Agenda item


To give the Audit & Governance Committee an overview of the volumes and themes of complaints for the first six months of the 2023/24 year.




Jessica Brooke, Customer Relations Team Manager

Susan Grizzelle, Head of Customer Services


Key points raised in the discussion:

1.    The Customer Relations Team Manager introduced the report. Comparing quarter two to quarter one there was a decrease in complaints recorded, yet overall compared to the previous year the volume of complaints and complexity of complaints was increasing across the three areas and that was a challenge to those teams and the frontline services. In the first quarter there were 101 LGSCO decisions and of those the LGSCO found fault with 58. She noted the figures of complaints recorded across the three stages.

2.    The Customer Relations Team Manager noted that another public report about the Council would be issued this year to be in the public domain in 2024, the fault identified by the LGSCO related to Education Services particularly Additional Needs and Disabilities regarding the delays in timely reports from Educational Psychologists. That had been recognised as a national problem and was being addressed jointly with other local authorities. Regarding the delays in EHCPs, over £35,000 in financial remedies had been paid by the Council, anticipated to increase. A general challenge was being looked at as the LGSCO was proposing payments of £100 monthly for every month an EHCP is overdue.

3.    The Customer Relations Team Manager noted that in Adult Social Care (ASC) a new administrative support role had been recruited to. In CFLL reviews had been completed regarding access by children with medical or other challenges to education, there had been significant Cabinet investment in reducing delays in EHCPs, four leads appointed in Education Services to address the first stage of the complaints process, the CFLL Customer Relations Steering Group was developing proactive communications with families. Noted the continued focus on early resolution across all three teams and 18 months of restorative practice training in CFLL. The Customer Relations team had resources for new officers one of whom was working with Members regarding contacts outside of the formal complaints procedure. In Corporate the replacement team manager would start in January, she reiterated the recruitment of the senior practice lead.

4.    The Customer Relations Team Manager noted that once she started her role she reviewed the recovery plan and the team had managed to reduce the volume of complaints awaiting investigation at stage two in that period from 26 to 5, expected to be up to date by 31 December. This year a training package had been developed for colleagues in operational services, looking at the timeliness, quality and consistency of responses. The team was exploring the joint code proposed by the two LGSCO services to further improve complaint handling mechanisms.

5.    A Committee member referred to the £35,000 paid out this year in financial remedies, which would continue to increase and asked what that figure might be. The Customer Relations Team Manager noted that figure was reactive dependent on how the operational frontline delivers its services. The Council tended to look at previous decisions from the LGSCO when making its recommendations to the frontline in terms of remedies. Noting the challenges faced nationally in delivering frontline services particularly in education, based on her experience she would not be surprised if that figure doubled.

6.    Referring to the recruitment of a senior practice lead to work on improvement, the Chairman asked what the point of their recruitment was if as the report notes that matters around complaints would get worse anyway; and what would they be doing. The Head of Customer Services noted that the senior practice lead would be undertaking proactive work at stage one with the services to reduce escalations, some of which were unnecessary around poor quality communication.

7.    A Committee member referring to that extra capacity to do proactive work and triage items at stage one, assumed that there was a business case for the senior practice lead to improve the numbers in that area. The Head of Customer Services noted that the team did not have to put a business case forward for that role as it already existed in the structure but had been missing for a few years and was being filled unofficially. She expected to see that reduction and improvement once that required post was recruited to. The Customer Relations Team Manager added that the LGSCO made that business case through dictating that the role of the link officer includes that practice lead element.

8.    As a supplementary question the Committee member noted concern that someone had been filling that senior practice lead role unofficially for the past few years and asked how and why it happened. Particularly as there was an increasing number of complaints and having adequate resources would ensure the triaging of complaints and addressing those at stage one before escalation. He asked what the council and Committee could do to support the recruitment of that role. The Head of Customer Services explained that the person who had been fulfilling that role could no longer do so due to the gradual increase in responsibilities in their usual role, whilst acknowledging the budgetary constraint it had been agreed that the role be recruited to.

9.    As a supplementary question the Committee member noted that if that head count existed then surely it was a matter of recruiting to that post, not backfilling that with an existing position. The Head of Customer Services noted that all services were operating under budgetary constraints, the situation had changed in that there was a need to fill that role and that would be funded through the service budgets. The Committee member looked forward to seeing those improvements but noted that the two complaints items pointed to deficiencies and that more resource to undertake proactive work at stage one would stop many escalations. He queried what the Committee could do to help; the Head of Customer Services welcomed the Committee’s support.

10.  The Chairman asked how many full-time equivalent (FTE) staff were in the team compared to last year; he requested that head count for the next Committee meeting. The Head of Customer Services noted that regarding Corporate complaints the head count had increased to address the increased complaint volumes and dip in response times due to vacancies. There was another FTE in her team and additional staff in both the CFLL and ASC teams. The Customer Relations Team Manager added that the CFLL team had doubled the number of customer relations officers who support stage two investigations, and work with services looking to improve the quality of stage one complaints. Regarding administrative support, ASC had taken on extra support and CFLL had taken on an extra two FTEs. She estimated the increase to be between 40 and 50% in total.

11.  A Committee member referred to paragraph 5.3.3 whereby the new team manager focused on training and developing a recovery plan, and elsewhere the report notes that in October the new Customer Relations Team Manager took up post and the officer on long-term absence returned; it read as though there was no recovery plan or proactive steps taken to make improvements prior to that. The Customer Relations Team Manager noted that when her predecessor left in April, there was a recognised gap; for several months before she took up the role permanently she was covering both areas. She worked with officers to address the increasing volumes of out of time investigations by reviewing the complaints procedure and remit, changing the approach at stage two by focusing on areas of quick wins and that meant greater proactive communication with families. The Head of Customer Services noted that the team had been actively recruiting into that role before that person left but had not been successful, and were also trying to recruit in other areas too; all those people were now in place.

12.  As a supplementary question the Committee member again referred to 5.3.3 whereby it was anticipated that with that revised approach complaint reviews at the second stage of a complaint process would be up to date by 31 December. He noted that implied that the second stage complaints were not up to date and if that was the case what was the figure. The Customer Relations Team Manager noted that when she took up her role there were 26 out of date complaints at stage two and one officer was investigating, since then two trainees had been recruited and the officer on long-term absence had returned. That number had decreased to five in six weeks, the team now had the capacity and resources to meet that deadline even with additional complaints being received.



That the Committee noted the report.

Actions/further information to be provided:

1.    A37/23 - The Customer Relations Team Manager / Head of Customer Services will for the next Committee meeting provide the head count of how many FTE staff are in the team (across the three services) compared to last year.


Supporting documents: