Author: Claire James, Customer Experience Team Leader
1. Introduction & purpose
We are committed to delivering a quality service to our customers, and we strive for continuous improvement. We positively welcome comments, compliments and complaints from customers and aim to learn from their feedback.
This policy complies with the Housing Ombudsman Complaint Handling Code. Our aim is to:
- Be fair, treat people fairly and follow fair processes.
- Put things right.
- Learn from outcomes.
2. What is a complaint?
The Housing Ombudsman defines a complaint as “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”.
A complaint can relate to, but is not limited to:
- Failure to follow the agreed policy or procedure.
- The behaviour of a member of staff, board member or contractor.
- Harassment, bias or discrimination.
- Unsatisfactory resolution of a claim for compensation (see separate Remedies policy for more details).
- Services not provided, or not provided within an acceptable timescale or of an acceptable standard.
- Failure to properly consider relevant matters when reaching a decision, apart from decisions made under homelessness legislation.
The following are NOT considered complaints and are not covered by this policy.
- Cases where appropriate timescales or policy guidance have not yet elapsed.
- Insurance claims. These must be submitted in writing or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Matters where legal proceedings have been commenced or indicated and dealing with the complaint could interfere with the legal aspects of the case. Please note that issues included in the original complaint which are separate to any legal proceedings can be dealt with under this policy.
- Cases where there is a legal right to a review of a decision made such as homeless decisions and accommodation offers made under homelessness duties.
- Banding awards made under the Gateway to Homechoice Allocations Policy where there is a right to a review.
- Cases regarding services not provided by or on behalf of Colchester Borough Homes.
- When approaching CBH for a service for the first time, (e.g. reporting a repair, neighbour nuisance, anti-social behaviour). In these cases, the matter should be raised via CBH Customer Services in the first instance. Contact Us.
- Matters which have previously been considered under the complaints policy unless new information has been provided.
3. Who can make a complaint?
This policy applies to all services provided by Colchester Borough Homes, whether carried out directly by CBH or on behalf of CBH. These include services provided to Colchester Borough Housing tenants, leaseholders and other residents, including those using our homelessness and housing options services.
Complaints can be made directly by the customer, or on a customer’s behalf with their permission, in line with data protection policies and legislation. This could be via an MP or local Councillor, Social Services, or a friend or relative, for example. We will only divulge information to a third party if it is directly relevant to the complaint the customer has give their permission to make.
Suppliers and contractors are advised to address the issues via the relevant service area in the first instance.
4. How to make a complaint?
Any contact with CBH can be considered a complaint whether or not it is made in the form of a request for an official complaint. A complaint can be made by anyone accessing, using or benefiting from our services.
The following are ways to make a formal complaint:
- Online using our customer feedback form – Complaints, Compliments and Comments – Colchester Borough Homes (cbhomes.org.uk)
- E-mailing us at email@example.com
- Writing to us Freepost, Colchester Borough Homes, Sheepen Road, CO3 3WG
- Contacting us on Facebook or Twitter using @ColBoroughHomes.
- Calling our Customer Services team on 01206 282514
Where possible, we will respond to complaints via the method preferred by the customer. We will use our discretion to choose the most suitable method if confidentiality issues arise (for example for complaints raised via social media).
5. Time Limits
There is normally a six-month time limit from the date of the event giving rise to the complaint to the date the complaint is registered. This is not intended to affect the customer’s statutory rights but recognises that a significant lapse of time makes vigorous and meaningful investigation difficult. However, we will always endeavour to be reasonable and longer time limits may be applied, particularly where there is a safeguarding or health and safety issue.
6. How complaints are managed
The Housing Ombudsman Service encourages the early and local resolution of disputes between landlords and customers. We recognise that many customers may not wish to follow a formal process and just want an issue resolved. These issues can be dealt with as a service request. This is a request from a customer to their landlord requiring action to put something right. If this does not resolve the issue, then it may lead to a complaint, and it does not affect a customer’s right to raise a complaint. We will agree with the customer if the complaint is to be dealt with as a service request.
There are two stages to the complaints procedure listed below. Consideration will be given at all stages to the individual needs of the customer and the best way to facilitate making their complaint.
6.1 Stage 1 – Investigation
We aim to acknowledge complaints within five working days of receipt with details of the complaint, what will be investigated and by whom. We will also ask for any more information that may be required.
Stage 1 complaints will be investigated by an officer or manager who deals with the service the complaint is about. This is the ‘Responding Officer’
Customers can normally expect a decision within ten working days from receipt of the complaint. If this is not possible, we will give an explanation and a date by when the stage one response should be received. This should not exceed a further ten working days without good reason. Reasons for delays may include for example:
- a delay by a third party, over which we have no control, in providing information
- requiring further time to undertake interviews
- needing longer to gather all the information required to enable us to properly investigate a long-standing or complex case
Whether an extension is required will be assessed on a case-by-case basis and customers will be kept informed.
6.2 Stage 2 – Review
If the customer feels that their complaint has not been resolved satisfactorily at Stage 1, they are able to appeal the decision and escalate to Stage 2. Customers can escalate the complaint up to eight weeks from the date of the Stage 1 decision.
Stage 2 complaints will be investigated by a member of our corporate management team. They will review the stage 1 investigation and any clarification or challenge provided by the customer.
Customers can expect a response to stage two complaints within 20 working days from the request to escalate. If this is not possible, we will provide an explanation and a date when the stage two response will be received. This should not exceed a further 10 working days without good reason.
The complaint response must confirm the following in writing to the resident at the completion of stage two in clear, plain language:
- the complaint stage
- the complaint definition
- the decision on the complaint
- the reasons for any decisions made
- the details of any remedy offered to put things right
- details of any outstanding actions
- details of how to escalate the matter to the Housing Ombudsman Service if the resident remains dissatisfied
7. Outcomes for formal complaints
7.1 Complaint upheld
A complaint will be considered to have been upheld when there is acceptance that there has been a reasonable cause for dissatisfaction with the organisation.
A complaint may be considered partially upheld in circumstances where there is cause for dissatisfaction in some aspects of the case but not all.
7.2 Complaint not upheld
A complaint will be considered not upheld if it is factually incorrect, is considered vexatious or where there is no acceptance that there has been reasonable cause for dissatisfaction with the organisation.
8. Local resolution and Ombudsman services
If a customer remains dissatisfied when the CBH complaints policy has been exhausted, then the following options are available:
- The customer may refer the complaint to their local councillor or MP who can advocate on their behalf to help resolve the complaint locally or refer straight to the relevant Ombudsman service.
- The customer can refer the complaint directly to the relevant Ombudsman service.
Customers can contact the Housing Ombudsman Service if they are unhappy with the services we have provided.
- Online: www.housing-ombudsman.org.uk/residents/make-acomplaint/online-form
- E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
- In writing Housing Ombudsman Service, PO Box 152, Liverpool L33 7WQ
- Telephone: 0300 111 3000
Housing options and homelessness customers can contact the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
- Online: https://www.lgo.org.uk/make-a-complaint
- E-mail email@example.com
- In writing Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, PO Box 4771, Coventry CV4 0EH
- Telephone: 0300 061 0614
If you are a homeowner or are buying your home through Right to Buy and are dissatisfied with the outcome of your complaint, please refer to Home ownership – Housing Ombudsman (housing-ombudsman.org.uk).
9. Vexatious or unreasonable complainants
In some cases, there may be excessive or unreasonable contact from specific customers that stops us properly considering their complaints or complaints from other customers.
If CBH considers someone’s behaviour to be unreasonable we will explain why and ask them to change it. In exceptional circumstances we may also limit the amount of contact the customer has with us. If this decision is considered, we will tell the customer in writing of the reasons. Such action will only be taken with the approval of a senior manager and will be reviewed by the Board.
A review process will be set up for six months later and the customer notified of the outcome.
10. Complaint monitoring
Reports and analysis of complaints received are shared with our Corporate Management Team and Board on a regular basis. This information is used to review our performance and ensure we learn from complaints and improve our services.
A report will be published each year showing a summary of complaints made during the year. The report will highlight what we have learnt from the complaints and what we have done and plan to do to improve our services as a result.
11. Reasonable adjustments
We are committed to providing ‘reasonable adjustments’ for customers with a disability. This helps to ensure equal access to our services. In addition, we ensure that we have “due regard” to the three aims of the general duty of the Equality Act 2010. This includes ‘eliminating discrimination, harassment and victimisation’ and ‘advancing equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not’. The protected characteristics are: age; disability; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership (though not for all aspects of the duty); pregnancy and maternity; race; religion and belief; sex; and sexual orientation.
The following are examples of reasonable adjustments we make for our customers on the basis of disability within our complaints process (and more generally):
- Providing documents or correspondence in larger print, or with a specific colour contrast (which may help people with conditions such as dyslexia)
- Giving someone more time than would usually be provided to provide information
- Using the telephone rather than written communication (e.g. for someone with a visual disability)
- Facilitating the use of ‘Text Talk’ (e.g. for people with a hearing disability)
- Providing documents or correspondence in Braille
- Communicating with a person through their representative or advocate
- Arranging for a single point of contact at CBH
- Providing access to an ‘easy read’ version of a decision (or other document) for those with a learning disability
- Providing a person who uses British Sign Language (BSL) with an interpreter.
In addition, we seek to ensure that we comply with the ‘general duty’ of the Equality Act 2010 in the following ways:
- Our Adaptations Service ensures that ‘reasonable adjustments’ are made for tenants with disabilities
- New or updated policies, services and strategies are subject to an Equality Impact Assessment. This helps to ensure that identified disproportionate negative impacts on the basis of any of the protected characteristics (including disability, and different types of disability) are effectively mitigated.
- An annual report is drafted for Board each year which details how we are meeting the ‘general duty’, and key ‘equality information’ is published on our website.
In formulating and implementing this policy, statutory requirements, performance standards, best practice and guidance from the Housing Regulator, Housing Ombudsman Service have been considered, including the Housing ombudsman’s Complaint Handling Code
The following legislation is also relevant:
- General Data Protection Regulation
- Data Protection Act 2018
- Freedom of Information Act 2000
- Equality Act 2010.
13. Related documents
- Conditions of Tenancy
- Repairs policy
- Gateway to Homechoice Allocations policy
- Antisocial behaviour policy
- Remedies policy
- Data protection policy
- Equality Objectives.
Document Control Sheet
CBH Complaints Policy – December 2022
https://colchbh.sharepoint.com/sites/fnc/corpdoc/PolDevLib/C BH Complaints Policy.docx
In developing the policy, we consulted:
· Task and Finish Group 2019
· Corporate Management Team September 2020, June 2021, July 2022
· Task and finish group October 2020
· Operations Committee, July 2022
· Customer Task and Finish Group May 2022
CBH Website, SharePoint
Equality Impact Assessment
Document amendment history
New policy approved by TLCC & Board
Amended stage three complaints process
Minor amendments and clarification of Stage 3 complaint section.
Amendment in line with Housing Ombudsman Code – Omission of Stage 3 and redefinition of a complaint. Extended period for a Stage 2 investigation. Strengthening the monitoring of complaints. Section added on reasonable adjustments.
Amended contact details for insurance. Changed lead officer for policy.
Reviewed to align with revised Housing Ombudsman Code April 2022 including removal references to informal complaints, changing & addition of time limits for complaints & escalation and other minor changes.
In response to customer feedback, removed reference to approaching service area before making a complaint.
Please note previous removal of references to democratic filter & 8- week wait to refer to Housing Ombudsman, which no longer apply since 1 October 2022