Complaints and compliments
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Making a complaint
If you wish to complain about a council service contact the department concerned in the first instance.
If, after dealing directly with a department, you still have a complaint about a service or feel that you have been unjustly treated, then you can let the council know via its formal complaints procedure.
- If you are dissatisfied with something that the council has done, let us know using the online complaints form
- Say clearly what was wrong and tell us what you think we should do to put things right.
- Your complaint will be acknowledged within three working days. We will tell you who is to investigate, how to get in touch with them and when you may expect our response to your complaint
- We will try to resolve your complaint within 10 working days. If this is not possible, we will tell you when you might expect the council’s formal answer. We will stay in touch with you until we have answered your complaint.
When we investigate we may find that the council has acted properly. We shall explain the details.
If we have made a mistake or acted wrongly, we shall tell you. We will try to put matters right and we will work to ensure others do not have the same experience.
- Your complaint will be investigated in the first instance by the the department manager.
- If you remain dissatisfied you must let us know within three weeks of receiving a response and your complaint will be escalated to the Head of Service with responsibility for the department you are making a complaint against or the council’s Monitoring Officer, for review and response.
- If you are not satisfied by the council’s response, you may seek an independent review of your complaint by the Local Government Ombudsman .
The Ombudsman will expect you to have complained first to the council, to give us the chance to make a response. You should explain what has already happened and include copies of the council’s responses with your complaint.
Allerdale Borough Council's full complaints policy
This policy covers Corporate Complaints to Allerdale Borough Council. It sets out the different stages of the complaints process, required timescales and who should be involved in handling the complaint.
Complaints about councillors are covered separately through the Council’s Standards Committee. You can find more information about this on the website at Councillor code of conduct and standards .
The purpose of the policy is to clarify how the public can make a complaint or appeal and define the standards they can expect. The policy seeks to create a positive approach to complaints where they are valued as a means of continuously reviewing and improving the services we offer.
The Council defines as a complaint:
“Any expression of dissatisfaction about a Council service that requires a response.”
However, we do not consider the following as fitting within the scope of the Corporate Complaints policy as there are other separate points of resolution for them:
- An initial request for a service such as reporting a faulty streetlight or requesting a single missed bin collection. We must have had the chance to provide the service or put something right which we can only do if we have received a request or been informed of a problem.
- Where the complainant intends to take legal proceedings in relation the substance of the complaint.
- Where there is an appeals procedure within the Council or where there is a right of appeal to an independent tribunal, this includes:
- Benefit appeals
- Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) appeals
- Planning appeals
- Complaints about councillors
The Council encourages any customer who has a concern to first speak to a member of staff in the relevant service area. If the problem can be solved on the spot then there is no need for the issue to go through the formal complaints process. However if the complaint cannot be dealt with immediately or the service user wishes to have a formal response, we must make it easy for them to do so. We accept complaints:
- On the Council’s complaints form
- In person
- Via our website
- By letter
- By email
- By telephone
We accept preliminary complaints made by telephone, although it is helpful to have them in writing so that we have a clear record of the complainant’s views on what went wrong. However, if customers wish to make a complaint verbally over the telephone or in person, staff will do their best to record the complaint.
It is far easier to find out what happened and put things right if a complaint is received close to the time the dissatisfaction with the service occurred. As time passes it becomes more difficult to investigate events fully and fairly, and for this reason the Council will normally only accept complaints made within twelve months of the incident or circumstances that led to the complaint being made.
When a customer receives a response to a complaint from the Council and wishes to escalate the complaint to the next stage in the process, they should respond within 28 days of receipt of the response and outline the reasons why they are not satisfied and what outcome they would like to see.
If there are exceptional circumstances (illness, changes in personal circumstances etc) provided by the complainant for the delay in submitting the complaint, the relevant Chief Officer may make a discretionary decision to consider a late complaint providing the circumstances are evidenced.
As soon as court action is indicated, threatened or initiated, the council will suspend its response to a complaint until a legal process commenced or a decision is determined.
If the Council receives a complaint and decides not to accept it, the customer should be told why.
We do not encourage customers to make anonymous complaints, however we accept that on occasion individuals may choose to make them. Whilst we cannot acknowledge or reply to any unnamed individual, we owe it to ourselves as a professional organisation to investigate each complaint and resolve any relevant service improvement issues identified as quickly as time and resources allow.
We will acknowledge all complaints within three working days, and include an agreed corporate timescale for dealing with the complaint. The table below sets out agreed timescales and signatories at each stage of the process:
|Stage||Timescale||Response agreed by|
|Stage 1||10 working days||Service manager|
|Stage 2||10 working days||Chief Officer - Senior Management Team|
|Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman||25 calendar days||Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman|
We will always try to keep to our published timescales for dealing with complaints. But sometimes investigations take longer because the complaint is unusually complex. In these cases, it may be necessary to extend the timescales set out in this policy. If this is the case the complainant must be informed of the reasons why timescales cannot be met and when they should receive a full response. Notification should be sent to the complainant at the first opportunity.
Where a complaint may lead to a possible insurance claim, the insurance team should be notified immediately.
If a customer is not satisfied with the action we have taken, they may wish to contact the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO).
This service is independent of the Council and is the final stage of the complaints process. The Ombudsman may decide to investigate a complaint or will provide the customer with reasons why they will not. During their investigation, they will ask us questions about the complaint. We will fully cooperate with them so that they can make a decision on whether we have acted unfairly in our service provision.
Once a complaint has been referred to this service, we will be unable to transact with customers about the complaint. Any further contact concerning it will be between the council and the Ombudsman directly.
Visit the LGO website for more information.
Some complaints are expressions of dissatisfaction with the Council or Government policy in a specific service area as opposed to the Council’s failure to live up to service standards. Such complaints should be treated at Stage 1 in regard to the timescale and level of officer responding. The Council will do its best to explain the policy and the reasons for it; however, it may not be appropriate to escalate a complaint about policy where it involves matters beyond our control.
Customers may appeal against a decision to classify their complaint as a policy issue rather than a performance complaint, and this should be made clear in the stage 1 reply. Any appeal will be treated as a stage 2 complaint. Customers wishing to make a further appeal should be directed to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGO).
The Council recognises complaints regarding the Council’s contractors and any organisation contracted to work for the Council. Complaints about the Council’s contractors are handled under the Council’s complaints procedure and can be made directly to the Council.
Complaints about funded voluntary and community organisations should be dealt with by the organisations unless the complaint concerns serious fraud, financial or governance malpractice.
Some complaints may be resolved by providing the service desired by the customer. In other cases a change of procedure to prevent future difficulties of a similar kind may be the appropriate action. Consideration will be given to whether there is some practical action that would provide all or part of a suitable remedy.
There may also be some circumstances where the customer has sustained loss and the Council may consider compensation. Guidance on this can be found on the LGO website
Where a complaint involves any potential for an insurance claim against the Council because of loss, damage, injury or suffering, the insurance section should be consulted immediately.
Our customers have the right:
- To be treated with courtesy and respect at all times
- To have a friend or other representative help them with their complaint (a letter of authority may be required)
- To confidentiality (if an investigation cannot proceed without the complainant being identified, the complainant will be given the option whether to continue)
- To be kept informed of the progress of their complaints.
- To receive an apology if a complaint is upheld
- To be informed of any changes to Council policy or procedures arising from a complaint
In a minority of cases some complainants pursue their cases in a way that can impede the investigation of their complaint or have significant resource issues for the Council. We do not expect Council staff to waste time on dealing with unreasonable complainants. Nor do we expect staff to tolerate threatening or abusive behaviour by complainants and we will take action to protect staff from such behaviour.
The Council has a separate policy for dealing with ‘unreasonably persistent’ complainants and ‘unreasonable complainant behaviour’.
Allerdale Borough Council's policy for dealing with unreasonable and persistent complaints
Persistent and unreasonable complaints
We will look to resolve quickly and efficiently all complaints made to us. However, we do also have a policy when dealing with what we believe to be persistent and unreasonable complaints.
Allerdale Borough Council's policy for dealing with unreasonable and persistent complaints
Allerdale Borough Council is committed to dealing with complaints in an open and transparent way that is fair and equal to everyone.
This policy has been formulated to deal with the very small number of complainants whose frequency of contact with the authority, insoluble and persistent complaints, or unacceptable behaviour makes it necessary for special measures to be taken
On the whole, dealing with complaints is a simple process but there are a small number of complainants who because of the frequency, nature or tone of their contact with us, adversely affect our ability to do our job and provide a service to others. We will refer to these complainants as ‘unreasonably persistent’ or vexatious and apply this policy.
For the purposes of this policy, unreasonable or unreasonably persistent complainants are those who make complaints that:
- clearly do not have any serious purpose or value.
- are designed to cause disruption or annoyance.
- have the effect of harassing the council or can easily be seen as obsessive or unreasonable.
Actions and behaviours of unreasonably persistent complaints
Complainants or anyone acting on their behalf may be deemed to be vexatious or persistent if one or more of the following applies:
- Refusing to specify the grounds of a complaint, despite help from the council.
- Making what appear to be groundless complaints about the staff dealing with the complaint and looking to have them replaced.
- Taking an excessive ‘scattergun’ approach – complaining officially to the council as well as raising the same complaint with other bodies such as MP, councillor, police, solicitors, Local Government Ombudsman.
- Changing the basis of the complaint as the investigation moves forward and/or denying earlier statements.
- Raising trivial information and expecting this to be taken into account or raising lots of detailed but unimportant questions and insisting they are answered.
- Electronically recording meetings and conversations without the prior knowledge and consent of the other people involved.
- Making excessive demands on staff while a complaint is being dealt with.
- Sending a high volume of letters, emails and/or phone calls.
- Registering repeat complaints after the complaint has been fully investigated and completed.
- Refusing to accept the final decision of a complaint.
- Refusing to accept a complaint is outside the remit of the complaint procedure.
- Persistently contact the council through different routes about the same issue.
- Someone who is not looking to resolve a dispute but is looking to cause unnecessary difficulties or problems to the Council.
- Refusing to accept that matters aren’t within the council’s power to investigate if the matter is the responsibility of another organisation.
If a complainant isn’t happy with the outcome of their complaint and wishes to challenge it, this is not necessarily grounds to label them as ‘unreasonably persistent’.
This policy will be used as a last resort once all measures have been taken to resolve issues under the council’s complaints procedure. We will make sure we have communicated appropriately with the complainant and make sure no new information that will affect the decision has been put forward.
The complainant will receive one written warning confirming that if their actions/behaviour continues, it will result in the Council treating them as an ‘unreasonably persistent complainant’ and future contact may be restricted.
Managers looking to implement this policy must do so in conjunction with their line manager, and or Head of Service.
On occasions, a complainant can go from being unreasonably persistent to offensive, abusive or threatening any of which will not be tolerated.
Complaints will be seen to be vexatious in any situation where violence has been used or threatened towards staff at any time. This will mean personal contact with the complainant will be stopped and they will only be allowed to contact the Council in writing. All such incidents will be logged and reported to the police.
Deciding to restrict complainant contact
According to the level and nature of the complainant’s contacts with us, the following actions may be taken:
- Requesting contact in a specific form (e.g. by letter only).
- Requesting contact be made with a named officer only.
- Setting the number of phone calls that will be accepted
- (e.g. one call a week).
- Refusing to deal with future correspondence on the same matter if a decision has already been reached.
The complainant will receive a copy of this policy with a covering letter explaining that the policy has been applied and how it will affect their contact with us.
The letter will outline the length of time for which the restrictions will be in place and how they can ask for the restricted status to be reviewed at the end of this period.
Appealing a decision to restrict contact
A complainant can appeal the decision to place them on the ‘unreasonably persistent complainant’ list within 15 days of being notified of our decision.