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Section 4 - Learning

4.1 Actions from learning from complaints

We record any learning outcomes from complaints that require further action or changes to policy, process, or procedure.

A colour coded risk rating for each of the actions coming out of complaints is assigned to each action. This is based on the level of potential risk to the Authority/Tenant for not addressing the action and a future complaint relating to these actions occurring, which may result in a service failure or maladministration finding from the Housing Ombudsman.

From the complaints responded to during 2023-24, 41 learning outcomes were identified, to date 34 or 83% of which have all been implemented by service areas.

Complaint learning outcomes have reduced by 56% since the same period last financial year. Whilst complaint volumes fell, this was by a significantly smaller amount and case outcomes rates remain relatively similar.

A summary of the learning outcomes is as follows:

Risk category Number of learning outcomes Number implemented Percentage implemented
Red 8 8 100%
Amber 21 18 86%
Green 12 8 67%
Total 41 34 83%

A breakdown of the learning outcomes identified is as follows:

  • Officer was reminded to ensure formal warnings are served in line with investigation processes and procedures.
  • Voids Team were reminded to inspect all lofts when the property is void and ensure that the previous tenants’ items are cleared during the void period.
  • The Leaseholder permissions process is to be streamlined and officers made aware of the process.
  • Joint contractor and council visits to be undertaken in the future at a specific address during major works project to ensure consistency.
  • Call centre team received refresher training on the process relating to reports of drainage issues from tenants and what information can be passed to tenants wishing to make a complaint.
  • Call centre team reminded of the importance of listening to all the tenant’s query to help with better understanding and response to the issue.
  • Discuss missed appointment/delays with the third-party contractor to help with improving their service when working on behalf of Ashfield District Council.
  • Refresher session provided to officer on improving communication to provide clear understanding to tenants so they have understanding how we are dealing with their concerns.
  • Assets to liaise with lettings when major works being undertaken in a void property to identify how quickly the property will be let.
  • Call recordings shared with officer, so that they can reflect on their tone and some of the comments made. Officer reminded to remain courteous and professional during interactions with tenants.
  • Officer reminded to re-direct anti-social behaviour related calls to the allocated case officer where there is an open case, and the investigation is ongoing.
  • Feedback/guidance provided to officer on how to manage similar types of calls more effectively.
  • Officer reminded to review tenancy records prior to undertaking visits, consider vulnerabilities and involve support agencies when attempting to resolve tenancy issues.
  • Officer reminded to fully investigate an issue before reaching a conclusion and to remain impartial throughout investigations.
  • Officer (and the wider team) provided with refresher training on how to deal with vulnerable tenants.
  • Works continuing to supress appointment confirmation text messages being sent to tenants when all works are external, and the tenant is not required to be home for the appointment.
  • Officers reminded to ensure that materials are ordered and are ready in time for the work order to be completed. If not, ensure that the tenant is kept fully informed.
  • Contingency plan put in place during long term sickness for inspectors’ calendars to reduce requirement for rescheduling appointments.
  • Major works contractors to highlight addresses where tenants are unable to remove flooring to the Council and are not commence works until issue resolved.
  • Officer reminded to allow a postponement of meetings where a tenant wishes to seek legal advice and in consideration of any other circumstances around impact of the service of legal documents on a tenant’s health.
  • Complaint investigators to check that relevant GDPR forms are completed at the beginning of the complaints process to avoid unnecessary delays in sending the response.
  • Officer to be reminded of the process to follow when receiving service requests from other departments and of the customer service standards expected.
  • Discussions had with contractor on how to improve their service and expectations when working on the Councils behalf.
  • Call centre team received refresher training on consistency when dealing with calls.
  • Timescales to be put in place for officer to complete internal checks required for rent refund applications within 5 working days of receipt, to ensure that target overall response time of 28 working days is met.
  • Officer reminded of the complaints process and to be given feedback on the call with advice on how to remain impartial and manage calls more effectively.
  • Officers reminded to be mindful not to stand on tenants’ personal items during visits.
  • Review of the 'no gas' process to take place to ensure appropriate steps are taken/support provided to attempt to reinstate the gas supply as soon as possible.
  • Alleged inappropriate comments to tenant when reporting anti-social behaviour issues to Police call centre to be raised with the area Police contact.
  • Responsible team reminded of need to expediate the collection of needles/drugs paraphernalia when reported.
  • Officer reminded of GDPR requirements and not to discuss personal circumstances of residents in public areas of the court at any time.
  • Officer reminded that if they are made aware of any issues concerning the welfare of residents, these should be reported to the appropriate officer within the Council or their line manager as soon as possible.
  • Support referrals to external agencies to be reviewed by a Team Leader or Manager in one to ones with support officers, to ensure these are pursued with the agency concerned or for alternative action to be taken.
  • Officers reminded, that any part required must be ordered within a satisfactory timeframe.
  • Officers reminded of the processes and procedures for recording visits where they feel under threat of violence or harassment.
  • Refund of overpaid rent application form and declaration to be updated to make clear how the refund will be calculated, and that it will be reduced by the equivalent of one week’s rent.
  • Guidance provided to officer regarding the process for the delivery of formal notices and including their communication styles ensuring that full consideration is given in particularly sensitive situations.
  • Contractor reminded of expected/appropriate behaviour when working on behalf of the Council.
  • Officers reminded not to pass comment regarding matters when they do not have all the information.

4.2 Changes to complaints process

There have been no changes to the complaint handling process during 2023/2024. However, amended Complaints and Compliments Policy and Housing Complaints Procedure were implemented on 1 April 2024.

4.3 Emerging themes from complaints

Analysis has taken place across the themes/types of complaints we have received. The main areas and lessons emerging for services are:

Stage one complaints not responded to within complaint handling code timescales

A small number of stage one complaints have not been handled in line with the deadlines set out in the Housing Ombudsman Service’s Complaint Handling Code. It is imperative that all complaints, are handled in line with the code, including the requirements for acknowledging complaints. Compliance with the complaint handling code is now a statutory requirement and will be closely monitored by the Housing Ombudsman and forms part of the Tenant Satisfaction Measures return to the Regulator of Social Housing. Service areas are reminded to follow the requirements set out in the Council’s Complaints and Compliments Policy, and the Housing Complaints Procedure to ensure that complaints are thoroughly investigated and responded to as quickly as possible, to minimise the impact on the complainant.

Declining complaint volumes

Whilst stage one complaints remain higher than historical levels, the number of complaints received during 2023/2024 has reduced against the previous year. From 1 April 2024 the Housing Ombudsman Service’s Complaint Handling Code has removed the ability to resolve complaints informally, service areas should ensure that all expressions of dissatisfaction are logged as a formal complaint (subject to the exceptions permitted in the Complaints Policy) and are formally investigated in line with the Complaints Policy, and that all officers are aware to the complaints process to ensure that they support complainants to access the process, by assisting to overcome any barriers, where possible. Complaints are a valuable source of information around the performance of teams/processes and should be welcomed by all areas of the business.

Proportion of complaints escalating to stage two

The proportion of complaints escalating to stage two of the process has increased since the last financial year, despite stage one complaints reducing. Stage two decisions and the correlation of these against stage one decisions are being monitored, to ensure that all efforts are being made to ensure that all efforts are being made to attempt to resolve complaints as early as possible. Currently the rate of stage two complaints overturning stage one decisions and escalations to the Housing Ombudsman Service (and their findings against the Council) are relatively low, which suggests that stage one outcomes are appropriate.

Declining learning outcomes

Learning outcomes have decreased considerably during 2023/2024 compared to the previous financial year, despite similar proportion of the complaints being upheld or partially upheld. Complaint volumes have, however, decreased which could account for some of the reduction. Complaints are a valuable source of learning, and it is important that service areas are mindful of any learning outcomes that could be implemented, regardless of the outcome of the complaint, to ensure that tenants or leaseholders do not experience similar dissatisfaction in the future. Learning outcomes should be maximised and implemented as soon as possible to ensure the improvement of services through the tenant/leaseholder voice.