Model Complaint Handling Procedures – where are we now?
It is over three years since the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) set up the Complaints Standards Authority (CSA) to push forward reforms to the way in which the Scottish public services handle complaints.
There has been a lot of activity since then – but has there actually been much progress? We’ve taken a look at the Registered Social Landlords sector to find out.
Complaints Handling Procedures
In 2010 the SPSO was given powers to improve the way in which public sector bodies in Scotland handle complaints; the idea being to create a simple, standardised procedure that each body would have to implement, which would then produce detailed; standardised data that would identify where improvements were needed.
It set up the CSA to push through the reforms and over the past few years the CSA has been working to develop model Complaints Handling Procedures (CHPs) for each particular sector. Four have now been published – for the Local Authority, Registered Social Landlords, Further and Higher Education and Scottish Government and Associated Public Authorities in Scotland sectors. Every public body within these sectors has been given the task of coming up with a compliant CHP based on the appropriate model provided.
Complaints handling reforms
While they can vary in specifics, each model CHP follows the same general approach. As the CSA explains on its website, this includes:
- "A shared definition of what is and what is not a complaint;
- A two stage process where complaints are resolved as close to the frontline as possible;
- Frontline resolution of complaints within five working days;
- An investigation stage of 20 working days, which provides the organisation’s final decision;
- Recording of all complaints; and
- Active learning from complaints through reporting and publicising complaints information."
Registered Social Landlords
One of the first sectors to go through the reform process was the Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) sector, with its model CHP being published on 18th April 2012. RSLs were required to have a compliant CHP in place byApril 2013 and the new approach should now be fully operational within the sector.
RSLs have therefore moved onto the next stage, and are now focused on recording and reporting complaints as they come in and are processed. From this they will compile annual statistics on complaint numbers and the stage these are resolved at. These figures must then be forwarded to the Scottish Housing Regulator.
The data will ultimately allow RSLs to ensure that their complaint handling is of a consistently high quality, regardless of who takes the initial complaint and - most importantly - that lessons are learned from the complaints.
Is it working so far?
As a complaints management systems provider, we have been in touch with many RSLs and have first-hand knowledge of how the model CHP is being implemented within the sector.
We have found that awareness of the model CHP is high and that most organisations have put some sort of system in place - even if it is simply recording complaints in a spreadsheet or database. We can also see that many meetings and discussions on how best to implement the model CHP are taking place within the sector.
But with the SPSO keen to promote the concept of 'valuing complaints', we wonder if those RSLs who are reliant on basic recording systems are actually taking the right approach.
According to Lynne Campbell of Computer Applications Services, a complaints management system such as Workpro Essentials – one that has been pre-configured to reflect the two stage SPSO model CHP - would give RSLs the ability to do much more than simply record and report on complaints. For example:
- It would ensure compliance, through the provision of workflow to guide staff through the correct procedure each time;
- It would reduce search time, by storing everything to do with a complaint (all documentation, contacts, linked cases etc) on the one system, so there would be no need to search for complaint related information from various sources;
- It would ensure deadlines and performance targets are met, through its use of alerts and reminders;
- It would cut the cost of handling complaints, because the process is as smooth and streamlined as possible;
- It would enhance the organisation’s reputation, because customers would experience a consistent, high quality approach to their complaints and enquiries;
- It would improve staff morale, because they would feel more confident in what they are doing.
"The SPSO is putting a high value on valuing complaints, and is offering a number of e-learning and other training solutions to help get staff up to speed with good complaint handling," explained Lynne. "A complaints management system can only assist with this goal, making complaints handling more than a box ticking, reporting exercise and ensuring that organisations develop a culture of valuing complaints as a source of essential customer feedback."
So what happens now?
With the RSL CHP up and running, attention has now turned to the next sector on the CHP compliance timetable. This is the Scottish Government and Associated Public Authorities sector. Its model CHP was published in March 2013 and must be implemented by 31st March 2014.
It will be interesting to see if the sector generally follows the basic recording approach of some RSLs, or adopts a more integrated approach right from the start.
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