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9.8 Complaints

1. Introduction

A complaint is defined as any expression of dissatisfaction about a council service, provided directly or by a contractor or partner, or the behaviour of a staff member.

A complaint can be made by:

  • a person who is or has been in receipt of a service from the Council in relation to care and support, including a carer, or a person acting on their behalf with their consent;
  • The representative of a person who is or has been in receipt of a service from the Council who is unable by reason of mental incapacity to make the complaint him/herself within the meaning of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, as long as they are seen to be acting in the interests of that citizen on whose behalf the complaint is made;
  • A relative of a person who was in receipt of services from the Council, but has since died, as long as they are seen to be acting in the interests of that citizen on whose behalf the complaint is made.

A service should not be delayed, withdrawn or suspended because a person has made a complaint.

The local authority’s complaints procedure should aim to achieve the best outcome for:

  • adult receiving the service;
  • the complainant (if different);
  • and the service.

Each complaint should be seen as an opportunity to improve the service offered.

There is a single complaints procedure for adult social care and the National Health Service (NHS) in line with the The Local Authority Social Services and National Health Services Complaints (England) Regulations 2009. 

Where a complaint involves these two organisations or more, the complainant should receive a coordinated response.

2. Principles of Good Complaint Handling

Responding appropriately to complaints includes:

  • getting it right (legally and procedurally);
  • being citizen focused;
  • being open and accountable;
  • acting fairly and proportionately;
  • putting things right;
  • seeking continuous improvement.

See also Department of Health Guide to Better Customer Care.

3. Complaints Criteria

The local authority’s complaints procedure may be used in relation to:

  • quality of service;
  • charges for services;
  • failure to follow correct procedures;
  • delay in service provision;
  • a service not being provided;
  • application of eligibility criteria;
  • assessments, reviews and  care plans;
  • attitude or behaviour of staff;
  • the impact for an individual of the application of a local authority policy.

The Complaints Procedure also includes an appeal process for those citizens who wish to appeal against an individual budget allocation. The appeals process sits within the Complaints Procedures and as such, following the outcome of the appeal, people have the right to approach the Local Government Ombudsman if they remain dissatisfied with the outcome of their appeal.

The local authority’s complaints procedure does not apply when the complaint:

  • relates to the actions of another local authority or an independent provider;
  • has already been investigated;
  • relates to an event that took place more than 12 months before (although discretion may be used in relation to this period if there is good reason why the person did not make an earlier complaint);
  • is about a Court decision;
  • should be dealt with under court proceedings, criminal proceedings, disciplinary proceedings, grievance proceedings or a tribunal.

4. Action to be taken on receiving a Complaint

4.1 Informal resolution

Any person expressing a concern about a service should be listened to, so that the nature of the complaint is properly understood and wherever possible the issue causing concern can be quickly resolved locally and informally for example by a change in arrangements which can be managed easily within the person’s overall plan. Informal resolution should be completed within 24 hours of receipt of the complaint.

Where a quick resolution is possible without further investigation, this should be done with the agreement of the relevant operational team manager so long as the complainant is happy with this outcome and there are no risks to others using services, for example because the complaint raises serious issues.

Any complaint received should be recorded (on MiCare) and Manchester City Council’s Corporate Complaints Team (Adults) should be notified even where a quick resolution is achieved.

4.2 Formal complaints

If it is clear the person wishes to make a formal complaint or that local resolution has failed, this should be passed to the Corporate Complaints Team (Adults), who will obtain all information possible in order to consider the seriousness of the complaint and to enable the complaint to be investigated and resolved as quickly as possible.

After receiving a complaint where a quick resolution is not possible, the Corporate Complaints Team (Adults) will acknowledge the complainant within three working days. The acknowledgement will:

  • identify the points of the complaint to be investigated;
  • provide a timescale for when a full response will be provided to the complainant (usually within 20 working days);
  • request consent if the complaint is submitted by a representative.

Where the complaint relates to more than one organisation, it should be agreed between the relevant organisations which of them will take the lead and a single point of contact should be given to the complainant.

The lead person will be responsible for liaising with the other organisation throughout the duration of the complaint.

Complaints can be resolved more effectively if it has been made clear from the outset what the person complaining expects as an outcome. If this is not a feasible or realistic outcome, this must be explained to the complainant.

4.3 Safeguarding

Complaints which have any element of adult abuse or suspected abuse will be immediately referred through the Manchester City Council’s Contact Centre, and the safeguarding adults procedure will be followed (see Safeguarding Procedures for Responding in Individual Cases.

At this point the complaint will be reconsidered and may be placed on hold until the outcome of the safeguarding investigation is known.

5. Publicising the Complaints Procedure

See Manchester City Council’s Guidance on Making a Complaint.

Citizens who are in receipt of services from the Council should be informed of the Complaints Procedure and how they can use it.

Citizens should have access to advice and information about making complaints, including how to complain and who to complaint to.

6. Giving People Support and Advice when they Complain

There are many reasons why someone might need support (e.g. disability, language, age) and there are a number of services that help.

7. Investigating the Complaint

The purpose of the complaint is to establish the facts of what occurred. This should include – where appropriate – reviewing records, interviewing staff, conducting visits to the location involved and receiving specialist advice.

The person appointed as complaints investigator will usually be the manager of the service to which the complaint relates, as this will usually be the person with the most experience and knowledge of the service being complained about. There may be reasons why the complainant does not wish their complaint to be investigated in this way, and this can be discussed with the Complaints Manager to identify a way forward with the complaint investigation.

Once evidence has been collated and analysed the investigator will produce a written report setting out a summary of the complaint, methodology used during the investigation, key findings, conclusions and recommendations for action and remedy where appropriate.

It should be noted that mediation may be useful in some cases.

8. The Outcome

The investigating officers report will be sent to the complainant along with a covering letter outlining:

  • the complaint;
  • how it was considered;
  • what the investigation identified;
  • proposed resolution of the complaint;
  • recommendations for action which have either already been taken or are proposed;
  • lessons learned.

It may be agreed that an invitation to the complainant for a meeting in person to go through the points in the letter would be useful.

The complainant will be informed of their right to take the matter to the next stage of the complaints process if they are not satisfied with the outcome of the complaint investigation

9. Unreasonably Persistent or Vexatious Complainants

The Local Government Ombudsman defines unreasonably persistent complaints as “Those who, because of the frequency or nature of their contact with an authority, hinder the authority’s consideration of their, or other people’s, complaints”.

Complainants may be considered persistent or vexatious, for example by:

  • refusing to specify the grounds of a complaint, despite offers of assistance from the authority’s staff, and refusing to accept that issues are not within the remit of a complaints procedure despite having been provided with information about the procedure’s scope;
  • refusing to co-operate with the complaints investigation process while still wishing their complaint to be resolved;
  • making unnecessarily excessive demands on the time and resources of staff whilst a complaint is being looked into, for example excessive telephoning or sending emails to numerous council staff, writing lengthy complex letters every few days and expecting immediate responses;
  • adopting a ‘scattergun’ approach: pursuing a complaint or complaints with the authority and, at the same time, with a Member of Parliament / a councillor / the authority’s independent auditor / the Standards Board / local police / solicitors / the Ombudsman;
  • refusing to accept the decision – repeatedly arguing the point and complaining about the decision (particularly when there remains scope for the complainant to escalate the complaint to the next formal stage for example the LGO).

A log may be made to record all the actions that lead up to the decision to treat the complainant as a vexatious / unreasonably persistent complainant. The log will record the date, time and duration of any phone calls and a summary of the calls. The log will also document written correspondence, noting the date it was written and received and include a copy of the correspondence kept.

A number of options can be considered to regulate access from vexatious and persistent complainants:

  • requesting contact in a particular form (for example, letters only);
  • requiring contact to take place with a named officer;
  • restricting telephone calls to specified days and times;
  • strictly time-limit calls (specify time after which a call may be cut-off);
  • asking the complainant to enter into an agreement about his / her future contact with the local authority; and
  • informing the complainant that if he/she still does not cooperate with the advice given, any further correspondence that does not present significant new matters or new information will not necessarily be acknowledged, but will be kept on file.

Consider whether an advocate can be used to provide a bridge between the citizen identified as vexatious and the Council. To explore this option the Council’s Mediation Services can advise and may provide this service but in some cases a support worker, friend or personal contact of the complainant may be more suitable as long as they have the skills to remain objective and impartial.

Prior to classifying someone as vexatious / unreasonably persistent, a letter will be sent by Manchester City Council’s Corporate Complaints Team (Adults) to inform them their actions are being considered as such and if they continue, they will be treated as a vexatious / unreasonably persistent complainant.

If the prior warning is not issued by letter but instead conveyed in a phone call it must be recorded in the log.

When the Corporate Complaints Team (Adults) it is decided to treat someone as a vexatious / unreasonably persistent complainant, we will write to tell the complainant why we believe their behaviour falls into that category, what action we are taking to regulate their contact with the Council in relation to their complaint and the duration of that action.

The Corporate Complaints Team (Adults) will also tell them how they can challenge the decision if they disagree with it, this would normally be referring them to the Local Government Ombudsman. If we decide to carry on treating someone as an unreasonably persistent complainant, and we are still investigating their complaint six months later, a review will be carried out to decide if restrictions will continue.

10. Learning Lessons

The Corporate Complaints Team (Adults) will ensure a record of complaints is kept, including outcomes and lessons learned, together with any actions taken to improve services.

If a complaint investigation highlights errors on the part of the Council, an action plan will be completed by the Complaints Manager in conjunction with the Investigating Officer to highlight what the Council did wrong, why the Council did it wrong, what it will do to ensure this error is not repeated including timescales for implementation, and in some cases, evidence that this has been completed.

This information is regularly shared with all senior managers within Manchester City Council.

An annual report is also produced by the Corporate Complaints Team (Adults) and presented to senior managers and elected members before being published on our website.  The annual report will include:

  • the number of complaints received;
  • analysis of the issues raised by the complaints;
  • the number of complaints upheld;
  • actions taken to improve services as a result; and
  • the number of cases referred to an Ombudsman.

11. Political Enquiries

Manchester City Council’s Guidance on Dealing with Complaints

If a constituent chooses to address their enquiry, complaint or issue to a Councillor or MP they have the right to do so, however this falls outside the complaints process.

All contacts from Councillors or MPs on behalf of a constituent will therefore be treated as an enquiry. Councillors and MPs often approach individual officers directly; these contacts should be forwarded to the Manchester City Council’s Corporate Complaints Team (Adults) where they will be logged, acknowledged and allocated to an appropriate manager for a response to be prepared within the ten day timescale.

The Corporate Complaints Team (Adults) will identify if the enquiry is appropriate for this directorate or should be answered by other agencies, and will also identify if written consent is required.

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