for reviewing, investigating, and responding to the complaint to communicate findings from the investigation. Throughout the complaint investigation process the Responding Officer is also responsible for communicating with the customer, including to request further information or provide information on the progress of the complaint. Please see the ‘Tracking and Communications During Stage 1 and 2 Complaints’ section for further details about how the progress of the complaint can be tracked and communication will take place between the customer and the Responding Officer during the investigation.

Our target is to complete the Stage 1 review, and to have sent a response setting out our findings, within 10 working days of receipt of the Stage 1 complaint. On occasion, it may not be possible to meet this target due to the need for more in-depth investigation. In these instances, we will inform the customer of a revised and realistic target timescale at the earliest opportunity. This is intended to ensure complaints are investigated effectively and that customers are kept up to date with the progress of their complaint during more complex cases and is not to be relied upon to provide additional time as a matter of course.

We aim to address complaints effectively at Stage 1 of the complaints process, avoiding the need for subsequent stages, however where this is not possible the next stage is to submit a Stage 2 complaint.

Stage 2

A complaint is submitted at this stage when the customer is dissatisfied with the result of a Stage 1 complaint. Under Stage 2 of the complaints process, the Responding Officer role is undertaken by the Head of Service from the relevant area or a nominated alternative (this person will be independent from the review undertaken at Stage 1).

Once a Stage 2 complaint has been received, this will be allocated to the service manager or nominated team leader from the relevant area to act as Responding Officer for the complaint. As with Stage 1 of the complaints process, this role includes responsibility for reviewing, investigating, and responding to the complaint to communicate findings of the investigation. They are also responsible for communicating with the customer, including to request further information or to provide information on the progress of the complaint. Please see the later ‘Tracking and Communications During Stage 1 and 2 Complaints’ section for further details about how the progress of the complaint can be tracked and communication will take place between the customer and the Responding Officer during the investigation.

Our target is to complete the Stage 2 review, and to have sent a response detailing our findings, within 20 working days of receipt of the Stage 2 complaint. On occasion, it may not be possible to meet this target due to the need for more in-depth investigation. In these instances, we will inform the customer of a revised and realistic target timescale at the earliest opportunity. This is intended to ensure complaints are investigated effectively and that customers are kept up to date with the progress of their complaint during more complex cases and is not to be relied upon to provide additional time as a matter of course.

Tracking and communication during Stage 1 and 2 complaints

During a Stage 1 and Stage 2 complaint investigation, the customer can track the progress of their complaint through their My South Cambs customer portal account. This account can also be used for communication between the Responding Officer and customer, through the option to leave a ‘note’, as well as for uploading documents that relate to the complaint. During the investigation, the Responding Officer will often make use of the ‘notes’ feature to ask for additional information in relation to the complaint, or to provide an update on the investigation. If the Responding Officer leaves a ‘note’ for the customer, or uploads a document to the account, the customer will receive an email drawing attention to this.

There may be occasions where it is more appropriate for alternative communication methods to be used during a complaint investigation, for example email or a telephone conversation. In all cases, a record of the communications that take place will be kept on the customer’s My South Cambs account, whether that is a copy of an email that has been sent or received, or a written record of a telephone or face-to-face conversation.

Complaint responses

In all cases the final complaint response that sets out the findings of our investigation, will be communicated to the customer in writing. This may be by letter, email or ‘note’ on the My South Cambs customer portal. Whichever of these options is used, the final complaint response will always be made available to view on the My South Cambs customer portal.

Stage 3

If a complainant is dissatisfied with the outcome of the Stage 2 complaint, they may wish to enter Stage 3 of the complaints process by submitting their complaint about the Council to the Local Government Ombudsman, or to the Housing Ombudsman for complaints relating to our relationship as a landlord to our housing tenants or leaseholders. The Local Government Ombudsman and Housing Ombudsman aim to remedy injustices through impartial, rigorous, and proportionate investigations into complaints about local government and social housing organisations respectively.

Once we are notified by the Local Government Ombudsman or Housing Ombudsman that a Stage 3 complaint has been submitted, it will be passed to the appropriate Head of Service, who will review the complaint and respond directly to the relevant ombudsman within 28 days (calendar rather than working days).

Following investigation, either the Local Government Ombudsman or Housing Ombudsman (depending on the nature of the complaint, as detailed above) will write to the customer notifying them of their decision. The Council will also receive a copy of their findings, with relevant action points, if applicable.

Submitting Stage 3 complaints to the Local Government Ombudsman

Stage 3 complaints that do not relate to our role as a housing landlord, are submitted by the complainant contacting the Local Government Ombudsman directly. Please note that any complaints relating to our Housing Options and Advice service fall within the remit of the Local Government Ombudsman and not the Housing Ombudsman. The Local Government Ombudsman will not usually investigate complaints unless we have had an opportunity to investigate at Stages 1 and 2 first.

Contact details for the Local Government Ombudsman Service are:

Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman

PO Box 4771

Coventry 

CV4 0EH

0300 061 0614

Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman website

Submitting Stage 3 complaints to the Housing Ombudsman

Stage 3 complaints that relate to our relationship as a landlord to our housing tenants or leaseholders should be referred to the Housing Ombudsman. At present (October 2021) this may be by a ‘designated person’ (a local MP or a South Cambridgeshire District Council Councillor) at any time following completion of our Stage 2 complaints process. Alternatively, a tenant can submit directly to the Housing Ombudsman if more than 8 weeks have passed since the completion of our Stage 2 process.

The role of the designated person in this process was introduced by Government in 2011 to improve the chances of complaints about housing being resolved locally. However, it should be noted that the draft Building Safety Bill includes amendments that will remove this role and the requirements detailed above should the Act become law.

Please note that any complaints relating to our Housing Options and Advice service fall within the remit of the Local Government Ombudsman and not the Housing Ombudsman.

Contact details for the Housing Ombudsman Service are:

Housing Ombudsman Service

PO Box 152

Liverpool

L33 7WQ

0300 111 3000

info@housing-ombudsman.org.uk

Housing Ombudsman Service website

 

 

 

What is an unreasonable, vexatious or unreasonably persistent complaint?

We recognise that customers are likely to be persistent when they believe they have been subjected to a mistake or failure. In most cases, this persistence is reasonable and justified. As outlined by the Local Government Ombudsman, the point at which persistence becomes unreasonable, is when the nature or frequency of a customer’s contact with us starts to hinder the consideration of their, or other people’s complaints. This could either be during, or following the completion, of a complaint investigation.

Designating a complaint as vexatious or unreasonably persistent

The complaints process is intended to give redress to residents and businesses where they do not agree that the Council has dealt with their case or service request correctly. It is not intended as an alternative to an appeals process, or to making representations as part of a decision-making process. It is expected that both the Council and the complainants use this process in good faith. Where the Council concludes that an individual or organisation is not using this complaints process in the spirit in which it is intended it can – with the agreement of the Council’s Leadership Team – designate a complaint, individual and/or organisation as being vexatious or unreasonably persistent.

Where this decision is made the Council will record the decision and the reasons for making it, set a decision review date (of no longer than 18 months), and communicate this to the customer. The results of the review will again be agreed with the Council’s Leadership Team.

Before designating a complaint, person or organisation as vexatious or unreasonably persistent, we must first be satisfied (and record our satisfaction on file) that:

  • the complaint is being or has been investigated properly and in accordance with this policy
  • any decision reached is the right one
  • communications with the customer have been adequate
  • the complainant is not now providing any significant new information that might affect the organisation’s view on the complaint

Where a person or organisation is designated as a vexatious or unreasonably persistent complainant the Council reserve the right not to respond to the complaint or correspondence relating to it. Where this is the case, future correspondence will continue to be read and placed on file but not acknowledged, unless it contains material new information.

In all cases the objective is to take a proportionate approach to ensuring that complaints can be dealt with quickly, fairly and without distraction. Other examples of action that may be taken are:

  • Placing limits on the number and duration of contacts with staff per week or month
  • Offering a restricted time slot for necessary calls
  • Limiting the complainant to one medium of contact (for example, telephone, letter, or email)
  • Requiring the complainant to communicate only with one named member of staff
  • Requiring any personal contacts to take place in the presence of a witness and in a suitable location
  • Refusing to register and process further complaints about the same matter

Records will be kept detailing all decisions on whether to apply the policy in response to a staff request, including instances where this decision is not taken.

There is no right of appeal against decisions to designate a complaint, person or organisation as vexatious and unreasonably persistent. If a customer believes that they have been unfairly treated through this process, they may wish to complain to the Local Government Ombudsman or Housing Ombudsman.

Violent or abusive behaviour

We understand how distressing it can be if things go wrong, however it is important that we all ensure that communications do not become abusive.

Abusive behaviours include swearing, shouting or any type of physically or verbally threatening behaviour, and will not be tolerated and will result in steps being taken to protect our staff and contractors. These may include (but are not limited to) the restriction of access to our offices, or the requirement for all communication to be undertaken in writing. Further information can be found within our policies and reporting guides relating to health and safety and violence at work.  

Anonymous complaints

The Local Government Ombudsman defines a complaint as “an expression of dissatisfaction about a council service…that requires a response.” On this basis, complaints cannot be submitted anonymously, as this prevents us from being able to issue a response. All complaints that we receive are treated professionally and in confidence, however for customers wishing to report an issue about the Council anonymously, this can be done through the completion of a feedback form, as detailed within the section of this policy title ‘Feedback’.

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