FORMAL COMPLAINTS PROCEDURE Report of the Democratic and Legal Services Manager to the Standards Committee on the 16th September 2004 1. PURPOSE OF REPORT 1.1 At its meeting on 30th May 2002 (Minute No. 26/02) the Standards Committee agreed to receive six monthly reports detailing complaints dealt with under the Council’s Complaints Procedure. 1.2 This report summarises those complaints that were dealt with during the period 1st January 2004 to the 30th June 2004. 2. BACKGROUND 2.1 The Council formulated its Complaints Procedure as a means of allowing its customers a uniform approach to express their dissatisfaction with the way that the Council has, or has not, acted in relation to matters under its jurisdiction. 2.2 One of the national performance indicators for local authorities is a requirement to answer the following questions, set by the Audit Commission, to identify whether the Council’s complaint procedures comply with current good practice, namely: (i) Does the Authority have a Complaints Policy which covers current good practice? (ii) Is there a follow-up procedure if the complainant is not satisfied with a response from the department to which the complaint relates? (iii) Does the Authority have a written policy on remedies? (iv) Is there a system for reviewing the causes of complaints to ensure that avoidable problems do not recur? (v) Does the Authority publish a report on complaints, which is available to members of the public? Shrewsbury and Atcham Borough Council has been able to give a positive response in respect of all five questions. 3. CURRENT POSITION 3.1 The vast majority of the complaints received by the Council are resolved following an initial approach to the appropriate service provider. Those not so resolved, but pursued beyond the initial stage of investigation are formally recorded and monitored centrally in the Democratic and Legal Services Unit. 3.2 In many cases it is discovered that complainants simply misunderstand the Council’s powers and/or position in relation to certain matters. In those instances there is usually a speedy resolution of the complaint by issuing a full explanation of the position. 3.3 During the six-month period ending 30th June 2004 the number of complaints received were 13 compared with 9 in the previous six months. A breakdown of these complaints is listed under the appropriate service in the table below: Service Cases Received Cases Resolved Finance - Revenues 3 2 (1 withdrawn) Public Amenities 1 1 Development Control 5 Leisure Services 2 1 Joint - Development Control / 1 1 Environmental Health Parish Council Matter 1 1 A brief summary of each case is attached to this report at Annex A. 3.4 The majority of complaints received under the Council’s formal complaints procedure were resolved by sending letters of explanation and/or an apology to the complainants and where necessary, setting procedures in place to prevent further recurrences. 4. IMPLICATIONS 4.1 Staffing (i) Staff devote a considerable amount of time in dealing with formal complaints, both in terms of the scheme’s general administration and also investigation of individual cases. (ii) If a complainant remains dissatisfied once the appropriate service provider has investigated his/her case, he/she can request an independent investigation by a senior officer not previously involved in the matter. The Democratic and Legal Services Manager or a member of his team normally undertakes such investigations. Exceptionally, however, during busy periods senior officers outside the Chief Executive’s Department are also enlisted to undertake independent investigations. (iii) Complaints are generally dealt with by exchange of correspondence, but can also involve telephone conversations, site visits and meetings at the complainant’s home or at the Council’s offices. These meetings etc obviously have an impact on staff time, but as they often result in the successful resolution of complaints they are considered entirely worthwhile. 4.2 Financial In terms of compensation/recompense, an amount £200 was offered in respect of Case 0304-14. 5. CONCLUSION 5.1 There have been very few requests (one) for independent investigations during the period. This is mainly as a result of the additional time and effort devoted to resolving complaints at the initial stage. One of the main lessons to be learnt from dealing with complaints is the need for the Council to communicate its decisions and actions clearly and effectively. 6. RECOMMENDATIONS 6.1 That the report detailing complaints dealt with under the Council’s complaints procedure during the period 1st January 2004 to 30th June 2004 be noted and that similar reports be submitted to the Standards Committee at six monthly intervals. Gareth Owens Democratic and Legal Services Manager Guildhall Shrewsbury Leisure Services Ref: Details of Complaint: Summary of Action Taken: Service Manager Comments: 0304-21 Complaint against a Investigation by the Director of None. (See also supplier of sports Community Services. Complainant 0405-04 equipment taking requested to provide further details of below) unauthorised the publication the promoted material photographs of children was displayed. The complainant using equipment at a submitted a further complaint detailed multisports court for below. publicity purposes. 0405-04 Further complaint The Council’s Acting Monitoring None. (See also regarding a private Officer and Director of Community 0304-21 company taking Services concluded that the Council above) unauthorised had not sanctioned the taking of the photographs of children photographs and suggested that the using multisports court issue should be raised directly with for publicity purposes. the company. Development Control Ref: Details of Complaint: Summary of Action Taken: Service Manager Comments: 0304-14 Barn conversion Letter of apology sent for the delay None adjacent to Garden providing a full response to the Cottage, Withington and enquiries. A full explanation was allegation of loss of given regarding the planning privacy due to the application for the barn conversion installation of rooflights. and the installation of the rooflights. Confirmation provided that the Complaint referred from applicant was not in breach of the Local Government planning conditions. In view of the Ombudsman unnecessary trouble and expense in writing letters to seek clarification, an ex gracia payment of £200 was offered. A copy of the Council’s response sent to the Ombudsman. 0304-20 The granting of consent Investigations confirmed that the None. for a Certificate of Scheme of Delegation to Officers Lawfulness for delegates to Planning Assistants in mezzanine floors in a consultation with Senior Solicitor the retail park which would determination of Certificates of Lawful double the retail floor Use. The Council’s legal advice space. supported by the Development Control Manager was that the Complaint referred from application be approved. Monitoring the Local Government Officer determined that the Planning Ombudsman. and Legal Officer acted appropriately within the powers granted by the Council under the scheme of delegation in granting consent for a Certificate of Lawfulness. A copy of the Council’s response sent to the Ombudsman. 0405-01 Complaint against vote The Monitoring Officer examined the None. on application at meeting notes and listened to the Development Control & taped recording of the meeting and Environmental determined that the correct Protection Committee procedures were followed and was satisfied with the legality of the decision taken. 0405-02 Complaint against a The Monitoring Officer examined the None. vote on an application at meeting notes and listened to the Development Control & taped recording of the meeting and Environmental determined that the correct Protection Committee procedures were followed and was satisfied with the legality of the decision taken. 0405-03 Failure to consult the Investigations concluded that the None. Highways Department correspondence provided by the over a planning Council’s Director of Development application Services had covered the complaint in full and could not provide any further information on the matter. Finance - Revenues Ref: Details of Complaint: Summary of Action Taken: Service Manager Comments: 0304-16 Complaint regarding the Full investigation undertaken and None. way his outstanding review of the case. Letter of business rates were explanation sent confirming the dealt with. Complainant instruction of bailiffs was justified in also unhappy with the view of the outstanding balance due actions of the bailiffs to the council. and manner in which he was treated. The Complainant was offered a meeting with officers but did not take up the meeting. 03-04-18 Complaint against Letter of explanation sent together None reduction of council tax with a copy of the standard format on second homes correspondence to second home owners. No further action required as confirmation that the proper procedure had been adhered with. 0405-05 Complaint form received The Monitoring Officer requested None. indicating that precise details to be sent by return to enable details of the nature of the case to be progressed. No further the complaint would be details provided by complainant. brought in by letter. Public Amenities Ref: Details of Complaint: Summary of Action Taken: Service Manager Comments: 0304-15 Concern over Coppicing Complainant informed that the None and Pollarding of willow daffodils were not affected by and other trees around aboricultural work although some Springfield Mere short term damage occurred as a resulting in damage to result of tree limb work. Essential daffodils, disturbance to maintenance was undertaken taking wildlife and should have account of English Nature’s been undertaken at a recommendation to undertake work different time of year. within a stipulated period. Joint - Development Control / Environmental Health Ref: Details of Complaint: Summary of Action Taken: Service Manager Comments: 0304-22 Complaint regarding The Council’s Monitoring Officer None. noise nuisance and provided a full response to the planning development complainant outlining the responses at Old Coleham. based on the findings of the Development Control Service and Environmental Health Service. A further investigation was undertaken by the Assistant Chief Executive and Deputy Monitoring Officer who concluded that the Council has dealt with matters accordingly and in making their planning decision took all factors into account. Parish Council Matter Ref: Details of Complaint: Summary of Action Taken: Service Manager Comments: 0304-19 Complaint against the Letter of explanation sent to the None manner in which a complainant advising him that no planning application had breach of the Code of Conduct had been dealt with at a taken place and that training had Parish Council Meeting been undertaken with the Parish with an inference that Council therefore no further action to Procedural Rules had be taken. not been adhered to.