Calls have been made to improve Leeds City Council’s complaints handling system after it emerged that the authority was ordered to make 14 cash payouts in one year after failing to deal with grievances from the public effectively.
Concerns were raised by members of an internal council inquiry panel, following the publication of an annual report of the authority’s customer relations issues and trends.
The committee heard that between January and November 2015, the latest available figures, the council received 3,163 “stage one complaints”, of which 270 – 8.5 per cent of the total –progressed to the second stage.
Of those, 116 people went on to complain to the Local Government Ombudsman, who found the council was at fault 17 times.
A report to the panel said that in 14 cases, the council was ordered by the Ombudsman to make cash settlements “as part of putting the matter right”. Four of the complaints where a settlement was ordered were about children’s services, three about housing and two about adult social care.
The council made three payments of more than £1,000 during the period – one of over £21,000 about Children’s Social Care and two about Adult Social Care.
The report said that although there was a general downward pattern in complaints, there had been increases in complaints in 2015 about adult social care and children’s services.
Lib Dem councillor Jonathan Bentley said there was a perception amongst members of the public that too many “silos” operate within the council and whenever there is a complaint, there is a reluctance to “own it”
He referred to one incident where a caller got “shuffled” six times to various departments.
“Nobody owns the problem, no-one knows who owns the problem,” he said.
“Eventually somebody referred them back to legal - it was a whole circle.”
Coun Kim Groves added that “staff don’t have enough knowledge” is a big complaint she often hears from the public.
The panel was told that the council has lost lots of staff to in two years, which was contributing to the issues, and that the lowest pay grade is in the contact centre.
“We bring in talented, ambitious people, and they are keen to move on,” officers told the committee.
“We recognise that we have an issue and we have been doing a lot to put it right.”
The report to the panel added: “A key area identified for development is that of the need to identify and address whether vulnerable people are aware of their right to complain about council services.
“A further area for development is to make sure that the council remains as customer focused as possible, and is not confused or distracted by internal processes.
“The council is looking at ways to make sure that customer experiences are positive, and this has included a senior manager masterclass on customer experiences, development of more personal, restorative approaches and a refresh of customer services training.”
The report stressed that “the majority of complaints continue to be resolved at the first stage”.