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: 21 December 2020


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.

Do we have a reasonable adjustments policy?

NO

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 team of complaint liaison officers who work closely with customers, our colleagues across Longhurst Group and with our contractors.

Does the complaint officer have autonomy to resolve complaints?

YES

Our complaint liaison 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 customer liaison 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 liaison 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. We have champion roles within the complaint liaison team so team members can act independently by increasing their knowledge and expertise on the relevant service area including policies and procedures.

If there is a third stage to the complaints procedure are residents involved in the decision making?

We do not have a third stage within our complaints procedure.  

We have engaged with an established independent customer panel (designated panel) 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 complaints 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 contact management system.


4 – Communication

Are residents kept informed and updated during the complaints process?

YES

The complaints liaison officer will keep the customer informed from the initial contact (acknowledgement stage), throughout the complaint investigation and to the 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 liaison 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.

Are all complaints acknowledged and logged within five days?

YES

We acknowledge and log complaints within two working days. 

This includes making personal contact with the customer.

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?

99 percent of complaints were resolved at stage 1 (between 1 May to 31 October 2020).

What proportion of complaints are resolved at Stage 2?

One percent of complaints were resolved at stage 2 (between 1 May to 31 October 2020).  

We implemented our two-stage process on 1 May 2020.

What proportion of complaint responses are sent within Code timescales?
  • Stage one
  • Stage one (with extension)
  • Stage two
  • Stage two (with extension)

We’re unable to answer this question at present as the new timescales will be only be implemented from 1 January 2021.

From this date we will formally review our performance every three months.

Where timescales have been extended did we have good reason?

We’re unable to answer this question at present as the new timescales will be only be implemented from 1 January 2021.

From this date we will formally review our performance every three months.

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

We’re unable to answer this question at present as the new timescales will be only be implemented from 1 January 2021.

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

Our customer satisfaction levels have increased. Our performance is at 75 percent customer satisfaction for complaint outcome and 73 percent satisfaction for complaint handling. 

This is against a set target of 75 percent satisfaction for both complaint outcome and handling.


5 – Cooperation with Housing Ombudsman Service

Were all requests for evidence responded to within 15 days?

NO

This was due to exceptional circumstances, for example during the Covid-19 pandemic we had practical issues in gaining information from our tenancy files stored in our offices. 

The addition of key historic tenancy items on our contact management system will eliminate this issue in the future.

We kept the Housing Ombudsman up to date with our progress.

This performance indicator will be monitored within our new performance management framework.  


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 12 complaint cases (following a request to appeal at Stage 2). We will record and monitor the number of refusals.

What was the reason for the refusal?

The reason for the 12 refusals were based on a comprehensive and accurate response given at stage one.  One complaint was escalated after the 30-day timescale so in this case a new stage one complaint was raised.

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 a number of remedies to resolve the complaint, including resolving the issue and where appropriate goodwill gestures. 

We formally review trends and lessons learnt every three months to identify any particular trends for service improvement, learning and development. This is carried out internally with our colleagues at an operational and senior level and with our contractors.  We will also use our newly formed Customer Forum to monitor and scrutinise our complaints handling service.


8 – Continuous learning and improvement

What improvements have we made as a result of learning from complaints?
  • A new process has been developed to ensure repairs associated with a complaint are completed within a reasonable timescale.
  • A communication journey has been developed in partnership with Mears, 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.
  • We published the specification for the cleaning and grounds maintenance service to raise awareness and manage customer expectations. We’ve also launched our new clean and green customer inspector scheme.
  • We revised the correspondence to customers at stage one of the servicing process and implemented a new process, which focused on customer care for leaseholder gas servicing.
  • We will be reviewing our re-let standard with customers, which will then be used as part of our void procurement.
  • We launched our customer charter detailing our service standards across our key services.  We’ve made our customer care excellence training mandatory for all Longhurst Group colleagues.
  • We’ve revised our call handling model (internally) and also worked with our contractors to ensure additional resources are available at peak times.
  • We’ve reviewed our compensation procedure following feedback from the Housing Ombudsman.
  • We’ve launched Rant and Rave (our customer engagement software), which enables us to gain instant feedback on our key services. This helps us understand customers’ experiences and what’s working well and areas for improvement.  This instant feedback enables us to focus on resources (time and effort) in the areas where we need to improve our services and reduce complaints.
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.  

A detailed report will be presented to our Customer Forum every six months including performance, trends, learning and evidence of what we have done differently and future improvement plans.

The board/governing body?

A detailed report will be 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?
  • Updated our complaints policy, procedure and leaflet
  • Our Stage 1 response timescale has been reduced to 10 working days.
  • We’ve updated the definition of a complaint within the revised complaints policy and given detailed examples of exclusions in line with the Code.
  • We’ve introduced a new workflow process for Stage 2 and adopted the 20-working day timescale.
  • A new process has been developed to ensure repairs associated with a complaint are completed within a reasonable timescale. An agreed appointment with the customer and contractor will be included within the resolution letter and this will then be monitored by our complaint liaison officers.
  • We have included a separate section on fairness and reasonable adjustments within our complaints policy.
  • 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 six-monthly reports to our Group Board and Customer Forum on performance, complaint trends, lessons learning and service improvement changes.

    
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