Agenda item

Housing Ombudsman Complaint Handling Code Self Assessment

Each year the Council is required to publish a self-assessment against the Housing Ombudsman Complaint Handling Code and take it for discussion and approval at an appropriate governance board annually.


The Council’s self-assessment was updated in September 2023 and is now coming to the Audit Committee for approval. 



Sukvinder Kalsi (Strategic Director of Finance) briefed members on the report which set out the Council’s self-assessment against the Housing Ombudsman Complaint Handling Code.  He said that the Council had prioritised and focused considerable resources on improving complaint handling, especially around Housing Services.  Over the past year, the Council’s Corporate Complaints Policy had been reviewed and updated to ensure compliance with the best practice.  Appendix A set out a positive picture of compliance with the code with some actions for further improvement. 


Jon Pickstone (Strategic Director of the Economy) highlighted the integration of several teams, including the Resident Experience Team and the dedicated Dispute Resolution Team into a more strategic single function.  Housing repairs and housing management complaints were brought into the one-stop Housing Hub where complaints were handled by officers experienced in customer service to address the failings of not handling complaints well in the past.  This involved investment on additional staff training on both effective complaint handling and wider customer service skills both of which should be exercised alongside the physical intervention of the property by the Repairs Team under the wholistic approach.


The Chair expressed concern about ownership of a particular complaints case at an early stage and resolving it by coordinated effort to prevent it falling through the cracks of the division of the three teams concerned.  Jon Pickstone confirmed this was the case.  He elaborated that it was important to improve the repairs service and get them done as quickly as possible because this would in turn help improve complaints handling.  The teams would meet on a weekly basis to bring the cases under constant checks to prevent the complaints from escalating to the Housing Ombudsman.


Councillor Adrian Pascu-Tulbure was concerned whether the Council’s updated policy and improvement measures would bring about a better experience with the Housing Ombudsman.  Jon Pickstone believed they would as the Council had taken a multi-facet approach by improving its policy alongside complaint handling measures and coaching skills.


Councillor Florian Chevoppe-Verdier asked about the accessibility to the feedback surveys linked to complaint responses launched by the Resident Experience Team and its formats between digital and in-person/post.  Jon Pickstone said the Resident Experience Team was beginning the root cause analysis and exploring the organisational learning themes.  The Council, through surveying satisfaction about housing/repairs works, was now more aware of the performance of individual contractors. He noted that satisfactory quality repairs had gone up in recent months as a result of the tighter management of the main contractors and clearance of repairs backlog.  Jon further noted that to capture a more realistic picture of customer satisfaction via a bigger sample size, the Council would reach out to residents on different digital and non-digital ways from verbal response to text messaging.  In reply to the Chair’s enquiry, residents could still receive full range of housing services by phone with the Council’s contact numbers being listed on its website.


Councillor Ashok Patel noted that according to the Code requirement, landlords must respond to the Stage one and two complaints within 10 and 20 working days respectively.  He reiterated his suggestion of referring unresolved cases for external independent review before they reached the Housing Ombudsman.  Jon Pickstone referred to the advice of the Housing Ombudsman that it was the resident’s right to approach the Ombudsman if the complaint was not resolved to their satisfaction.  The Housing Ombudsman was an independent third party within the system.


The Chair expressed concern about the expenses of commissioning external scrutiny and internal resources might have already been deployed for the purpose.  Jon Pickstone remarked that a number of internal checks and balances were in place to deal with housing-related complaints arising possibly from, among others, some 4,000 repairs cases per months.  Sukvinder Kalsi echoed substantial resources had been deployed for internal scrutiny.  



That the Committee agreed to note the Housing Ombudsman Complaint Handling Code Self-Assessment as set out in Appendix A.



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