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Housing Ombudsman Complaint Handling Code – Self-assessment

Introduction

Complaint handling performs an important strategic role for an organisation, providing vital intelligence on its health, performance and reputation. Data on complaint handling should be considered alongside other management information to provide assurance and assess risks.

The Housing Ombudsman’s Complaint Handling Code promotes the progressive use of complaints, providing a high-level framework to support effective handling and prevention alongside learning and development. The Code ensures complaint handling data is being used consistently across landlord members, promotes engagement at different levels within a landlord and sets out expectations for boards or equivalent governance, senior executives and frontline staff.

The purpose of the Code is to enable landlords to resolve complaints raised by their residents quickly and to use the learning from complaints to drive service improvements. It will also help to create a positive complaint handling culture amongst staff and residents.

The Housing Ombudsman’s Complaint Handling Code sets out requirements for member landlords that will allow them to respond to complaints effectively and fairly. The Code supports the regulatory approach to complaints, ensuring that a landlord’s approach to complaints is clear, simple and accessible, and ensures that complaints are resolved promptly, politely and fairly.

Updated: 23 December 2021


1 – Definition of a complaint

Does the complaints process use the following definition of a complaint?

YES

Definition:

An expression of dissatisfaction, however made, about the standard of service, actions or lack of action by the organisation, its own staff, or those acting on its behalf, affecting an individual resident or group of residents.

Does the policy have exclusions where a complaint will not be considered?

YES

These exclusions are in line with the criteria set within the Housing Ombudsman’s Complaint Handling Code.

Are these exclusions reasonable and fair to residents?

The complaints policy will not be used:

  • to settle a dispute that is subject to legal action or an insurance claim. We will use other internal procedures to avoid duplication and ensure appropriate timescales are followed.
  • investigate and resolve complaints relating to safeguarding issues or serious allegations about a colleague or contractor. We will use other internal procedures to avoid duplication and ensure appropriate timescales are followed.
  • any complaint issue that occurred over six months will not be considered. Although, where the problem is a reoccurring issue, we will consider older reports as part of the background to the complaint, if this will help resolve the issue.

If we do not accept a complaint, a detailed explanation will be provided setting out the reason why the matter is not suitable for the complaints process.


2 – Accessibility

Are multiple accessibility routes available for residents to make a complaint?

YES

Complaints may be made by phone, online form using our website or social media, in person or by letter or completing a complaints form.

Is the complaints policy and procedure available online?

YES

We publish our complaints policy on our website. A complaints leaflet detailing our procedure is also available on our website. We will also send a paper version to a customer, upon request. 

Do we have a reasonable adjustments policy?

YES

We have included a separate section on reasonable adjustments within our complaints policy. Examples of how we will apply this to our complaints handling include:

  • Complaints may be made with the assistance of a representative acting on the customer's behalf (such as a family member, friend, MP or local councillor).
  • On request, we will also provide customers with support to make a complaint. Examples include, helping customers complete forms, write letters on their behalf or accept the complaint verbally with a written statement produced confirming details of their complaint issue.
  • We will also give customers the opportunity to be represented and/or accompanied at any meeting with Longhurst Group upon request and where this is reasonable.
  • We will ask customers their preferred method of communication.
Do we regularly advise residents about our complaints process?

YES

We publish information on our complaints handling service in our customer magazine, annual report and on our website.


3 – Complaints team and process

Is there a complaint officer or equivalent in post?

YES

We have a dedicated Complaints and Improvement team who comprise of a Manager, Team leader and Complaint Resolution Officers who work closely with customers, our colleagues across Longhurst Group, stakeholders and with our partner contractors.

Does the complaint officer have autonomy to resolve complaints?

YES

Our Complaint Resolution Officers will act independently and fulfil an advocacy role on behalf of the customer with the aim of resolving complaints promptly and to a satisfactory conclusion, where possible.  The Complaint Resolution Officers will act independently throughout the investigation and management of the complaint case.

Does the complaint officer have authority to compel engagement from other departments to resolve disputes?

YES

We actively encourage collaboration with colleagues and our contractors to resolve disputes.  The Complaint Resolution Officer will consider all information and evidence carefully and then work in partnership with other departments to provide the best possible resolution to a complaint. 

Is any third stage optional for residents?

YES

We have engaged with an established independent customer panel (designated person) where customers can request the panel to investigate their complaint if they are still unhappy after stage 2.  We have customer representation on this independent complaint panel.

Does the final stage response set out residents’ right to refer the matter to the Housing Ombudsman Service?

YES

A standard paragraph giving details of the Housing Ombudsman Service is included in all our resolution letters.

Do we keep a record of complaint correspondence including correspondence from the resident?

As outlined in our complaints policy, all correspondence and communication details are recorded on our CRM system. Each complaint will be managed using our case management functionality where all colleagues have access to the complaint history, case notes and correspondence.


4 – Communication

Are residents kept informed and updated during the complaints process?

YES

The Complaints Resolution Officer will keep the customer informed from the initial contact (acknowledgement stage), throughout the complaint investigation to resolution.  Our complaints policy gives further details on how we will communicate and engage with our customers to ensure they are kept informed and up to date during the complaint process.

Are residents informed of the landlord’s position and given a chance to respond and challenge any area of dispute before the final decision?

YES

The Complaint Resolution Officer contacts the customer before the resolution letter is issued (two attempts are made).  This gives the customer the opportunity to respond and challenge before the resolution letter with the final decision is sent.  Also, personal contact is made when the complaint is acknowledged to seek clarification, manage expectations and to gather the facts and all the required information from a customers’ perspective. Communication is also made throughout the complaint case.

Customers are advised that they can escalate their complaint to stage 2 if they are unhappy with the resolution to their complaint at stage 1.

Are all complaints acknowledged and logged within five days?

YES

From 1 January to 30 September 2021, we acknowledged 99 percent of all formal complaints within five days.

Are residents advised of how to escalate at the end of each stage?

YES

This is included in our resolution letters at stage 1 and stage 2.

We also communicate how customers can escalate their informal complaint to a formal complaint if they’re dissatisfied with the resolution.

What proportion of complaints are resolved at Stage 1?

92.5 percent of complaints were resolved at stage 1 (between 1 January 2021 to 30 September 2021).

What proportion of complaints are resolved at Stage 2?

Stage 1: (within 10 working days or with agreed extensions)

Stage one complaints

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sept

Oct

Number of formal complaints received

114

166

122

228

178

260

203

% of formal complaint responses sent within timescale (including agreed extensions)

72%

60%

90%

91%

76%

68%

77%

We have worked with our partner contractors to improve our processes, for example ensuring complaints about repairs are properly diagnosed and repair appointment are booked in. 

 

Stage 2
121, of which 95 were resolved with timescale (79%)

Stage two (with extension)
18, of which 12 were resolved within timescale (67%)

The average resolution timescale for stage 2 was 23 working days (including those complaints with agreed extensions).

Where timescales have been extended did we have good reason?

The main reason for extending a timescale is to ensure we have an appointment booked in for any repair work that needs to be completed as part of the complaint resolution.  In some cases, we will also provide an extension, so the repair work is completed before closing the complaint resolution (where appropriate) to ensure customer satisfaction.

We would always engage with the customer before extending the resolution timescale.

Where timescales have been extended did we keep the resident informed?

We would always engage with the customer before extending the resolution timescale for stage one and stage two complaints.

What proportion of complaints do we resolve to residents’ satisfaction?

Our performance is at 75 percent customer satisfaction for complaint outcome and 71 percent satisfaction for complaint handling (1 January 2021 to 30 September 2021).  This is against a set target of 75 percent satisfaction for both complaint outcome and handling. 


5 – Cooperation with Housing Ombudsman Service


6 – Fairness in complaint handling

Are residents able to complain via a representative throughout?

YES

This is included in our complaints policy within the reasonable adjustment section. We also aim to keep the representative up to date throughout the management of the complaint case.

How many cases did we refuse to escalate?

We refused 25 complaint cases (following a request to appeal at stage 2) between 1 January to 30 September 2021. We record and monitor the number of refusals.

What was the reason for the refusal?

The reason for the 25 refusals were based on:

  • Stage 2 request contained additional information that was not presented at stage 1
  • A full response had already been provided at stage 1 and no further investigation was required
  • The outcome would remain the same

A customer can only use stage 2 if one or more of the following criteria has been evidenced.

  • The response received is factually inaccurate.
  • The response received does not address the initial complaint; or
  • There is evidence that our complaints process was not followed.
Did we explain our decision to the resident?

YES 

We will always explain our decision and inform the customer of the next steps.


7 – Outcomes and remedies

Where something has gone wrong are we taking appropriate steps to put things right?

YES

We always aim to offer the best possible experience following a complaint. We will offer the customer remedies to resolve the complaint, including proactively resolving the issue and where appropriate offering goodwill gestures and compensation payments. 

We formally review trends and lessons learnt every three months to identify trends for service improvement, learning and development.  This is carried out internally with our colleagues at an operational and senior level and with our partner contractors. Our Customer Forum also provide a customer assurance role by monitoring and scrutinising our complaints handling performance.


8 – Continuous learning and improvement

What improvements have we made as a result of learning from complaints?
  • We hold monthly formal meetings with internal management teams to review key feedback trends and issues highlighted by customers so learning can be addressed and actioned. We’ve recruited a new Customer Experience Officer who will lead and develop this framework further.

  • We hold weekly meetings with our partner contractors to discuss key issues, barriers, and existing complaint cases regarding our responsive repair service.

  • An improvement plan has been set in partnership with our heating contractor to ensure communication is at the forefront of service delivery. This included the introduction of a revised appointment system for servicing and a new track the operative app.

  • A new process where an agreed appointment with the customer and contractor will be included within the resolution letter and this will then be monitored by our Complaint and Improvement team.

  • Following feedback from customers, which included a lack of understanding on the estate services we deliver we published the specification for the cleaning and grounds maintenance service. An accessible online portal for customers to review schedules at their individual scheme is now in place and our clean and green inspectors has been launched. Audits are taking place more regularly by our Contract Estate Officers, which has all led to higher satisfaction scores for quarter 2.

  • We implemented a new process, which focused on customer care for leaseholder gas servicing. Following customer feedback, we introduced a detailed gas servicing postal survey to leaseholders to capture their valuable feedback. This has resulted in improved customer satisfaction levels with leaseholder customers.

  • Following customer feedback, we’ve reviewed our re-let standard with customers, which has fed into the repair and void procurement process in preparation for our new repair service.

  • Following customer feedback, we’ve updated the aids and adaptation section of our website to provide clear information that is easy to use for our customers.

  • We’re currently reviewing the resources allocated to the management of defect repairs and reviewing how the process will work between different departments; with the aim of giving a better customer experience and reduced service failures.

How do we share these lessons?

Residents?

In our customer magazine we have a ‘You said, we did’ feature. This is also published on our website.

Reports have been presented to our Customer Forum including performance, trends, learning and evidence of what we have done differently and future improvement plans.

The board/governing body?

A detailed report is presented to the Group Board every six months including performance, trends, learning and evidence of what we have done differently and future improvement plans.

In the Annual Report?

We have a ‘You said, we did’ section within our customer annual report.

This exceeds the Housing Ombudsman’s Complaint Handling Code, which indicates a review, at least once a year.

Has the Code made a difference to how we respond to complaints?

YES

We’ve revised and changed our complaints procedure and policy to reflect the Housing Ombudsman Code.

What changes have we made?
  • We’ve introduced a new Complaint and Improvement Team (from September 2021) with dedicated officers and management structure. We have also employed extra short-term resources to monitor our agreed resolution actions and improve response timescales.

  • Our stage 1 response timescale has been reduced to 10 working days and we’ve adopted the 20-working day timescale for stage 2 complaints.

  • We’ve developed a robust complaints management case functionality within our new Dynamics CRM system (internal housing management).

  • Additional catch-up support calls have been set with the relevant Heads of Service/Directors to ensure timescales improve for our stage 2 complaints. This has led to improved performance.

  • A new suite of performance indicators has been produced and incorporated into our performance management framework for complaints handling.

  • A stronger focus on reporting our learning and giving evidence to illustrate this. Our new performance monitoring framework includes reports to our Group Board and Customer Forum on performance, complaint trends, lessons learnt and service improvement changes.

  • We have included a requirement for all partner contractors to attend our in-house complaints management training within the new repairs and voids procurement process. This also includes a mandatory training session for Managers across Longhurst Group (where appropriate).

  • We have implemented monthly internal meetings with key colleagues to scrutinise the customer satisfaction with our complaints handling service. From this feedback we’ve introduced an extra measure at the acknowledgement stage so an appointment with the customer is scheduled in where an update will be provided, and contact made by the Complaint Resolution Officer.

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