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Corporate Complaints Policy

Please note we are currently working on the latest version of this policy. We expect to publish it towards the end of 2023. You may find some of the documents referred to in this policy have since changed.

1. Introduction

Peterborough City Council is committed to listening to the views of its customers in order to improve the services we provide. Complaints are a simple means for our customers to voice their concerns about the council’s services and are an important indicator of where services may not be delivering best performance. The effective resolution of complaints should improve the confidence of customers and identify service improvements. 

2. Our objectives

The objectives of the Corporate Complaints Policy are to:

  • Ensure everyone knows how to complain and how a complaint will be handled by the council
  • Ensure that complaints are dealt with consistently across the council
  • Provide customers with a fair and effective way to complain about our services
  • Ensure that complaints are monitored and used to improve our services
  • Improve public satisfaction and confidence in the way the council handles complaints and provides its services

3. Our principles

The council will ensure that:

Our customers have a right to:

  • Be treated fairly and sensitively
  • Be kept informed about what is happening with their complaint
  • Be advised of the service standards they should expect; the timescale for acknowledging and responding to a complaint; and any right of appeal.

Our employees will:

  • Be sensitive to the particular needs of customers
  • Treat complaints as confidential, where possible
  • Be accessible and clearly identified

Our policy will:

  • Be open, easily accessible and widely promoted to all people that live, work and visit Peterborough
  • Be easy to understand and use by all customers and employees
  • Set out how to complain and how a complaint should be handled

4. Our definition of a complaint

A complaint is defined as an expression of dissatisfaction by a member of the public about a council action or service, whether the action or service was provided by the council itself or a person or body acting on behalf of the council. A member of the public may be dissatisfied because they feel the council has:

  • Failed to provide a service
  • Not provided a service to an acceptable standard
  • Delayed in providing a service
  • Made a mistake in the way it has provided a service or made a decision
  • Given incorrect or misleading information
  • Been rude, unhelpful or demonstrated inappropriate behaviour
  • Provided poor or inadequate facilities
  • Failed to act in accordance with the law or the council’s own policies
  • Provided a biased and/or unfair service

The council can only consider a complaint about a service or an individual if it has the power or duty to provide or secure the provision of that service for the customer, or employs, directly or indirectly, the individual about whom the complaint is made.

A complaint should not be overlooked because it is not formally described as a complaint. An enquiry should be processed as a complaint if it is consistent with the council’s definition. A complaint can be made by:

  • Any person or organisation that receives or is seeking to secure a service from the council or its contractors
  • A person acting on behalf of an individual or organisation with the complaint; their representative can include a Councillor, Member of Parliament, friend, neighbour, family member, an advice agency or other advocacy group.

The council will require authorisation from the individual if a representative will be acting on their behalf, this should be written consent in all cases; however, if this is not possible verbal consent can be accepted in some cases. This does not apply to Members of Parliament who will not normally need to provide consent. 

5. Complaints that fall outside this policy

There are complaints which should not be resolved under the Corporate Complaints Policy. Where there is a statutory procedure or a right of appeal to, or review by, a Minister or tribunal or within the council, a complainant should not resolve their dispute through the council’s Corporate Complaints Policy. However, the council should consider any aspect of a complaint which was not or could not be, dealt with by an alternative procedure. The complainant should be informed about the possibility of pursuing their dispute by an alternative procedure and what the implications could be in relation to the council’s Corporate Complaints Policy.

The complaints that fall outside this policy are:

  • About a Councillor from a member of the public or an employee
  • About Children’s Social
  • About Adult Social Care
  • About a council contractor if that contractor has their own complaints process which has been endorsed by the council ( in these cases the Council will complete a final review of the complaint if the complaint escalates)
  • Where there is a claim for compensation. The council defines a claim as ‘any incidence of injury, loss or damage to a customer which they believe to have been caused by a negligent act or omission by the Council, for which they have expressed a wish to be compensated.’ 
  • About a school; as schools have their own complaints process
  • Where the customer has started legal proceedings, taken, or is taking, court action or a tribunal is involved
  • Alleging criminal actions
  • About financial impropriety, that is, the improper use of the council’s finances
  • From an employee (or ex-employee) about employment or personnel matters, including appointments, dismissals, pay, pensions, discipline, harassment and bullying
  • From an employee about an internal service provider 
  • Data protection breaches: assessed by the Monitoring Officer and referred to the Information Commissioners' office. Aspects of the data protection breach may fall outside of the scope of a referral to the Information Commissioners' office. These matters may be investigated as a service complaint.
  • FOI reviews: dealt with internally by the Monitoring Officer under an appeal process operated by the Information Commissioners' office.
  • School attendance fines 
  • Where there is a separate right to appeal:

    o A benefit claims appeal where a claimant (or a third party affected by a decision i.e. Landlord or Landlord’s agent) may officially disagree with a decision made by the Local Authority or do not understand the decision that has been made
    o About the liability for Council Tax which can be appealed to the Valuation Tribunal
    o An appeal against refusal of planning permission which should be directed to the Planning Inspectorate
    o An appeal regarding a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN)
    o Housing applicants dissatisfied with a decision that has been made, including a decision to refuse entry to or remove them from the register, may request a review of the decision
    o A school admission or exclusion appeal dealt with by the Education Appeals Panel.
    o An appeal against the terms of an EHCP (Education, Health and Care Plan) which is handled by the SEND Tribunal 

Complaints that are Out of Time

Complaints reported after twelve months of the matter arising will only be investigated if there are special circumstances surrounding the delay. This is because it becomes increasingly difficult to ensure a fair investigation if many months have lapsed since the original incident occurred. This also applies if there is a significant gap in the complainant escalating their complaint following receipt of their complaint response.

Complaints spanning more than one service area

In the event that a complaint involves more than one service, a coordinated single response will be sent to the complainant. This is normally managed by the Complaints Team. 

6. Unacceptable behaviour by complainants

It is understood that people may act out of character in times of trouble or distress. There may have been upsetting or distressing circumstances leading up to a complaint coming into the Council. As a council we do not view behaviour as unacceptable just because a person is assertive or determined, however the actions of complainants who are angry, demanding or persistent may result in unreasonable demands on the Council and unacceptable behaviour towards the Council’s staff. In such exceptional circumstances, the Council has a right to specify how the individual complaint will be handled and how future contact from the complainant will be permitted. A separate Unacceptable Behaviour by Complainants Policy sets out the procedures for handling such complaints. If the Council has cause to invoke this policy details will be sent to the individual concerned. 

7. Our procedure

The Corporate Complaints Policy is based on a two-stage procedure:

Stage One (Investigation)
Stage Two (Complaint Review)

Stage One (Investigation)

The council aims to settle the majority of complaints quickly and satisfactorily. The complaint will be investigated by the service manager (or other appropriate person) with knowledge of the service being complained about. The complaint may be resolved informally over the telephone or in person at council offices if this is appropriate and this is at the discretion of the service manager. If this is possible then a written response will not be required. The council will have 3 working days to resolve a complaint informally. A complaint is only resolved informally if the complainant is satisfied with the resolution. If this is not possible the manager will complete a formal investigation of the complaint and send a written response.

If the complaint cannot be resolved informally a written acknowledgement confirming receipt of the complaint should be sent by the service responding to the complaint. If the complaint is first received by the Central complaints office they will send this acknowledgement. It is expected that this will be by email if this option is available or in writing in all other cases. We aim to send the acknowledgement within 3 days of the receipt of the complaint (but at busy times this may take up to 5 working days).

The council will aim to respond to a complaint within 20 working days. However this is not always possible. At times a complaint response may take longer if the matter is complex or if a key member of staff is absent who has been involved in the matter under complaint. Where the complaint cannot be responded to within 20 working days it is good practice for the Complaints team or Service manager to send the customer a holding letter to advise of the delay.

In most cases the manager should try to make contact with the complainant to discuss their complaint to ensure they have understood the issues raised. The response should answer all the complaint points raised and inform the complainant how they can proceed further with their complaint if they are not satisfied. 

Escalation Request

If the complainant remains unhappy with the Stage One response, they can request escalation of their complaint.

Complaints about the complaints policy or delays in complaint investigations will not be taken as separate complaints (accept in exceptional circumstances) but can be included in any points of escalation the customer wishes to raise after the complaint has received a formal response at Stage 1.

The complaints team will contact the complainant to discuss what matters are outstanding and agree the best course of action with the complainant.

They may recommend a meeting with the service if both the customer and the service believe this may be useful to help resolve the complaint. Complaint resolution meetings will usually be held at a council premises and will include two council officers to facilitate the taking of notes. Sometimes a meeting on site may be useful in some instances but meetings at the customer’s home will not normally be possible (but will be considered in exceptional circumstances).

If there has been no verbal discussion previously then a telephone conversation between the customer and the service manager may be another option.

Any meetings or telephone calls between the Service and the complainant should be supported by notes, which should be made available to the complainant and the complaints team within a 10 day period following the meeting or phone call.

Alternatively the Head of Service may agree to complete a review of the matter and provide a second written response to clarify matters further or to support the position already stated in the first response. 

Stage Two (Service Review)

If the complainant remains dissatisfied with the actions taken by the service as detailed above they can request a Stage 2 review.  The complaint manager will discuss with the Director of Governance if a Stage 2 review is required.

This will be passed to the Chief Internal Auditor to be reviewed further which may lead to an investigation by one of his team. The review will be conducted by a person who is independent of the service which is the subject of the complaint. This review will be provided to the Director of Governance who will write to the complainant stating the final decision by the council.

This final review will also take place when a customer escalates a complaint in regard to a service delivered by a contractor or partner of the council, where the service is still the responsibility of the council. In this case the review will normally be conducted by the Client manager of the contracted service. 

An internal procedure note detailing the steps to take when handling a complaint are available to officers and managers from their Heads of Service or can be obtained from the Central Complaints Office.

The council have the discretion to determine whether a complaint should be considered under this process. The Complaints Manager in consultation with the relevant Team Manager or Head of Service will determine whether or not a complaint should not be considered under this process. If the complaints manager and service manager have differing views of whether a complaint can be accepted under the corporate complaints policy or an alternative Statutory process there will be a right of escalation by the Complaints manager to the appropriate Director, or alternatively the Director of Governance who will decide which process the complaint will follow.

The council may exercise discretion about the stage at which a complaint may be considered or at what point a complaint should be referred to the Local Government Ombudsman. In such cases the final decision will need to be endorsed by the Director of Governance.

The council will strive to respond to complaints within stated timescales. However, this may not be possible in all cases. If more time is required to investigate the complaint, the service area should notify the complaints team who will normally seek to send the customer a holding letter which should include:

  • An apology for the delay
  • An explanation for the delay
  • The date by which a full response can be expected

Peterborough City Council will not normally agree to accept a separate complaint about the complaints process when a complaint is already under investigation. Any concerns about the complaints process including investigation delays, thoroughness of investigation or complaints about staff involved in the complaints process will be considered alongside the substantive complaint as part of any escalation request by the complainant.

8. The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (formerly the Local Government Ombudsman) investigates complaints about local authorities. The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman is independent of the council and has similar powers to a High Court Judge. It can investigate a complaint, order the disclosure of documents, or make findings of ‘maladministration.’  This means the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman is satisfied that there has been an unreasonable delay or departure from a local authority’s procedure, which has resulted in injustice, loss, injury or distress to the complainant.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman will usually only consider a complaint after it has been through the council’s Corporate Complaints Procedure and the customer is still dissatisfied.

The relevant Director will be notified by the Link Officer or the Central Complaints Office when a case is being investigated by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

Find further information on The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman Website.

9. Hate crimes

The council defines a hate crime as crimes which the victim or any other person perceives to be motivated by hostility or prejudice towards any aspect of a person’s identity, namely disability, race or ethnicity, religion or belief, sexual orientation and gender Identity.

When the council receive a complaint regarding hate crime, it may refer it to the appropriate body for action. Further information on hate crime can be viewed on the council website. 

10. Remedies

The council should put things right if they have gone wrong, that is, to provide a ‘remedy’. The remedy should fit the harm or injustice to the customer. Section 92 of the Local Government Act 2000 gives councils a general power to pay compensation or take other remedial action.

The council may consult the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman guide on possible remedies which is periodically updated and can be found on their website.

11. Anonymous complaints

Complaints received anonymously will not be recorded but will be referred to the relevant department for general consideration.

12. Data protection

To process a complaint, the council will hold personal data about the complainant. This includes data the complainant provides us and information that other people provide, about the complaint, in response to our enquiries. The council will hold this data securely and only use it to help process the complaint. The identity of the person making the complaint will only be made known to those who need to consider the complaint, and will not be revealed to any other person or be made public by the council. However, it may not be possible to preserve confidentiality in some circumstances, for example, where relevant legislation applies or allegations are made which involve the conduct of third parties.

Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, customers have a right to obtain a copy of their personal data. However, there are exceptions to this right. The council normally destroys its complaint files six years after the complaint has been closed.

13. Management information

Complaints are an important management tool which allows us to learn about the services we provide. They are a useful source of information about how the customers see our services and how we are serving our customers.

To ensure that the Council can learn from its complaints, the following data should be collected for every complaint received:

  • The name and address of complainant
  • Contact details for the complainant
  • The name of the officer dealing with the complaint
  • The dates on which the complaint was received and on which it was responded to
  • The nature of the complaint
  • The outcome of the complaint
  • How the complaint was received
  • Remedial action carried out in response to the complaint
  • Lessons learnt from the complaint

It is important that complaints information is reported and considered on a regular basis and at all levels of the council. The following methods will be used to report complaints information:

14. Responsibility for the policy

Audit Committee is responsible for monitoring the policy on an annual basis.

The Chief Executive (or their nominated representative) is responsible for the overall policy and its review on a triennial basis.

Directors are responsible for investigation and response to LGSCO complaints.

Heads of Service are responsible for the overall process of recording, monitoring and reporting of Stage One complaints made against their services

The Central Complaints Office is responsible for:

  • Communicating the policy and its associated procedures
  • Taking complaints from the general public and redirecting them where necessary 
  • Monitoring and co-ordinating Stage Two complaints 
  • Liaison with the LGSCO
  • Reporting to departmental management teams and Regulatory or Scrutiny Committee, and the general public on the performance of the policy

15. Other relevant documents

  • Customer Standards
  • The General Data Protection Regulation and Data Protection Bill 2018
  • Dignity at Work Policy
  • Equalities & Diversity Policy
  • Freedom of Information Act 2000
  • Grievance Procedure
  • Human Rights Act 1998
  • Hate Crimes Policy
  • Health and Safety Policy
  • Race Equality Scheme
  • Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000