Complaints Review


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Cobalt Tenant Scrutiny Panel Complaints Review

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Complaints Review October 2013


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Contents Page 1 Page 2 Pages 3-6 • Executive Summery • Panel Members • Introducton • Background • How was this service identified? • Details of the activities carried out • Mystery Shopping • Complaints Policy • Independent Complaints Panel Page 7 Pages 8-11 • Our main findings • Action plan • Concluding remarks and learning points Appendix • See attached at rear


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Executive Summary It is in everyone’s interest to resolve a complaint at the earliest opportunity. Delayed or drawn out complaints can have many detrimental effects. A fractured relationship between landlord and tenant, distress and inconvenience to both parties and potentially significant costs to the Cobalt Housing resources including its staff. Early resolution can therefore prevent a complaint becoming a dispute, maintain or improve the landlord tenant relationship and minimise the cost to both parties emotionally and financially. With this mind the scrutiny panel members scrutinised different aspects of Cobalt Housing complaints procedure. We embarked on a mystery shopping exercise and found the response times differed, between written complaints and email complaints. We looked at the Cobalt’s Housing updated complaints policy and asked for alterations to be made before it went to press. We interviewed the new independent complaints panel for Cobalt Housing tenants (ICPCT) Panel members agreed that ICPCT will enhance the complaints handling as it will be local tenants from the ICPT who will have the powers to pass the complaint to the ombudsman when Cobalt Housing complaints procedure is completed . (See appendix) The panel explored the difference between dissatisfaction and a formal complaint. We looked at the future use of covalent and its implications, and analysed complaints using covalent. We observed poor behaviour from customers at reception and have asked Cobalt Housing to put in place safety measures. Panel Members taking part in this Scrutiny Larry Shelbourne (Chair). Phyllis Booth (Vice Chair). Debbie Mottram (Secretary). Rhona Parker. Janet Heckingbottom. Edith Hodge. Ronnie Thomas. Joan Johnson. Sophia Muncaster. Beryl Robinson. William Tynan 1


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Cobalt Housing Scrutiny Panel Review of Complaints 1. Introduction The Regulatory Framework contains a requirement that all social landlords should have “an approach to complaints that is clear, simple and accessible that ensures that complaints are dealt with promptly, politely and fairly” backed up by specific expectations including accepting complaints from advocates. This followed close working by a range of stakeholders including the respective Ombudsmen. 2. Background How was this service identified? During our pilot review on communal Block Cleaning 2011/12 tenants in the communal blocks expressed their dissatisfaction with the handling of their complaints. With this in mind the panel decided that their next scrutiny should be Cobalt Housing Complaint handling and procedures. However, after informing the head of complaints of our intention we were asked to defer the complaints review until later in the year due to the introduction of new technology management restructure. The review (the Scrutiny Panel’s fourth) started in February 2013 and the research phase was completed in July 2013. The approach we decided to adopt in scrutinising the complaint services is as follows:  Fact finding: reviewing service standards, policies, procedures, and performance information, tenants’ views relating to the service. How easy is it to make a complaint  Challenge and compare: examining what other landlords do and try to identify good practice  Recommendations: analysing our findings and making recommendations to Cobalt’s Board, followed by asking Cobalt Housing to produce an action plan demonstrating how our recommendations will be addressed  Monitor and evaluate: once we have an action plan, we will monitor progress and evaluate the outcome for tenants In conducting our review, we have:  Produced a scope for the review  Received an initial overview from Insight Manager  Reviewed documents relating to the service  Conducted Mystery Shopping  Looked at Response times on a selection of random complaints  Interviewed the Independent Complaints panel  Sought Clarification on what is a complaint as opposed to dissatisfaction  Reviewed the target times on how Cobalt Housing to respond to complaints  Enquired if there is a document which highlights what Cobalt will and won’t do  Reviewed Cobalt’s actual response time, do they meet it? Any consequences if they don’t?  Reviewed Complaints recorded on Orchard, are they being closed/ followed up? Are there recurring complaints?  Reviewed evidence of investigations into complaint  Looked at covalent  Monitored poor customer behaviour at reception 2


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Details of the activities we carried out  Mystery Shopping Panel members visited Cobalt web site to look at their complaints procedure. At the time of writing they found five ways to make a complaint.      Fill in an online form Telephone Cobalt Solutions Write to Cobalt Housing Head Office (address supplied) Send an email Call in at reception Members of the panel made an imaginary complaint about a member of the resident’s involvement team (with his permission). They used the on line form for their first complaint and received a written reply within 24 hours. They went on to send an email, there was no reply to the first email complaint, and after seven days the panel member resent the email. They received a reply straight away informing the panel member that they had not received the first email and an error must have occurred when sending the first email. The panel member decided not to pursue the complaint as it would be taking unnecessary staff time. A member of the panel telephoned solutions regarding a repair and was quizzed about rent arrears before they were allowed to put forward their request. (see recommendations) Panel member requested the “getting it right” leaflet from reception and were informed that the leaflet had been withdrawn and complaints should be via the web site or telephone solutions. Complaints Policy The Panels members met with the insight manager and were informed that the current complaints policy had been altered and improved (with the help of tenant panels) three times over the past twelve months. The panel members were presented with the final draft of the of the complaints leaflet. They were concerned with the final bullet point stating Cobalt Housing would “Allocate Compensation”. The panel suggested the word be changed to read Discretionary Compensation. They felt this would remove any preconceived notion that compensation was automatic. They also suggested that two paragraphs be reorganised as they felt it would read better. (See Appendix 2) Panel members were fairly satisfied with Cobalt’s revised complaint policy which is now made up of two stages instead of three and applies to everyone who receives or is affected by a service delivered by Cobalt Housing. 3


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Complaint stage Target for acknowledgement 3 working days Target for closure 10 working days ( overall) Officer Stage 1 Team Leader or Manager Senior Manager or Director Stage 2 3 working days 10 working days ( overall) Stage 1 A Manager or Team Leader will deal with a stage 1 formal complaint; they will liaise with the staff member who has dealt with the customer to establish the details. The investigating Manager will contact the complainant in writing within 3 working days to confirm a formal complaint has been instigated. The Manager will respond within 10 working days (overall) in writing to the complainant providing an outcome of their investigation. Stage 2 At the point a complainant identifies they are dissatisfied with the outcome at stage 1, a Senior Manager or Director will contact the complainant in writing within 3 working days to confirm that they will review the case. The Director/Senior Manager will respond within 10 working days (overall) in writing to the complainant, providing an outcome and final response. (See appendix 1) Independent Complaints Panel Scrutiny panel members met with the newly formed Independent Complaints Panel for Cobalt Housing Tenants. They informed the scrutiny panel members. As part of the Localism Act 2011 designated persons were introduced by the Government to improve the chances of complaints about housing being resolved locally and to involve local politicians and local people in resolving local housing issues. When a landlord’s internal complaints procedure is finished tenants of housing associations, local authorities and ALMO’s can ask for their complaint to be considered by a designated person. In April 2013 an Independent Complaints Panel for Cobalt Housing Tenants (ICPCT) was formed. The panel consist of Cobalt Housing tenants who have previously been involved with Cobalt’s complaints handling and their procedures, and are a totally independent, experienced group of tenants registered with the ombudsman as the designated person. As the Designated Persons they are there to help to resolve disputes between tenants and Cobalt Housing. They can do this in whatever way they think is most likely to work. If there is an impasse and the tenant cannot resolve the complaint with Cobalt Housing they will, with the tenant’s permission, refer the complaint to the Ombudsman. The ICPCT have a rigorous recruitment programme and have produced a flyer explaining their role, and have been circulated to all Cobalt Housing tenants (see appendix 3) 4


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Covalent Members of the Scrutiny Panel meet to analyse the use of covalent. The panel were so impressed with this application that they would want to use it on future reviews. However, the panel members were frustrated to find members of Cobalt staff were uncertain whether scrutiny panel members were allowed to view the contents of covalent. Panel members decided to analysis a covalent document they had received during their earlier research into complaints. Covalent listed six different sections.       Complaints Completed Assigned Check progress Overdue In Progress Not Started We found fifty two complaints ranging from late 2012 to early 2013 were completed within the apparent target date. Ten assigned complaints had not been addressed even though the number target dates were imminent. The panel understand these are target dates and could be met in target time. There were two complaints in check progress and although the target dates were for early 2014. We found one was in the early stages of resolving the complaint and the other had not begun. We discovered six complaints overdue. Four were in the late stages of being resolved. While two were past their target date. There were two complaints in progress one we would have classed as overdue as it was past its target date and had not been addressed. The second complaint was in the early stages of investigation. We found that three complaints had not been started, one was close to its target date. We noted that there were no department or manager allocated to these complaints Difference between dissatisfaction and a formal complaint  When a tenant is unhappy with a service/ response or information from Cobalt Housing there are a number of ways in Cobalt Housing which they can inform Cobalt and as such it is difficult to be rigid because Cobalt Housing treat each case individually and the individuals themselves are impacted in different ways depending on their circumstances, so sometimes we may decide to escalate straight to a manager who would listen to the concerns in the first instance. The general guidance is when a tenant contacts Cobalt housing a Cobalt Officer will provide a response or action to the tenant and explain the reasons behind decisions, sort out the issue, provide additional information or refer them to someone for further help, Cobalt Housing would note this contact as a ‘dissatisfaction’ as it will be resolved when the customer contacted Cobalt Housing. 5  If however after the Officer has made every effort to resolve the issue and the tenant is still unhappy with the response, a Manager will review the information given and if they are


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unable to offer an alternative resolution the Manager will log a formal complaint to investigate the matter formally within guidance of the complaints policy. Review of target times Of the complaints panel members looked at one was still unresolved and one has gone to the ombudsmen, the remainder of the complaints the panel looked at had been resolved. Review of the complaints was quite complicated, it would have been easier to see them on computer. We are aware that data protection is an issue, but for future scrutinises a system can be arranged to temporarily remove names and addresses Looking through paperwork takes up valuable time, having to collate job numbers against letters. (It became apparent that job numbers did not always correspond with letters from the complainants). Overall the panel, on the evidence they received felt that complaints system is going in the right direction. However, for future reference access to this information needs to be simplified so scrutiny panel members can access them more readily. Observations Reception staff dealing with poor behaviour. There have been occasions when panel members have observed Cobalt Housing receptionist being verbally abused or personally threatened. We would ask a notice be placed in a prominent position firmly stating “Cobalt Housing staff will ask you to leave if you continue to use inappropriate language or threating behaviour “or a similar phrase expressing Cobalt Housing intolerance for unacceptable customer behaviour. Cobalt Housing employees should not have to put up with abuse from a customer. We would ask Cobalt Housing to consult with members of the reception team to ascertain if a barrier should be erected between the customer and themselves. There is seems be some confusion on the use of covalent by the scrutiny panel. We would ask that training be arranged to elevate any misunderstanding with staff and the scrutiny panel members in the future. Complaints and Compensation Policy Panel members reported that they were unable to find the complaints and compensation policy on the Cobalt Housing web site. 6


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Our main findings Strengths The reduction from three stages to two stages is a positive step forward for resolving tenant’s grievances more quickly. The independent complaints panel will benefit Cobalt’s tenants, by allowing them to seek independent advice, after Cobalt Housing final stages of their complaint has been completed. Trends There seemed to be a bit of confusion to what the panel required on trends and complaints. Scrutiny panel members requested a breakdown of different types of complaints. E.g.: gas, building, maintenance, because they wished to look at the trends for different services. The panel requested further information to give a clearer view of trends. Before finalising their report scrutiny panel members requested additional Information on trend analysis, the information below was provided by the insight manager Trend analysis tries to predict a trend using past data, it is reasonable to assume a trend is where something has happened on a number of occasions or higher % compared with the core data Due to low numbers of formal complaints it isn’t always possible to pinpoint an actual trend; however Cobalt will look at each complaint and try to agree some preventative actions to try and stop it from happening again or improve the service. On some occasions the contents is noted and monitored in the future. If a complaint is not upheld – we have investigate and found we are not a fault or are unable to adjust the service, we will still monitor this data for future analysis From Apr-Jul 2013 we have closed 16 formal complaints the details below show the main team the complaint relates to whether they have been upheld and some brief information 7


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Formal complaints Apr 2013 - July 2013 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 Response repairs planned Re housing Team Rents tenancy issues Policy Area of work Planned works Upheld or not not upheld Brief detail not satisfied with the quality of the gas certificate provided Property services not upheld communication in connection with ‘the green agenda’ legislation banding appeal Re -housing not upheld Re- housing not upheld data protection issue Response repairs Tenancy management Re-housing Rents Response repairs Response repairs not upheld not upheld not upheld partially upheld upheld upheld flagging issue- policy about levelling the method in which low level ASB is investigated allocation of homes within the 4 week notice rents pursuance process /communication boiler repairs and parts Delay in repairs wrong diagnostic parts required in connected with the boiler clock 8


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Response repairs upheld Kitchen window repairs and damp poor communication communication – relating notice given after a death repairs at move in electrical upgrade delay in completing boiler repairs / communication staff asking about rent arrears at front line Tenancy management Response repairs Planned works Response repairs upheld upheld upheld upheld Rents upheld Recent actions taken to resolve any trends Communication has proved to be a common trend connected with reporting and chasing repairs. A meeting has taken place to establish a better form of communication between the Solutions Team and the Surveyors, improvements were agreed A session has been agreed to include all staff to understand the importance of communication and to record contacts within the housing management system and take ownership Feedback through Contractor meetings continue to be addressed with Contractors however we recognise that 1000’s of jobs are raised each year and as such numbers are relatively low. Areas for improvement Staff need to be more aware of the complaints process and to be kept up to date with changes to literature. There still seems to a bit of confusion on what information the scrutiny panel can obtain to complete their review. Staff should be made aware that the scrutiny panel have unfettered access to all information they require to carry out their review, unless data protection is comprised. Our recommendations    Delegate responsibility for checking the emails in the Cobalt complaints inbox Ensure leaflets informing tenants how to complain are at reception Ensure all staff are trained and regularly assessed in complaint handling 9


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    To elevate any misunderstanding for future use of covalent by the scrutiny panel, covalent training should be arranged for scrutiny panel members Covalent does not have a date when the task was started Encourage more tenants to sit in on contractors meetings A notice be placed in a prominent position in reception regarding inappropriate language or threating behaviour Tenants should be allowed to put forward their complaint or request for a repair before being quizzed regarding personal matters or rent arrears  Action plan As agreed with the Board, we require Cobalt Housing to produce a SMART action plan, setting out how and when they will implement our recommendations. We will monitor progress against this action plan and monitor outcomes for tenants through the feedback we receive from customers. We will require Cobalt to produce an action plan by the time of our monthly meeting in November, so that we can commence monitoring. We would expect all our recommendations to be thoroughly considered by Cobalt Housing officers and completed within six months after the board’s approval. If for any reason is not practical for all our recommendations to be completed within six months, we will require a full explanation in writing to the chair. We will also require the officer to attend our monthly meeting to explain why our recommendations have not been completed. We require monthly updates from officers regarding progress in implementing our recommendations. These updates can be in writing to the chair or attendance at the panel’s monthly meeting We will send letters immediately after the board meeting, to thank everyone who took part in this review. The panel feel that it is important let people know how their involvement has made a difference, as well as thanking them for their input. Concluding remarks and learning points Complaint handling and procedures (like first time repairs) covers a large area of Cobalt Housing services and their different departments within the organisation. The panel feel that the scope they produced was a little too narrow to take in all the services with this review. It is their intention to return to complaints after they have completed their review cycle in early 2015. This review covered mystery shopping and found there was a quick response to the written complaint, but the email response to took seven days. Covalent is a new and useful tool that 10


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will be important for future Scrutiny panel reviews. The policy changes introduced during this review, reducing the stages from three to two can only benefit tenants. The introduction of an Independent Complaints Panel who will mediate with tenants, Cobalt Housing and the Ombudsman, to resolve complaints after the final stages of Cobalt Housing complaints procedures have been completed . The professionalism of reception staff, the first point of call for tenant’s complaints, were able to defuse situations before they escalated. Cobalt Housing Scrutiny Panel members have been receiving praise from the different networking events and training courses they have attended, other panels around the country are now benchmarking our progress and reviews. At a recent training course the tutor remarked “Cobalt Housing Independent Scrutiny Panel is an excellent example of a coregulatory framework” The panel recognise, that these achievements could not have been made without the cooperation of Cobalt staff and will continue to build on the good relationship we are establishing with Cobalt staff, in that way we can together ensure Cobalt tenants and Cobalt Housing receive value for money. We would like to thank Insight manager Debbie Serefoglou and the Performance and Review Support Officer Beth Moorcroft for all their help. Resident’s involvement team helped enormously arranging interviews and material required to complete this review, without sacrificing the panel’s independence. The Senior Management team and the boards continued support as not gone unnoticed by the panel. 11


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Appendix (1) COMPLAINTS and COMPENSATION POLICY Last Update: Name: Debbie Serefoglou Date of last review: 8th April 2013 Version: Ref: EIA date Board approval: Background papers P&R 300 V5 9th October 2012 8th April 2013 Date for Review: 8th April 2016 Background / Introduction Aim of policy Subject Page Policy title Aim of Policy 1 3


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Definitions Legal and regulatory requirements Policy detail Compensation guideline General exclusions Equality and Diversity Monitoring and performance 3 4 4 6 8 9 9 We aim to deliver excellent standards of service and to continuously improve by listening and understanding customer needs. The aim of this policy is to ensure that reporting a complaint is accessible to all customers, providing both clarity and consistency, and what we will do when things go wrong. Definitions What we consider to be a complaint? A complaint is an expression of dissatisfaction, however made, about the organisation’s actions, lack of action, or about the standard of a service. In any business things can go wrong from time to time. If a customer is unhappy with a service a frontline officer will help sort out problems and get things back on track as soon as possible; an officer will only formalise a complaint when they have tried their best to solve the problem. This would be to explain the reasons behind a decision ask advice from another team or apologise and correct the problem. Sometimes they will be unable to change a service, and feedback will be used to shape the service. If a customer is unhappy with the response from an officer they will be referred to a line manager to discuss next steps. All customers should be encouraged to contact our Resident Involvement Team who work with customers to help review, inspect and comment on services either as individuals or part of an organised group What is not covered under this Complaint Policy? o A request for a service for example reporting a leaking tap or reporting an antisocial behaviour incident o A customers statutory rights o o Requests for information or for an explanation of policy or practice – this is a request for information and will not be logged as a formal complaint in the first instance There may be occasions where complaints received are outside of Cobalt Housing responsibilities , for example services under the control of other organisations such as the local council . This would not then be covered under this policy.



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