Access To Complaints Procedures Report

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Research conducted by Michael Hill (as part of CPA) looking at the effectiveness of housing association complaint procedures

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Access To Complaints Procedures Report

  1. 1. ACCESS TO COMPLAINTS PROCEDURES BY TENANTS OF RSLs REPORT OF A STUDY FOR THE INDEPENDENT HOUSING OMBUDSMAN LTD AND THE HOUSING CORPORATION Caroline Pickering Associates March 2002
  2. 2. Access to Complaints Procedures for RSL residents Caroline Pickering Associates CONTENTS 1 INTRODUCTION ............................................................................................................................ 4 COMMISSIONING AND BRIEF ..................................................................................................................... 4 METHODS................................................................................................................................................. 4 COPYRIGHT ............................................................................................................................................ 4 2 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS – ...................................................... 5 HEADLINES .............................................................................................................................................. 5 OVERALL RECOMMENDATIONS ................................................................................................................. 5 SPECIFIC RECOMMENDATIONS ................................................................................................................. 6 SUMMARY OF FINDINGS ........................................................................................................................... 6 Complaints are good for residents and RSLs - the review of literature and research. ..................................... 6 Tenants’ and RSLs’ experience - the first survey of residents and RSLs. ....................................................... 7 How to achieve the change - the Best Practice Guidance................................................................................ 8 Eight ‘golden rules’ for RSLs’ complaints management..................................................................... 8 3 OUR FINDINGS IN DETAIL ....................................................................................................... 10 THE WIDER CONTEXT ............................................................................................................................ 10 What is good practice in complaint management? – The Literature Review.................................... 10 Overview....................................................................................................................................................... 10 Introduction................................................................................................................................................... 10 The benefits of effective complaint management.......................................................................................... 11 Common Features ......................................................................................................................................... 11 Quality Assurance ......................................................................................................................................... 12 Definition of a complaint .............................................................................................................................. 12 Access ........................................................................................................................................................... 14 Simplicity...................................................................................................................................................... 15 Speed............................................................................................................................................................. 16 Fairness ......................................................................................................................................................... 16 Confidentiality............................................................................................................................................... 18 An effective response .................................................................................................................................... 19 Management Information .............................................................................................................................. 19 Training......................................................................................................................................................... 20 CURRENT EXPERIENCE........................................................................................................................... 22 The first questionnaires to residents and RSLs. ................................................................................ 22 Our key findings:........................................................................................................................................... 22 How satisfied are residents with complaint handling? What processes do RSLs use to deal with resident dissatisfaction?.................................................................................................................... 23 Complaint procedures.................................................................................................................................... 23 Training and guidance ................................................................................................................................... 26 Time limits for responding and acknowledging complaints.......................................................................... 27 Complaint outcomes...................................................................................................................................... 27 Customer satisfaction with complaint handling............................................................................................. 28 Action taken to resolve a complaint .............................................................................................................. 30 Access and publicity...................................................................................................................................... 32 Reporting....................................................................................................................................................... 34 What do residents want?................................................................................................................................ 35 What are RSLs doing to improve complaint handling?................................................................................. 37 SETTING THE STANDARD – THE DISCUSSION GROUPS........................................................................... 39 Our key findings................................................................................................................................ 39 What are the existing requirements for landlord complaint procedures?....................................................... 40 The Discussion Groups ..................................................................................................................... 40 1 What do residents want from a complaints procedure? ....................................................................... 40 Why do people complain? …and why don’t they complain? ........................................................................ 40 Accessing a complaint procedure .................................................................................................................. 40 Customer care................................................................................................................................................ 41 Housing co-operatives................................................................................................................................... 42 Customer expectations and responses to complaints ..................................................................................... 42 Publicising a complaint procedure ................................................................................................................ 43 Complaint leaflets ......................................................................................................................................... 44 Copyright © CPA 2002 page 2
  3. 3. Access to Complaints Procedures for RSL residents Caroline Pickering Associates What makes a successful complaint procedure?............................................................................................ 44 Stages of complaint ....................................................................................................................................... 45 Panel hearings ............................................................................................................................................... 45 A model complaint procedure ....................................................................................................................... 46 Some other comments ................................................................................................................................... 47 Conclusion – Residents groups ..................................................................................................................... 47 2 What do RSLs want from a complaint procedure? .............................................................................. 48 Organisational culture ................................................................................................................................... 48 Who can complain?....................................................................................................................................... 49 What is a complaint? ..................................................................................................................................... 49 Recording all complaints............................................................................................................................... 49 On-the-spot resolutions – informal vs. formal complaints ............................................................................ 50 Management Information .............................................................................................................................. 50 Recognising employees ................................................................................................................................. 50 Audit ............................................................................................................................................................. 51 Responding to complaints ............................................................................................................................. 51 Compensation................................................................................................................................................ 51 Customer satisfaction .................................................................................................................................... 52 Publishing information about changes made following investigation of complaints..................................... 52 Central contact point for complaints ............................................................................................................. 52 Helping customers to complain ..................................................................................................................... 52 Publicising the procedure .............................................................................................................................. 53 Training......................................................................................................................................................... 53 A model complaint procedure ....................................................................................................................... 53 Panel or committee stage............................................................................................................................... 54 Conclusion – RSLs groups ............................................................................................................................ 54 THE DRAFT BEST PRACTICE GUIDELINES ............................................................................................... 56 Residents’ assessments of the draft Guidelines................................................................................. 63 Overall perceptions ....................................................................................................................................... 63 Positive comments included:......................................................................................................................... 63 3-stage procedure .......................................................................................................................................... 64 8-week time limit .......................................................................................................................................... 64 Investigation of complaints at the final stage ................................................................................................ 64 Choice of complaining in person to a panel .................................................................................................. 64 Suggestions for improving the management and handling of complaints ..................................................... 65 RSLs’ assessments of the draft Guidelines........................................................................................ 66 Overall perceptions ....................................................................................................................................... 66 Criticisms of the guidelines........................................................................................................................... 66 3-stage procedure .......................................................................................................................................... 67 8-week time limit .......................................................................................................................................... 68 Investigation of complaints at the final stage ................................................................................................ 68 Choice of complaining in person to a panel .................................................................................................. 68 Suggestions for improving the management and handling of complaints ..................................................... 69 Representative bodies’ views ........................................................................................................................ 69 4 APPENDICES ................................................................................................................................ 70 APPENDIX A: REFERENCES ................................................................................................................... 70 Local Authority complaint procedures and policies ......................................................................... 71 RSL complaint procedures and policies............................................................................................ 71 Private Sector Complaint procedures and policies........................................................................... 72 APPENDIX B: PROFILE OF RESPONDENTS ............................................................................................... 73 RSLs:................................................................................................................................................. 73 Residents:.......................................................................................................................................... 73 Gender .............................................................................................................................................. 74 Disability........................................................................................................................................... 74 Age .................................................................................................................................................... 74 APPENDIX C: RESIDENTS’ REASONS FOR DISSATISFACTION WITH COMPLAINTS HANDLING ................... 75 APPENDIX D: RESIDENTS’ EXPECTATIONS WHEN MAKING A COMPLAINT .............................................. 76 APPENDIX E: RESIDENTS’ DISLIKES AND LIKES OF COMPLAINTS HANDLING .......................................... 77 APPENDIX F: RSLS INVOLVED IN THE PROJECT...................................................................................... 78 APPENDIX G: CONSULTATION QUESTIONNAIRES ................................................................................... 86 GLOSSARY OF TERMS...................................................................................................................... 101 Copyright © CPA 2002 page 3
  4. 4. Access to Complaints Procedures for RSL residents Introduction 1 INTRODUCTION COMMISSIONING AND BRIEF Caroline Pickering Associates were commissioned in 2001 by the Independent Housing Ombudsman Ltd and the Housing Corporation to undertake a study (as the first part of a two-part project) with the aim of : Ø establishing what is current good practice in complaints management in the public and private sectors Ø assessing the extent to which current practice in RSL complaints management – as reported by tenants who have complained and by RSLs themselves – demonstrates best practice Ø creating a set of criteria for best practice Ø recommending how any gap between current practice in the RSL sector and best practice can be addressed METHODS To answer the questions posed by the brief we carried out the following (reported in full under “Findings in Detail”): Ø A review of current literature and research about complaints management in the public and private sectors, especially amongst Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) and their residents. Ø A questionnaire survey of RSL Chief Executives (or their nominated representative) and complainants. More than 200 questionnaires were distributed to RSLs, who distributed more than 600 questionnaires to their resident complainants. Ø Discussion groups involving more than 30 participants including both resident complainants and employees with responsibility for complaint procedures. Ø A survey of resident complainants, RSL employees and representative groups on our “Best Practice Guidance for Complaint Procedures”. Copyright This report is copyright to Caroline Pickering Associates. Extracts may be used without specific permission so long as they give a true account of the Report’s findings, are verbatim, and acknowledge their source . Copyright © CPA 2002 page 4
  5. 5. Access to Complaints Procedures for RSL tenants Executive Summary and Recommendations – A Mandate for Change 2 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS – A MANDATE FOR CHANGE “It is expected that the improvements in their handling of complaints will lead to a growing number of complaints being satisfactorily resolved by housing associations.” (Housing Corporation, 1993) HEADLINES 1 RSLs’ complaints procedures – with a few honourable exceptions – fall well below the standard of other sectors in the public and private sectors, and consistently fail to meet good practice 2 Residents and RSLs recognise the value of excellence in complaints management, and have overwhelmingly welcomed the draft ‘Best Practice Guidelines’ 2 Residents – and to a lesser extent RSLs – wish the ‘Best Practice Guidelines’ to be mandatory. 3 The manifest need for improvement in the way the RSL sector manages complaints and treats complainants, the call from residents for this improvement, and RSLs’ readiness to change, are why we have called this report “A Mandate For Change”. 4 A Mandate for Change is what we believe the Ombudsman and the Corporation have been given. The rest of this report documents: Ø why the changes are needed, Ø what the changes should achieve, and Ø how they might be brought about. OVERALL RECOMMENDATIONS 5 Our overall recommendation is that the Best Practice Guidelines – slightly modified to take account of the helpful suggestions that came from residents and RSLs – should be made a requirement: the Corporation and the Ombudsman should require RSLs to implement and operate the Guidelines as quickly as can be achieved. The key features of best practice in complaints management for RSLs are set out in the “eight Golden Rules” below. 6 Other sectors now see complaint handling as a key regulatory area. The Financial Services Authority (FSA) has both requirements and guidance for banks and has recently issued requirements and guidance for credit unions. Other regulatory bodies are moving in the same direction in recognition that protection of the consumer’s right to complain can be one of the most effective ways of protecting the consumer’s interests and bringing improvements to services. Copyright © CPA 2002 page 5
  6. 6. Access to Complaints Procedures for RSL tenants Executive Summary and Recommendations – A Mandate for Change SPECIFIC RECOMMENDATIONS 7 Justice delayed is justice denied. Residents and RSLs want speedier processes and the guidance must be clear on the number of stages and should also suggest appropriate time limits for different stages. 8 At the final stage, complainants should be offered the alternatives of Ø an impartial and representative panel hearing (giving regard to the possible implications of Beeson vs Dorset County Council) with no restrictions for the complainant (such as time limit on presentation), or Ø an investigation by an impartial and professional investigator. 9 Small community-based RSLs and housing co-operatives will need to consider whether a third stage is appropriate when housing stock is managed by residents and confidentiality of complainants cannot be guaranteed: § Option 1: Umbrella groups (or partnerships of local RSLs) organise and recruit independent panel hearings at third stage § Option 2: No third stage – complainant goes direct to IHOS. 10 Finally, the features of best practice in complaints management for the RSL sector are set out in the Best Practice Guidelines and the “eight golden rules” below. SUMMARY OF FINDINGS Complaints are good for residents and RSLs - the review of literature and research. 11 “Handling complaints properly shows how important customer care is to your organisation. It shows that you: Ø Listen to your users; Ø Learn from your mistakes; and Ø Are continually trying to improve your service.” (Service First Unit, 1999) 12 Complaints are a positive source of feedback and learning opportunities. 13 A healthy level of complaints can be an indicator of an effective service provider – we found that those RSLs who record a high level of complaints tend to have the highest customer satisfaction. The 30 RSLs who recorded the highest number of complaints: § Recorded 57% of all complaints registered by the 152 RSLs who completed our questionnaire § Manage 17.5% of all properties managed by RSLs who completed our questionnaire. § 51% of their residents were satisfied with complaint handling § Only 4% of these satisfied residents said that they needed to complain to a senior manager, a councillor or MP before getting satisfaction. § 43% of their residents were satisfied with the outcome of their complaint Copyright © CPA 2002 page 6
  7. 7. Access to Complaints Procedures for RSL tenants Executive Summary and Recommendations – A Mandate for Change The other 122 RSLs: § Recorded 43% of all complaints registered by the 152 participating RSLs § Manage 82.5% of all properties managed by RSLs who completed our questionnaire. § 17% of their residents were satisfied with complaint handling § 24% of these satisfied residents said that they needed to complain to a senior manager, councillor or MP before getting satisfaction. § 21% of their residents were satisfied with the outcome of their complaint Modern complaints management shows a number of other common features: § It has left behind the idea of formal and informal complaint processes and, instead, utilises simple, streamlined feedback processes that deal with any dissatisfaction. § Speed is of the essence in complaints handling - the longer a complaint runs on, the more dissatisfied customers get: best practice organisations aim to complete all internal stages within eight weeks. § Best practice organisations are dedicated to integrating complaint data in to regular management processes to initiate improvements and use complaint data in almost every area of the organisation. § The level of effective complaint handling training contributes significantly to employees’ overall level of satisfaction with a complaints process. Only a quarter of the sample RSLs who replied to the first survey said they had provided any complaint-handling or customer care training to employees during the last year. § Employees should have clear guidance on what they should do to put things right when mistakes are made. Tenants’ and RSLs’ experience - the first survey of residents and RSLs. 14 Few residents are said to complain and those who have aren’t impressed by the RSL’s attempts to resolve any concerns; 15 With notable exceptions, RSLs’ complaints procedures don’t measure up to good practice. § Only 1.6% of residents are recognised by our sample RSLs as having complained in the last year- yet during 1995, according to the MORI survey, 15% of RSL residents said they had made a formal complaint. A significant number of RSLs said that they receive no complaints (!). § The number of procedures with four or more stages has fallen greatly since 1995 but this reduction has not kept pace with the equivalent reduction in the number of local authorities procedures with four or five stages. § Many RSLs require final stage complainants to present – often with a 10 or 20 minute time limit - to the board or committee and a few will arrange a complaints panel (with clear guidelines on composition and role). Some residents and RSLs were concerned that these hearings can be intimidating for some people. § 57.4% of residents are dissatisfied with the outcome of making a complaint to their landlord (Table 10a – 10c). Only 26.3% are satisfied (this is very Copyright © CPA 2002 page 7
  8. 8. Access to Complaints Procedures for RSL tenants Executive Summary and Recommendations – A Mandate for Change similar to National Health Service (NHS) complainants where 26% are satisfied with the outcome). § Only 23% of residents stated that they were satisfied with the way their complaint was handled and 61% were dissatisfied (Table 11a – 11e). Local authority surveys show that 36% of respondents are satisfied and 55% are dissatisfied and the recent NHS review of satisfaction with complaint handling found 30.3% satisfied and 49.4% dissatisfied with complaint handling. § Satisfaction among black and minority ethnic residents has marginally improved but dissatisfaction has increased from 43% to 64%. § Only 14.5% of respondents aged 45 or under are satisfied with complaint handling compared to 37% of respondents aged over 60. § Only 35% of RSLs will accept non-written complaints at all stages of the complaint procedure. § Most RSLs publicise their complaint procedure through a statement in their Residents Handbook. Only 2.5% of residents said they knew how to complain by reading the handbook. § When residents complain, financial compensation is low on the list of outcomes they want: putting something right and an apology is at the top. § Most RSLs were unable to say what compensation they had paid to complainants or what other practical actions they had taken in response to complaints. How to achieve the change - the Best Practice Guidance 16 Only 3% of tenants and 6% of RSLs said any of our suggestions was a “bad idea”. • The Guidelines met with much positive comment, and little negative comment, from residents and RSLs. • Several RSLs have said that complaints can be unjustified – an attitude that fails to realise that customers tend not to complain and the importance of discovering the cause of dissatisfaction. • Some smaller RSLs are concerned about how applicable the guidance is to them. Eight ‘golden rules’ for RSLs’ complaints management I Value complaints as an opportunity to learn and improve - use complaints data at all levels of the organisation II Have no more than three stages to your complaints procedure, and make no distinction between ‘informal’ and ‘formal’ complaints III Make sure your complaints procedure is widely publicised in appropriate languages, formats and media IV Try to resolve complaints on the spot – and offer to meet in person all complainants where this hasn’t been achieved V Apologise, provide a clear explanation of your response, and give full compensation where it is deserved Copyright © CPA 2002 page 8
  9. 9. Access to Complaints Procedures for RSL tenants Executive Summary and Recommendations – A Mandate for Change VI Aim to take no more than eight weeks for complaints to complete all internal stages VII Train employees to be positive about complaints and manage them skilfully VIII Give complainants an opportunity to complain in person to a panel of three impartial people at the final stage of the complaint procedure. Copyright © CPA 2002 page 9
  10. 10. Access to Complaints Procedures for RSL residents Findings in detail 3 OUR FINDINGS IN DETAIL THE WIDER CONTEXT Why Complaints are Good for Residents and RSLs What is good practice in complaint management? – The Literature Review Overview 17 This review reports on 37 documents we have looked at (listed in the bibliography). The salient findings are here presented under the headings of the Cabinet Office’s essential points for complaint procedures. Introduction “Next time I will contact my councillor and ring the local newspaper.” 18 The National Complaints Culture Survey 20011 found that 50% of customers complain all or most of the time when they are unhappy with the way they have been treated by an organisation. The private sector recognises that dissatisfied customers tell 10-25 others about a poor service experience and go elsewhere for the service in future. Also, a customer who has a complaint satisfactorily resolved will be more likely to purchase products or services in future than a satisfied customer who never complains. Customers accept that things go wrong but expect that something will be done to put things right and prevent the same problem happening again. 19 Customers of public services, generally, have limited choice but customers may lose confidence in services and go elsewhere – Ombudsman, councillors, Members of Parliament – or may “shop the system” contacting several services and agencies for the right answer. During 1999, the Local Government Ombudsman’ carried out a study of complaint handling that found only 13% satisfaction with complaint handling where a customer had been referred back to a local authority’s complaint procedure after making a complaint to the Ombudsman’s offices – compared to a national average of 36% satisfaction with local authority complaint handling. ORC International’s research (ORC, 2000) into complaints made following contact with the Independent Housing Ombudsman Service found that 60% of RSL Residents considered that the relationship with their landlord worsened after making a complaint. 20 Dissatisfied customers of social housing providers may delay or withhold payment of rent or service charges imposing extra collection expense on their landlord. A study in the private sector showed that satisfied customers pay on average 14 days earlier than dissatisfied customers. 21 Poor complaint handling can cause the organisation to develop a poor image – dissatisfied customers spread bad news by ‘word of mouth’ or contact the local press. Registered Social RSLs participating in stock transfer programmes may well find prospective Residents giving some thought to their landlord’s “image” before voting for or against the transfer. 1 References are listed in the Bibliography Copyright © CPA 2002 page 10
  11. 11. Access to Complaints Procedures for RSL residents Findings in detail 22 Public services also need to be aware that unresponsive, difficult-to-access processes create “difficult” customers who become costly, time-consuming customers with low expectations and a lack of understanding of the processes they are required to follow. But these “difficult” customers can be turned into very effective exposers of flaws in the organisations services and policies. The benefits of effective complaint management 23 An effective complaint scheme will develop a culture of continuous improvement across services. The best organisations, in the public and private sectors, are recognising that improving systems for capturing complaints data provides information about every part of the organisation. Ben Page (Director of Government Research, MORI) has commented that an effective complaint scheme can be more effective than a Best Value regime because of this (MORI, 2000). 24 An effective scheme also: q Improves both customer confidence and satisfaction q Improves credibility and image q Improves employee morale through empowerment and recognition 25 Customers can be better educated about an organisation’s processes – a complaint may be an opportunity for a customer to learn about how an application form should be completed (reducing the costs of processing incomplete forms in future). 26 Some other benefits of effective complaint management are: q Early warning of service breakdown q Prevention of repeat problems q Free consultation q Reduced costs of litigation q Improved targeting of resources and lower costs of service delivery q Increased customer loyalty o Customers loyal to the company and spreading “good news stories” o Helping to attract investment o Helping to attract Government funding for ‘top performers’ in social housing Common Features 27 All effective complaints systems have some essential points in common. The Citizens Charter Complaints Task Force summarised these as follows: “Complaints systems should: § be easily accessible and well publicised; § be simple to understand and use; § allow speedy handling, with established time limits for action, and keep people informed of progress; § ensure a full and fair investigation; § respect people’s desire for confidentiality; § address all the points at issue, and provide an effective response and appropriate redress; § provide information to management so that services can be improved.” (CITIZENS CHARTER COMPLAINTS TASK FORCE, 1995) Copyright © CPA 2002 page 11
  12. 12. Access to Complaints Procedures for RSL residents Findings in detail 28 Other elements such as independence, accountability, training and review might also be considered as essential to an effective social housing complaint handling system. Quality Assurance 29 The Financial Services Authority (FSA) has been encouraging regulated companies under its control to use the British Standard for complaint management (BS8600) as a guide for developing effective complaint handling processes (FSA, 2000). 30 The British Standard (BSI, 1999) suggests that complaint procedures should provide: § Adequate resources to deal with the complaints received. § Employee training to make sure those who deal with customers understand the procedures and operate them properly. § Delegation and responsibility to enable employees to deal quickly and efficiently with routine complaints. § Escalation procedures to ensure that in the event of a serious complaint, key employees are alerted and the problem is dealt with by whoever has the appropriate expertise. § External review mechanism to be available where internal procedures are deadlocked. § Follow-up action to ensure that the company learns from any mistakes, and improves products and services and the complaints system where necessary. (These features are consistent with the Citizens Charter Task Force’s ‘essential points’.) 31 The accredited version of the British Standards Institute’s complaint management standard (CMSAS 86:2000) ensures that an organisation’s complaints management achieves an acceptable minimum standard, and the requirement for annual checks ensures that this standard is continuously maintained (BSI, 2000). In Australia, AS 4269 – the Australian equivalent to the British complaint management standard – is a required standard for many monopoly service providers (such as utilities and government departments and agencies). Government Ombudsmen are promoting the adoption of the Standard as a means of promoting a customer-friendly culture and to have a responsive complaints handling procedure at the source. Australian Financial Service providers are required by law and regulations to have an AS 4269 system in place. Australia has a number of industry based dispute resolution schemes, for example, in banking, insurance and telecommunications and participants are required to have complaints systems meeting the standard (Australian Standards, 2001). Definition of a complaint The public sector has long debated the definition of a complaint. This is in stark contrast to most of the private sector where customers simply “complain”. The British Standard requires that all complaints should be logged – however made (BSI, 1999). Guidance for Charter Mark applications states that organisations should “keep records of the number and types of complaints you have received, Copyright © CPA 2002 page 12
  13. 13. Access to Complaints Procedures for RSL residents Findings in detail including informal complaints, and how quickly you have dealt with them” (Citizens Charter Complaints Taskforce, 1995). The reality has been that in the public sector often only formal complaints are logged – unlike the private sector where all complaints can be opportunities to increase customer loyalty and ensure repeat business. Avis, the car hire company, advises employees to log all contact whether written or on the telephone. The company’s complaint codes include personal service delivery issues such as telephone problems (engaged, no answer or too may transfers) and process issues such as reservations, check in and check out and insurance. The collected data is used to monitor trends and identify root causes. 32 The Department of Health’s current review of Social Services complaint procedures recognises that informal suggests a lack of seriousness about the complaints and proposes that the word “informal” is not used in the new procedures (DoH, 2001) 33 Discussions about “formal” and “informal” complaints are rarely found outside the public sector – customers complain and the best companies want to know about that feedback and feed it into the quality assurance process - and a web search on “informal complaints” will generate a list of public service complaint procedures. The analysis of RSL complaint systems has shown that most follow the traditional public sector method of distinguishing between “informal“ complaints – that are not recorded - and “formal” complaints. Some RSL complaint procedures encourage customers to complain informally before making a formal complaint but other RSLs have stage 1 as an “informal” stage. 34 Most complaint systems that recognise “informal” complaints define an “informal” complaint as a complaint that is immediately resolved. However, several RSLs’ complaint procedures gave a timescale for handling an “informal” complaint that can range from 7 to 14 days. One complaint leaflet reviewed also stated that “you do not need to use the complaint procedure if you have only a small criticism” of the RSL. 35 Some RSLs have a “grievance procedure” instead of a complaint procedure. The word grievance suggests – unhelpfully - that complaints should be directed at personnel. 36 The National Consumer Council’s 1991 report on social housing complaint procedures found that 90% of housing complaints are made informally to front-line employees (NCC, 1991). The National Consumer Council commented “unfortunately, many public services seem to regard the role of front-line staff in this informal procedure as not part of their complaints procedure… it does nothing for the large bulk of complaints ‘business’ which is carried out by front-line staff.” 37 If a customer is dissatisfied and their dissatisfaction is not responded to, it will turn into a complaint. If they didn’t think they had a serious complaint but their comment was responded to positively with a consequent service improvement, they will be delighted. More and more organisations are now taking a positive approach by telling employees: "If you have to ask, treat it as a complaint”. Northamptonshire County Council has recently introduced a new complaint policy that gives customers the right to decide whether the matter is a complaint. 38 The London Borough of Wandsworth also follows this principle and has been recording 25,000 complaints each year. This is the highest number of Copyright © CPA 2002 page 13
  14. 14. Access to Complaints Procedures for RSL residents Findings in detail complaints recorded by a local authority, yet Wandsworth also have more Charter Mark awards than any other public service. 39 The British Standard for complaint management embraces this approach by defining a complaint as “any dissatisfaction (with an organisation) whether justified or not” (BSI, 1999). Access 40 Organisations that are committed to customer service encourage customers to use their complaints system. A report commissioned by the Association of British Insurers found that customers generally shy away when faced by a formal complaint procedure. They may grumble but they don’t like making too much of a fuss (ABI, 1998). 41 A complaint system can only be effective it is used. If the system is to be used, customers need to know about it and find it easy to get their complaint started and progress it through the process. Any complaint procedure should be well publicised. Customers prefer to have a choice of complaint method. Some customers prefer to complain in writing but others may prefer to complain by phone or in person. More customers are using the accessibility of the Internet to make a complaint. The London Borough of Camden has a guide to complaining on their web site that gives local residents advice on how to complain about a RSL and allows them to complain online about several local RSLs. 42 Many RSLs require formal complaints to be put in writing. Most RSLs will respond to an “informal” complaint however made. A few RSLs have produced publicity that positively encourages feedback from customers. 43 Barber and Møller say that a written complaint is a “red flag” and provide the following list of reasons why people will put a complaint in writing: § The customer is upset (it takes effort to write a letter although many who say they will write a letter of complaint do not follow through). § The customer is dissatisfied with the outcome of a verbal complaint (many people only complain in writing after trying some other method to resolve the problem). § The customer is building a paper trail in preparation for legal action (needing to create evidence that they gave the company a chance to fix their complaint). § The customer was not able to find someone to complain to in person § The customer feels uncomfortable with face-to-face complaining § The customer has a personal reason why they could not or did not want to complain at the time § The customer has been told to complain in writing (Barber and Møller, 1996) 44 One RSL allows complaints to be made using a form (with Crystal Mark recognition of the plain language used), in writing to a Freepost address, by phone, by Minicom, by fax, by email or in person. A telephone number is also advertised (in partnership with a local authority) for getting information in large print or Braille or accessing a translation service. Copyright © CPA 2002 page 14
  15. 15. Access to Complaints Procedures for RSL residents Findings in detail 45 OFGEM, the regulatory body for the gas and electricity markets, requires all companies to submit their complaint handling code for approval (following consultation with the consumer body, energywatch) before giving them a licence. 46 The code has a number of requirements for companies including: § Provision of details of how a customer can contact the company to make a complaint, including any special arrangements for customers who are of pensionable age, disabled or chronically sick, and those whose first language is not English § Provision of details of advice agencies and other organisations able to help the customer pursue his or her complaint 47 Some RSLs restrict access to a complaints system. Some only allow direct customers, such as tenants or leaseholders, to complain whereas others allow tenants, leaseholders, housing applicants, members of the public, contractors, suppliers and other organisations to complain. 48 Other RSLs have restricted access by excluding certain types of complaints. One RSL reviewed does not allow customers to complain about policies because “policies have been carefully considered and help the organisation to achieve objectives”. 49 Many RSLs do not allow anonymous complaints and state in their publicity that they will not be considered. However, a pattern of anonymous complaints may highlight a problem with customer perceptions of a service or raise a “whistle blowing” issue that needs to be followed up. An organisation that disregards anonymous complaints will miss out on these opportunities. Northamptonshire Social Care and Health Services advise their employees to investigate an anonymous complaint in a similar way to any other complaint. 50 The Office of Fair Trading advises that a company should do its best to pursue even anonymous complaints but recognises that there may be practical difficulties in doing so where full information is not available and clarification cannot be sought from the complainant. 51 Research (TARP, 1997) has shown that a freepost or freephone facility for complainants installs greater confidence in customers who consequently recognise the willingness of the organisation to put things right when they go wrong. A report commissioned by the British Association of Insurers in 1998 stated that companies with a freephone or freepost facility for services, but not complaints, could not claim to take complaints seriously (AIB, 1998). 52 Just like any service or product, a complaints system needs to be accompanied by regular, good-quality publicity. Some organisations will do this by putting details on invoices or with mailshots, articles in newsletters or magazines describing positive complaint outcomes and attractive leaflets and posters in highly visible areas of customer access areas. The National Housing Federation’s guide to dealing with complaints and compensation mentioned that maintenance orders give a good opportunity to get tenant feedback (NHF, 1994). Simplicity 53 Some organisations have got rather carried away in designing complaints systems – and for the best possible motives. They have allowed their systems to Copyright © CPA 2002 page 15
  16. 16. Access to Complaints Procedures for RSL residents Findings in detail become more and more complex, rules introduced to deal with abuse, procedures changed to accommodate special cases, additional routes of appeal provided to prevent injustice, and so on. To those used to the mechanics of procedures and paperwork, it may seem that complainants are being provided with the best possible service but to complainants themselves the whole business can be alienating. Surveys show that complainants are less happy with multi- stage procedures with many stages of appeal than they are with simpler set-ups. Speed 54 The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) conducted a survey that found that complaints resolved in less than three weeks have a net balance of satisfied customers but dissatisfaction grows steadily when more than three weeks pass by before resolution. Speed is of the essence in complaints handling. The longer a complaint runs on, the more dissatisfied customers get – and with good reason (OFT, 1999). 55 The National Complaints Culture Survey found that customers expect an acknowledgement by return of post. Customers want an acknowledgement of their complaint as soon as possible – unless the complaint can be resolved immediately (TMI/Institute of Customer Service, 2001). 56 Customers want to be kept informed about the progress of a complaint. Sometimes an interim response can reassure a customer that their problem is being dealt with even if a full response will take some time. Response times should be clearly set out in leaflets outlining the complaints procedure and resources should be made available to ensure that the targets are met. 57 The Financial Services Ombudsman Service introduced a maximum time limit of eight weeks for a company or credit union to resolve a complaint (FSA, 2000). The Local Government Ombudsman has introduced an initial twelve-week time limit for local authorities to handle a complaint but will be reducing this to eight weeks from 1 April 2002. Both schemes allow a customer to complain to the Ombudsman if the complaint is not handled within the time limit2. Fairness 58 The National Consumer Council’s report (NCC, 1991) on housing complaint procedures stated that: “those who operate the system must be seen to be as impartial and objective as possible. The complaints system is likely to fail unless this can be achieved.” 59 RSLs follow a wide range of approaches to achieving fairness. The Housing Corporation’s Performance Standard G6 requires that a complaint procedure “should include a personal appeal to the governing body, which would involve one or more of its members”. Most RSLs do this by requiring complainants to present a complaint to board or committee members and some to a complaints 2 This power, and the Ombudsmens’ ability to choose to accept and investigate complaints before they have been through the entirety of a company’s or Council’s complaints procedures, have proved to be powerful levers of change and improvement. Copyright © CPA 2002 page 16
  17. 17. Access to Complaints Procedures for RSL residents Findings in detail panel that may include someone independent of the organisation (such as a tenant from another RSL). 60 In fact, however, research has shown that what complainants have been shown to want is the opportunity to discuss their complaint in person at the beginning of the process, not at the end. 61 The Local Government Ombudsman’s “Devising a complaints system” booklet states that someone investigating a complaint should contact the customer to: • Clarify the complaint; • Clarify the outcome sought; • Check whether he or she needs support of any kind, whether he or she has poor sight or hearing, or a language need; • Check what he or she needs to understand the discussion properly; and • Explain the investigation procedure. (CLA, 1993) 62 A complaint procedure should put the complaint handler in a position where they can judge fairly from all the information whether or not a complaint is valid (they will also require the appropriate skills to ensure that they implement the system properly – see Training below). Complaint handlers should be looking to engage with a customer at the earliest possible opportunity. 63 Our study of complaint procedures has shown that many RSL procedures have the focus on direct contact with a customer at the end of the process. RSL’s do have a variety of approaches to giving a customer an opportunity to discuss their complaint. One of the RSL complaint procedures described a complaints panel of board members that is convened at the end of the complaint procedure. The panel can be convened within six weeks and will communicate a decision within two weeks of the hearing – a total of eight weeks before a response is given to the customer. Another RSL’s complaint procedure reduces the possibility of delay at the panel stage by immediately referring a complaint to the Complaints Panel if not upheld by the Director at stage two. 64 The London Borough of Camden’s Housing department has guidelines that require an employee to visit any customer who complains about delay or quality of repairs. 65 Many complaint systems try to make sure that the people who make the decision can realistically be seen as fair and impartial – for example by ensuring that complaints are never investigated by the individual or group against whom the complaint is made. It is harder to establish the independence of internal arbitrators. The best that can be done is to explain to complainants that someone independent of the original decision on their complaint can carry out a review. If an appeal is made, the results of the appeal should be set out with detailed reasons for them in a clear letter that explains the result as impartially as possible. 66 The FSA’s complaint handling requirements state that a letter giving a final response on a complaint must inform the complainant of a right to go to an ombudsman and include a copy of the Financial Services Ombudsman’s leaflet. This helps to reassure complainants that the organisation is trying to be fair (FSA, 2000). Copyright © CPA 2002 page 17
  18. 18. Access to Complaints Procedures for RSL residents Findings in detail 67 Most RSL complaint procedures give the contact details of the Independent Housing Ombudsman Service but some refer to the Housing Corporation as the “final stage” or as another option for the complainant. One RSL’s complaint procedure states “if tenants are unhappy with the RSL after exhausting the appeals and complaints procedure, they can ask the Housing Corporation, the Government body which monitors us, to investigate the complaint.” 68 The Independent Housing Ombudsman Service encourages RSLs to use alternative dispute resolution methods. One RSL’s complaint procedure has a mediation service built into their complaint procedure. 69 The Walsall Mediation Service wrote: “A complaint is a situation that involves a person who believes that they have been aggrieved and it requires a response which will provide some kind of redress. This type of situation normally lends itself to successful resolution following a traditional complaint procedure. A dispute has no clear definition. Allegations are often met by counter allegations. Facts are often subjective, proof difficult to substantiate and there is no conclusive evidence about who is right or wrong. Following a traditional complaint procedure is not appropriate for disputes.” 70 The British Standard’s guidance is that mediation or arbitration is available as an independent service where the internal complaint procedure has been exhausted. The standard also suggests that an Ombudsman scheme should try and mediate a resolution before carrying out an independent review of a complaint (BSI, 1999). 71 The FSA’s guidelines advise companies to consider alternative dispute resolution schemes, such as mediation or arbitration, where the complaints are outside of the Ombudsman Service’s jurisdiction (FSA, 2000). Confidentiality 72 Social Services departments are required to employ a designated complaints officer to provide such a role - and manage the operation of the procedure. One of the RSLs reviewed did advise customers to contact a Customer Relations Team if they are concerned about making a complaint direct to the service provider. 73 The FSA requires all authorised companies to have a single contact point for customers to contact and get advice. The NFH guide to complaint handling suggested that RSLs could follow the designated complaints officer model (NFH, 1994). One RSL’s complaint procedure mentions a complaints officer but gives no means of phoning this officer. 74 Customers want to be reassured that there will be no adverse consequences because of a complaint - such as taking a service away from them. These assurances can be included in literature produced about the complaints scheme. Customers should be given an opportunity to complain in confidence. Copyright © CPA 2002 page 18
  19. 19. Access to Complaints Procedures for RSL residents Findings in detail An effective response 75 Research carried out for the Cabinet Office, by MORI, into public sector complaint handling has shown that a rapid response is more likely to lead to a satisfactory resolution than the same response made later (MORI, 2000). The research also highlighted that the importance of a proper apology should not be forgotten even where the complaint may be due to a misunderstanding rather than a mistake. 76 The British Standard stresses that, if procedures are changed because of the complaint, the complainant should be told about what has been done - and thanked for helping the organisation to improve (BSI, 1999). 77 Empowering junior employees to make immediate ex gratia payouts is not only effective but saves on administrative costs. The National Consumer Council’s 1996 report (NCC, 1996) on public service complaint procedures commented “front-line staff should be delegated as much discretion as is appropriate to help them resolve complaints… this may include a power to provide ‘ex gratia’ payments.” 78 The Association of British Insurers’ report on complaint handling procedures comments: “if a mistake that has had an adverse affect on the customer then compensation or some other benefit should be considered in order to put them into the position they would have been in had the mistake not occurred” (AIB, 1998). The assessment should include an element for the inconvenience of having to make a complaint. The Local Government Ombudsman has produced a good practice guide on remedies that includes advice on assessing a payment for inconvenience and time and trouble. 79 The Housing Corporation requires RSLs to have procedures for dealing with: 80 complaints about services including an appeal to the governing body; and claims for compensation for service failures. 81 Some RSLs have taken this literally and set up separate procedures for dealing with complaints and requests for compensation. Therefore, a customer can receive a response to a complaint accepting that a mistake has been made and then have to go through another procedure to get compensation. 82 One RSL reviewed requires complainants to make a claim for compensation in writing to the Housing Manager who will consider the claim in consultation with the Director. Another landlord had a separate policy for dealing with claims for compensation but a customer can use the complaints procedure if they are unhappy with a decision made on a claim for compensation! 83 We also found a RSL that stated that compensation could only be claimed if no legal remedy is available to the customer – preventing themselves from benefiting by resolving a case before legal proceedings are instigated by the customer. 84 We did find a landlord that took a more positive approach by publishing a statement that advises customers that compensation will be considered when appropriate even where the customer has not specifically requested this. Management Information 85 The American Productivity and Quality Centre carried out a benchmarking exercise to assess the complaint handling processes of best-practice Copyright © CPA 2002 page 19
  20. 20. Access to Complaints Procedures for RSL residents Findings in detail organisations in the United States. They found that these organisations were dedicated to integrating complaint data in to regular management processes to initiate improvements and that complaint data was used in almost every area of the organisation (APQC, 2000). 86 The best organisations also monitor customer satisfaction with the complaint handling process. The Audit Commission has introduced a performance indicator for customer satisfaction with local authority complaint handling. The results have shown that 66% of customers dissatisfied with complaint handling were dissatisfied with the overall level of service (MORI, 2001). 87 Management information can also be used to discover patterns and trends of groups of customers who access a complaint scheme – or don’t. A complaint procedure integrated into the overall business so that all information from dissatisfied customers can be routinely used to guide future decision-making and can be especially important in a regulated industry like social housing. 88 Two RSLs do monitor complainants by gender, age, ethnicity and disability to establish whether all sections of their customers have equally easy access to the complaints procedure. However, these were the only RSLs that appeared to be doing this valuable analysis. This ‘profiling’ of customers can be used effectively to make sure that the scheme is widely accessible and identify whether any further development or community outreach work is required to make sure all customers understand that complaining is important to the organisation. 89 The Financial Services Authority requires financial services providers to provide a bi-annual report to the Financial Services Ombudsman. Companies are required to provide a detailed breakdown of complaint data to allow the industry’s regulators to be well informed of consumer concerns (FSA, 2000). 90 The recent review of the National Health Service complaint procedures has recommended that NHS organisations are required to provide a quarterly report analysing complaint trends, causes and action taken to prevent recurrence to both the board of management and copied to the local health council and the proposed Patients’ Forum (DoH, 2001). 91 The Office of the Rail Regulator is currently planning to pursue improvements to the quality of complaint data provided by train operators that is already published in an annual report, and to require annual audits of the data provided (ORR, 2001). Training 92 The British Standard lists training as a primary requirement of any complaint scheme and requires that training requirements have been set and achieved (BSI, 1999). However excellent an organisation’s complaints procedure, the quality of the complaints management will also depend crucially upon the skills of the employees who implement it. These skills can be to a certain extent imparted via regular and general customer care training, but there is also a need for specialist training in, for example, investigation skills. 93 TXU Energi are implementing a “Living the Service Excellence Culture” programme. The programme, for all employees, includes a Service Excellence Complaints Workshop that includes the following sessions: Copyright © CPA 2002 page 20
  21. 21. Access to Complaints Procedures for RSL residents Findings in detail • Dealing with the industry’s escalated complaints handler (energywatch) • “Prevention (escalated complaints procedure)” • “Complaints (timescales and costs)” • “Complaints procedure – Service Excellence” • “No quibble” – session focusing on style of response letters. • Questions and Answers session 94 This programme is in addition to Complaint Handling training and a monthly clinic session where employees can get advice on resolving complaints made to the industry’s consumer watchdog, energywatch. 95 The provision of complaint handling training for RSLs appears to be confined to a session within a general customer care package although the Chartered Institute of Housing does provide an annual Complaints Policy and Strategy training event that focuses on: • Why people complain and how to obtain constructive feedback • Anticipating how employees may react to complaints and identifying ways to change this • Examining barriers to developing and implementing effective complaints procedures • Involving employees, residents and members in the development of a policy • Dealing with complaints within the context of Best Value 96 The National Complaints Culture Survey 2000 found that the level of effective complaint handling training contributes significantly to employees’ overall level of satisfaction with a complaints process. Public services topped the league of employee dissatisfaction with the level of training provided to complaint handlers (TMI/Institute of Customer Service, 2000). Copyright © CPA 2002 page 21
  22. 22. Access to Complaints Procedures for RSL residents Findings in detail CURRENT EXPERIENCE The first questionnaires to residents and RSLs. 97 152 of the 200 questionnaires (65%) sent out to RSLs were returned. 69 (45%) of these questionnaires arrived after the closing date of 14th September 2000. 98 These RSLs posted out 541 resident questionnaires (out of a possible 650). Some RSLs sent out fewer than the required 5 questionnaires because they had received fewer than 5 (in some cases zero) complaints in the last few years. 99 338 residents (55.2%) completed and returned a resident questionnaire. This was a very good response to the questionnaire (the recent NHS review achieved a complainant response rate of 31%) and shows the high level of interest in this project. Our key findings: § 57.4% of residents are dissatisfied with the outcome of making a complaint to their landlord. Only 26.3% are satisfied (this is very similar to NHS complainants where 26% are satisfied with the outcome). A comparison with the 1995 MORI RSL study shows that satisfaction has reduced and dissatisfaction has increased. § Only 1.6% of residents are reported by RSLs to have complained in the last year. During 1995, MORI found that 15% of RSL residents said they had made a formal complaint. § The number of procedures with four or more stages has fallen greatly since Lickiss and Karn’s study in 1995 but this reduction has not kept pace with the equivalent reduction in the number of local authorities procedures with four or five stages. • There is little consistency in RSLs’ approaches to giving residents an opportunity to present their complaint in person at the final stage. • 40 RSLs (26%) said they had provided complaint-handling or customer care training to a total of 853 employees during the last year. • Only 3% of RSLs did not have a documented complaint procedure. • Only 23% of residents stated that they were satisfied with the way their complaint was handled. Recent local authority surveys showed that 36% of respondents were satisfied and 55% were dissatisfied. The recent National Health Service review of satisfaction with complaint handling found 30.3% satisfied and 49.4% dissatisfied with complaint handling. • Resident complainants are most likely to want something put right, or an apology, than to want compensation. § Black and black British residents are more likely to be dissatisfied with the handling of a complaint than other ethnic groups. Asian and Asian British residents are more likely to be satisfied with complaint handling. § Satisfaction among black and minority ethnic residents has marginally improved but dissatisfaction has increased from 43% to 64%. § Only 19% of male respondents are satisfied with the handling of their complaint compared to 25% of female respondents. § Only 14.5% of respondents aged 45 or under are satisfied with complaint handling compared to 37% of respondents aged over 60. Copyright © CPA 2002 page 22
  23. 23. Access to Complaints Procedures for RSL residents Findings in detail § There is little difference between the satisfaction of respondents who have long-term illness, health problem or disability that limits their daily activities or the work they do and respondents who do not. § Only 40% of residents found the process of making a complaint to a landlord to be easy. § Analysis of compensation payments shows that the average compensation award rises from £140.55 under an internal complaint procedure to £2,507.39 where payment is agreed following legal proceedings. § Only 35% of RSLs will accept non-written complaints at all stages of the complaint procedure. Several RSLs had stated on the questionnaire that non-written complaints are accepted whereas a check of their complaint literature showed that residents are still told to put a complaint in writing. § Most RSLs publicise their complaint procedure through a statement in their Residents Handbook. Only 2.5% of residents said they knew how to complain by reading the handbook. § 83% of RSLs say that board (or management committee) members are provided with reports of complaints but over half of service managers do not get information about complaints. 67% of service managers working for RSLs managing more than 10,000 properties receive no information about complaints. § 66% of RSLs record and analyse complaints by using manual, paper- based processes. How satisfied are residents with complaint handling? What processes do RSLs use to deal with resident dissatisfaction? Complaint procedures 100 5 (3%) of RSLs did not have a documented complaint procedure (3 large, 1 small and 1 specialist landlord). 101Table 1 shows the number of properties managed by the sample group of RSLs and the number of complaints registered at each stage of the complaint procedure (including Ombudsman). Table 1: Number of properties managed and numbers of complainants at each stage Number of properties managed by sample RSL group: Number of rented properties 378,418 Number of leasehold properties 40,494 Property total 418,912 Stage Number of complainants % of property total One 5,983 1.428% Two 1,342 0.32% Three 346 0.082% Four 47 0.011% Five 13 0.003% Ombudsman 64 0.015% MPs and Councillors 94 0.022% Copyright © CPA 2002 page 23
  24. 24. Access to Complaints Procedures for RSL residents Findings in detail 102According to RSLs, 5,983 residents (1.4% of residents) had accessed a complaint procedure in the last year (64 complaints to the IHOS were recorded) whereas MORI found that in 1995. 15% of RSL Residents said they had made a formal complaint. Some of the RSLs involved in the survey do not have a distinction between “informal” and “formal” complaints and log all complaints received. Other RSLs will only record those complaints that are formal complaints made in writing. 103 Four RSLs, who were rated highly on complaint handling – 82% of complainants satisfied opposed to only 6% dissatisfied - accounted for 36% of the total number of complaints recorded but manage only 7% of the properties represented in this survey. 104 Table 2 shows that most landlord complaint procedures allow any individual or group of persons affected by a service or a policy to make a complaint. Table 2: Eligible complainants No of procedures % of procedures Resident 150 99% Applicant for housing 143 94% Resident’s group 125 82% Affected member of 134 88% the public Affected organisation 119 78% No reply 2 1% 105 All landlord complaint procedures included in the sample study had a number of escalation stages. The number of procedures with four or more stages has fallen greatly since Lickiss and Karn’s study (Lickiss and Karn, 1995). Table 3: Number of stages in complaint procedures No of 1995 2001 stages No of % of procedures No of % of procedures procedures procedures One 2 1 0 0 Two 10 6 8 5 Three 41 25 82 54 Four 76 47 49 32 Five 30 18 13 9 Six or 5 3 0 0 more Total 164 100 152 100 106The number of procedures with four or five stages is still higher than local authority equivalents. Before the Local Government Ombudsman recently introduced an eight- week time limit for completing all stages of a complaint procedure, only 10% of local authorities had four or five stages and 26% had only two stages. 107 Some final stages of landlord complaint procedures could have been considered as two stages. Complaint literature reviews showed that some of the sampled procedures allowed a director to review the complaint at the final stage and then progress the complaint to a panel if not upheld (still at the same stage). 108 Although the number of procedures with four or five stages has fallen, the time taken to complete all stages appears to have increased since 1995. Copyright © CPA 2002 page 24
  25. 25. Access to Complaints Procedures for RSL residents Findings in detail Table 4: Time taken to complete all stages of procedure Number of 1995 2001 working days: No of % of No of % of procedures procedures procedures procedures Less than two 0 0 8 6 weeks Two to three 17 18 20 14 weeks Four to five weeks 35 38 27 19 Six to seven 20 22 32 23 weeks Eight to twenty- 20 22 53 38 two weeks Total 92 100 141 100 109Table 4 shows that 38% of landlord complaint procedures have timescales that total between eight and twenty-two weeks compared to only 22% in 1995. 110The survey also showed that 84% of the complaints made to the IHOS were by residents who had used a complaint procedure with three or less stages 111Table 5 shows the responsibility for resolving and responding to complaints at each stage of a landlord’s complaint procedure. The table highlights the procedures where an on-the-spot or informal resolution is included in the process (i.e. any employee can handle the complaint) and those procedures that do not include this type of resolution (i.e. management responsibility at the outset). Table 5: Responsibility for resolving complaints Person(s) responsible: Stage 1 Stage 2 Stage 3 Stage 4 Stage 5 Any employee 28 1 Officer 39 Matron or warden 6 Customer service 2 adviser Manager 59 33 Senior Manager 19 4 1 Management Team 2 Customer Relations or 3 1 Complaints Manager Investigating Officer 1 Director 9 46 18 4 Chief Executive 1 22 29 4 Chair 3 8 19 5 Sub-Committee or Panel 2 10 43 20 4 Clerk or Nominated 3 Trustee General Meeting 1 1 Management Committee 1 23 24 7 or Board National or Regional 3 Office Secretary 2 Managing Agent 1 Copyright © CPA 2002 page 25
  26. 26. Access to Complaints Procedures for RSL residents Findings in detail Independent Arbitor 1 No reply 2 2 Total 152 152 141 60 12 11223% of RSLs who responded said that they have not reviewed their complaint procedure for more than two years. 31% have not reviewed the operation of the procedure and policies. 11352% of RSLs did not publish information about the operation of their scheme. Most of the RSLs that publish information use their annual report to notify residents of the results. Many RSLs mentioned that they did not publish any information because they received no or too few complaints. Table 6a: Review of complaint policy and procedures Last review of policy and procedures: No of % of procedures procedures Less than 6 months ago 37 24% 6 to 12 months ago 38 25% 1 to 2 years ago 42 28% More than 2 years ago 29 19% Never 6 4% Total 152 100% Table 6b: Review of the operation of the complaint policy and procedures Last review of operation: No of % of procedures procedures Less than 1 year ago 67 44% 1 to 2 years ago 38 25% More than 2 years ago 18 12% Never 27 18% No reply 2 1% Total 152 100% 114 Tables 6a and 6b show that while just under half of RSLs reviewed their complaints policy or procedures in the last year, one third hadnot reviewed its operation within the last two years. Training and guidance 115Only 40 RSLs (26%) said they had provided complaint-handling or customer care training during the last year (to 853 employees). 116Table 7 shows that 54% of RSLs have produced guidance for employees on the handling of complaints within the last two years. Table 7: Employee guidance on complaint handling Last guidance produced: No of % of procedures procedures Less than 6 months ago 22 14% Copyright © CPA 2002 page 26
  27. 27. Access to Complaints Procedures for RSL residents Findings in detail 6 to 12 months ago 25 16% 1 to 2 years ago 36 24% More than 2 years ago 39 26% No guidance 30 20% Total 152 100% Time limits for responding and acknowledging complaints 117 Many RSLs do not monitor their performance in acknowledging or responding to complaints. Time limits for acknowledging receipt of a complaint vary from 3 hours to 15 working days. Time limits for responding to a stage 1 complaint vary from 12 hours to 30 working days. Panel hearings can be arranged in 3 to 40 working days. Table 8: Response performance Stage: Procedures Average time Procedures Performance with time limits monitoring limits performance Acknowledging 138 4 working days 99 93.2% Stage 1 134 9 working days 93 88.1% Stage 2 128 12 working days 81 89.6% Stage 3 96 14 working days 54 93.4% Panel hearings 41 20 working days 22 86.8% Complaint outcomes 118 72% of RSLs were able to provide information about the outcome of complaints received during the last year. Table 9: Complaints upheld or justified Stage: Percentage upheld Stage 1 45.4% Stage 2 47.9% Stage 3 44.6% Stage 4 31.1% Ombudsman 22.3% All stages 46.5% 118.1 Appendix D shows resident expectations when making a complaint to their landlord. Many residents simply wanted the landlord to provide a service such as carrying out a repair or dealing with neighbour nuisance. The chart shows that younger residents are more likely to want to see the landlord improve procedures and customer care, apologise and, where necessary, pay compensation. Table 10a: Resident satisfaction with outcome of complaint Satisfied Dissatisfied RSL type No of % of No of % of respondents respondents respondents respondents Small 16 48.5% 12 36.4% Large 37 19.8% 121 64.7% LSVT 11 29.7% 21 56.7% BME 1 6.7% 14 93.4% Specialist 8 36.3% 10 45.5% Rural 2 40% 1 20% Copyright © CPA 2002 page 27
  28. 28. Access to Complaints Procedures for RSL residents Findings in detail Community 6 19.4% 20 64.5% Almshouse 4 80% 0 0% Not known 0 0% 0 0% ALL 78 26.3% 210 57.4% 118.2 Resident satisfaction with the outcome of a complaint is low but marginally higher than satisfaction with complaint handling. 119 57.4% of residents are dissatisfied with the outcome of making a complaint to their landlord. Only 26.3% are satisfied. This is very similar to NHS complainants where 26% are satisfied with the outcome (DoH, 2001). Table 10b compares satisfaction with complaint outcome to data collected by MORI (MORI, 1995). The comparison shows that satisfaction with complaint outcome has fallen and dissatisfaction has increased since that survey was carried out. Table 10b: Resident satisfaction with outcome of complaint 1995 2001 No of % of No of % of respondents respondents respondents respondents Satisfied 48 32% 78 26% Dissatisfied 67 45% 210 57% Total 149 338 120 During 1995, black and minority ethnic resident satisfaction with complaint outcomes was lower than the overall rating3. The satisfaction rating has now marginally improved but dissatisfaction has increased from 43% to 64%. Table 10c: Black and minority ethnic resident satisfaction with outcome of complaint 1995 2001 No of % of No of % of respondents respondents respondents respondents Satisfied 27 20% 8 22% Dissatisfied 58 43% 23 64% Total 134 36 Customer satisfaction with complaint handling 121 Only 9% of RSLs were able to provide information about the level of customer satisfaction with complaint handling during the last year; these RSLs had higher than average levels of complainant satisfaction. § An average of 65% of complainants they surveyed were satisfied with complaint handling. § An average of 19.5% were dissatisfied. RSLs who monitored customer satisfaction had upheld 51% of the complaints they received. 122 Table 11a shows how greatly this differs from overall resident satisfaction with complaint handling. Only 23% of residents stated that they were satisfied with the way their complaint was handled. During 2000, all local authorities carried out surveys of satisfaction with complaint handling. The surveys showed Copyright © CPA 2002 page 28
  29. 29. Access to Complaints Procedures for RSL residents Findings in detail that 36% of respondents were satisfied and 55% were dissatisfied. The new unitary authorities rated 43% satisfaction and inner London boroughs rated only 25% satisfaction (ALG, 2001). The recent National Health Service review of satisfaction with complaint handling found 30.3% satisfied and 49.4% dissatisfied with complaint handling (DoH, 2001). Table 11a: Resident satisfaction with handling of complaint Satisfied Dissatisfied RSL type No of % of No of % of respondents respondents respondents respondents Small 16 48.5% 12 36.4% Large 34 18.2% 124 66.4% LSVT 7 18.9% 27 72.9% BME 1 6.7% 13 86.7% Specialist 8 36.3% 10 45.5% Rural 2 40% 2 40% Community 5 16.2% 22 70.9% Almshouse 4 80% 0 0% Not known 1 0% 0 0% ALL 78 23% 210 62.1% 123 28% of complainants who contact the IHO when making a complaint are satisfied and 62% are dissatisfied (ORC International, 2000). 124 Our comparative analysis of resident satisfaction by ethnicity, gender, disability and age shows: § Black and black British are more likely to be dissatisfied with the handling of a complaint than other ethnic groups (table 11b). § Asian and Asian British are more likely to be satisfied with complaint handling than other ethnic groups (table 11b). § Only 19% of male respondents are satisfied compared to 25% of female respondents (table 11d). § Only 14.5% of respondents aged 45 or under are satisfied with complaint handling compared to 37% of respondents aged over 60 (table 11c). § Little difference between respondents who have long-term illness, health problem or disability that limits their daily activities or the work they do and respondents who do not (table 11d). Table 11b: Resident satisfaction with handling of complaint and ethnicity of respondents Satisfied Dissatisfied Ethnicity of No of % of No of % of respondents respondents respondents respondents respondents White British 66 24.2% 164 60.1% Black or Black 1 7.1% 12 85.7% British Asian or Asian 4 33.3% 8 66.6% British Mixed parentage 0 0% 5 71.4% Other 1 33.3% 2 66.3% Not known 6 22.2% 19 70.4% ALL 78 23% 210 62.1% Table 11c: Resident satisfaction with handling of complaint and gender of respondents Satisfied Dissatisfied Copyright © CPA 2002 page 29

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