Feedback, compliments and complaints policy
Buckinghamshire Council welcomes feedback from its customers. This document explains how we record and act upon this feedback, listening to the experiences of our customers - positive or negative - to make improvements in services.
This policy deals with compliments, complaints and suggestions for improvement. It does not cover social care complaints for children’s or adults services, because there are separate legal processes for dealing with those complaints.
We want to make sure that:
- we hear people’s views and experiences of our services.
- we learn from complaints and use them to improve our services and ways of working.
- there are simple and effective ways for people to make a complaint.
- we deal with complaints fairly and consistently.
- people who send us a complaint get a full response within the agreed timescales (unless there is a valid reason as to why this is not possible).
- we encourage an open and transparent environment that people trust and engage with.
Six principles of successful complaint handling
Our approach is built on six principles for successful complaint handling, as recommended by the Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman.
- Accessibility: the complaints. process will be well publicised and we will ensure that it is understood by both staff and customers.
- Communication: there will be early and continuous contact with the person making the complaint. Appropriate communication will exist between council staff and customers and between council staff and partner organisations.
- Fairness: the organisation will deal with complaints in an impartial, open and honest way and the response will be proportionate to the complaint made.
- Timeliness: the organisation will aim to deal with complaints in a timely manner. It should take no longer than 12 weeks to resolve a complaint from receipt to resolution.
- Credibility: we will manage the complaints system effectively ensuring that there is challenge in the system to allow for any necessary changes to be made. We will ensure that the complaints process has a high profile across the council.
- Accountability: we will provide clear and open information. We will follow up on learning and actions to be taken as a result of complaints.
How will we receive complaints, compliments or feedback?
What is a complaint?
Any 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.
( From the Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman’s Guidance on Running a Complaints System)
The council uses this definition from the Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman to assess complaints. There is a close link between service requests and complaints. We may record first time contacts as service requests, rather than complaints, and encourage services to work with the customer to resolve the issue. This is sometimes called ‘local resolution’. Where local resolution hasn’t happened, invariably the customer will come back to us to make a complaint.
When assessing what is a complaint, we look at:
- the tone of the correspondence
- whether the customer has said they want to make a complaint
- what the issue is and
- what the customer would like to happen next.
This is not an exhaustive list and we do consider each issue individually.
We accept complaints from anyone using a service from the council, or anyone acting on behalf of a person or organisation using a service from the council.
What is a comment?
A comment is any feedback sent to the council following contact with a council department or service. This could include a suggestion for service improvement or information regarding how well a service was performed.
What is a compliment?
A compliment is an expression of praise to the council or any member of council staff. It could include an occasion where assistance given by a staff member was above and beyond the standard expected, or a service provided exceeded expectations. Once we receive a compliment the Council records it on a central system so that it can be shared with the relevant manager and member of staff.
Corporate complaints policy
This policy covers all complaints except for children’s and adult social care complaints. A complete list of exceptions can be found on Appendix 1.
We will manage the complaint in two stages:
Stage 1 (Service Response)
- When a customer raises an issue, we will check to see whether we should treat it as a complaint under this procedure.
- We will acknowledge receipt of the complaint by email, post or phone within three working days.
- A senior officer from the service being complained about will oversee an investigation to try and resolve the issues.
- We will provide a written response within 20 working days, but wherever possible, we aim to respond within 10 working days. If we are not able to do this, we can extend the timescale and we will let the customer know.
Stage 2 (A review of Stage 1)
- If the customer is not satisfied with the outcome at stage 1, they can ask for an independent review of their complaint. This will be carried out by a central team who will independently review the stage 1 response and provide a response to the stage 2 complaint.
- The customer should provide full details in writing of which parts of the complaint remain unresolved. In addition, a desired outcome should be given. Email: [email protected] or write to: Stage 2 Complaints, Buckinghamshire Council, Walton Street, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, HP20 1UA
- Once we receive the request, we will consider whether a Stage 2 review is appropriate. We will write to the customer within 5 working days to tell them how we are going to proceed.
- At the discretion of the Monitoring Officer, the Stage 2 response will be overseen by either a deputy monitoring officer or a manager from the central team. This person will be independent of the service being complained about.
- We will aim to provide a written response within 20 working days. If we are not able to do this, we will let the customer know and give a new timescale.
We reserve the right to refuse a complaint at either stage 1 or stage 2 of the complaints procedure for example if there is any other process available to deal with the issue. If we do refuse a complaint, we will explain why and tell the person making the complaint where else they can take their complaint (for example to Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman).
The local government and social care ombudsman
If the customer is not satisfied after receiving the Stage 2 response, they can refer their complaint to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman. To contact the ombudsman view the Local Government Ombudsman website.
Once the Council receives notification from the Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman that they are investigating a complaint we will coordinate the request corresponding with the Ombudsman where necessary.
Learning from complaints
Our customers’ opinions are really important to us. We are open to learning from complaints and using them to improve our services. We record compliments, complaints and concerns on our corporate complaints management system. We provide information about complaints to senior managers across the council. We also track the learning and changes made as a result of complaints.
An annual report will be drafted at the end of each financial year summarising compliments and complaints received throughout the year. The report will identify trends and highlight any action taken as a result of feedback given. The annual report will be signed off by senior officers and members of the council and will be published on our web pages.
Complaints about commissioned services
If a customer has a complaint about an organisation who are providing a service on behalf of the Council we recommend that they approach the provider and ask them to consider the complaint in the first instance. Once this has happened and if the customer remains dissatisfied then we will consider their complaint under the relevant complaints procedure.
Vexatious and persistent complainants
Occasionally, service users act in an abusive, unreasonably persistent or vexatious manner. When this happens, we follow guidelines from our Vexatious and Persistent Complainants Policy.
Where a customer is dissatisfied with the outcome or processing of a Subject Access Request or Individual Rights Request, there is a separate Internal Review process and then escalation to the Information Commissioner's Office should you remain dissatisfied.
Further information and contact details are available on the Councils Data Protection page.
Freedom of Information
Where a customer is dissatisfied with the outcome or processing of a Freedom of Information request or Environmental Information Request, there is a separate Internal Review process and then escalation to the Information Commissioner's Office should you remain dissatisfied.
Further information and contact details are available on the Councils Information Request page.
Review of the policy
The council’s Monitoring Officer will review this Feedback and Complaints Policy every year.
The first report on compliments and complaints since the establishment of the new Council on 1 April 2020 is now available.
Scope of the Feedback, Compliments & Complaints Policy
What is not covered by this policy:
- Enquiries from members of parliament will be dealt with through our MP Enquiries process.
- Complaints about parish or town councils should be sent directly to the relevant parish or town using the information provided on their websites.
- Statutory complaints about Children’s or Adults Social Care Services (there are separate processes to deal with these). For more information, or to make a complaint about Children’s or Adults Social Care Services, contact:
Email: [email protected]
Telephone: 01296 387844
Address: Compliments & Complaints Team, Buckinghamshire Council, Walton Street, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, HP20 1UA
- Requests for a service - for example, a missed bin report.
- School complaints, unless the complaint is about the Council’s statutory education responsibilities. Customers should send complaints to the relevant school, as schools have their own complaints procedures.
- Where there is already an appeals process for decisions made by the council (home to school transport, school admissions, planning decisions, Housing Benefit decisions, Council Tax, business rates and recovery, parking charge notices’ housing allocations). We can only investigate the handling of the application under our complaints procedure, not the decision itself.
- Complaints about councillors. The council’s Monitoring Officer deals with these under a separate policy and procedure. Customers can contact the Monitoring Officer.
- All potential insurance claims. The council’s insurance team deals with these. (see our page on claiming for damages)
- Potential data incidents or data breaches under the Data Protection Act 2018. These must be reported to the Council’s Data Protection Officer as soon as possible so an investigation can be undertaken, and a referral made to the Office of the Information Commissioner if necessary. Email: [email protected]
- Where a customer is dissatisfied with the outcome or processing of a Freedom of Information or Environmental Information Request or a Subject Access Request. There is a separate process of internal review and then escalation to the Office of the Information Commissioner should the applicant remain dissatisfied.
- Complaints about an issue that was known about for more than 12 months before the complaint was made to the Council, unless there is a good reason for the delay
- Objections from a third party about a planning application under consideration by the Council (which will be added as representations to the application)
- Complaints about matters that have already exhausted the complaints process, or have been investigated by the Ombudsman
- Disagreements with a council policy or rule of law
- Complaints by an employee about a personnel matter (which are dealt with under the Council’s personnel procedures)
- Complaints about Local Government Pensions. There is a separate procedure for these (see our website for more information).
- Where any parallel legal processes have already started (or where it is considered appropriate for the complainant to start legal proceedings). If the complainant wishes to submit a further complaint after the conclusion of those legal proceedings, we are not able to consider any points which the court has (directly or indirectly) considered. In these circumstances we reserve the right to refuse to accept any/all aspects of the complaint, as appropriate.
- Anonymous complaints are logged as service requests, unless the complaint raises issues of wider concern to the council that can be dealt with without further input from the complainant.