Comments, compliments and complaints procedure
The Council welcomes feedback that will help to improve Council services.
Citizens can make a comment, compliment or complaint about any aspect of a service provided by the Council, including services provided by the Council’s wholly owned companies on behalf of the Council:
- Oxford Direct Services Limited and Oxford Direct Services Trading Limited
- Oxford City Housing Limited and its subsidiaries
The Council also welcomes feedback about its role in, or actions taken in respect of, the joint ventures in which the Council is a partner:
- OxWED LLP
- Barton Oxford LLP
- South Oxfordshire Science Village LLP
The Council is committed to learning from comments, compliments and complaints and to responding to complaints fairly, consistently and in a timely fashion.
This procedure sets out how the Council will treat and act upon comments, compliments and complaints.
Complaints about councillors are dealt with by a separate procedure. Please see our standards and conduct arrangements for councillors
How to make a comment, compliment or complaint
Feedback can be provided to the relevant Council service directly or by contacting the Council in the following ways.
Telephone: 01865 249811
In writing: Customer Services, Oxford City Council, Town Hall, St Aldate's, Oxford, OX1 1BX
What is a comment?
A comment is any feedback or suggestion that will help to shape and improve Council services. Usually a response to a comment will not be necessary.
What is a compliment?
A compliment is an expression of praise about the Council or anyone providing a service on behalf of the Council. For example where Council staff, services, policies and procedures have exceeded expectations. In most cases, a response to a compliment is not necessary.
What is a complaint?
A complaint is an expression of dissatisfaction, however made, about the standard of service, actions or lack of action by the Council, its staff, or those acting on behalf of the Council, affecting an individual citizen or group of citizens.
Complaints and service requests can be closely related. The initial reporting of a fault will normally be treated as a service request and the Council will seek to resolve the issue outside of this procedure in the first instance. When assessing whether to treat a contact as a complaint or a service request each case will be considered on its individual merits and consideration may be given to the following factors. This list is not exhaustive:
- Whether the customer has been made aware of the complaints procedure and has identified their contact as being a complaint.
- What the expression of dissatisfaction is about.
- The tone of the correspondence.
- What the customer would like to happen next.
- Whether the matter has already been treated as a service request.
What will not be treated as a complaint under this procedure?
The following matters will not be dealt with under this procedure as separate procedures apply. This list is not exhaustive:
- Service requests e.g. initial reporting of a missed bin collection
- Complaints about matters that have already exhausted this procedure or have already been investigated by the relevant ombudsman, unless there is substantially new and different information that is material to the complaint and would warrant a reconsideration.
- Disagreements with the rule of law or a Council policy that has been properly made and followed.
- Complaints that are primarily about the actions of a joint venture in which the Council is a partner. These should be directed to the joint venture.
- Complaints about historic matters i.e. issues that were known about for more than 12 months before a complaint was submitted to the Council, unless there is a good reason for the delay.
- Complaints about Councillors are subject to a separate standards and conduct arrangements for councillors
- Issues raised by councillors should be addressed to the service (or for ODS services, the Contact Centre) in the first instance and may be escalated to the relevant senior officer. Councillors are encouraged not to submit complaints under this policy unless all other avenues have been exhausted, including raising the matter with the councillor’s Group Leader.
- Matters that are subject to legal proceedings, or where it is considered appropriate for the complainant to pursue a legal claim. This doesn’t include where the complainant has only threatened legal action.
- Matters that will be or have been considered by a court, tribunal or other statutory body.
- Any potential data breaches should be reported to email@example.com
- Complaints about the outcome of a Freedom of Information request, a Subject Access Request or an Environmental Information Request. There is a separate process of internal review by the Monitoring Officer and then escalation to the Information Commissioner’s Office.
- Insurance claims should be reported to the service in the first instance.
- Objections to planning applications to be determined by the authority. These will be treated as representations on that planning application.
- Complaints raised by employees will be dealt with under the relevant employment policy.
- Concerns raised under the Council’s Whistle Blowing Policy (Part 25 of the Constitution).
- Complaints about other local authorities, including parish councils, should be directed to that local authority.
Who can make a complaint?
The Council will accept complaints from anyone who has used or been affected by a service provided by or on behalf of the Council. The Council will also accept complaints from anyone who is acting on behalf of a service user with their knowledge and consent.
Anonymous complaints may be dealt with under this procedure at the discretion of the Council.
Councillors may assist service users in making a compliant under this procedure but are encouraged to exhaust all other avenues before making a complaint themselves.
Anyone is welcome to make a comment, compliment or complaint and the Council is committed to treating everyone fairly. If a complainant requires any particular assistance they are advised to please let the Council know and state what assistance is required. This may include, for example, the provision of information in alternative formats (e.g. large print), the use of a language service, or communication through a representative.
How will complaints be dealt with?
Once the Council has assessed a contact as being a complaint under this procedure the complaint will be handled in accordance with the following stages.
Stage 1: initial response
The Council will aim to acknowledge receipt of a complaint within three working days and in doing so will advise who will be dealing with the complaint and the expected timeframe for providing a response.
An initial review will be undertaken by a designated officer. This will normally be an officer working in the service being complained about, or if the service is provided on behalf of the Council by a Council company, it will normally be an officer employed by that company. If there is insufficient information to enable the complaint to be investigated the designated officer will contact the complainant to request further information.
The designated officer will review the complaint and may make their own inquiries, which may include speaking to other officers, reviewing any relevant and available records, documents or policies, and undertaking desktop research.
A written response will normally be provided within ten working days of receipt of the complaint, or within ten working days of sufficient information being provided by the complainant to enable a review (if later). If this is not possible, an explanation and a timescale for the initial response will be provided to the complainant. This should not exceed a further ten workings days without good reason.
Designated officers dealing with stage 1 complaints are empowered to take reasonable and proportionate steps to seek to resolve complaints at stage 1, which may include, for example, offering an apology on behalf of the Council, remedial action, reparation or any other remedy considered to be appropriate in the circumstances.
Stage 2: Head of Service response
If the complainant is not satisfied with the outcome of the initial review, they can request that the relevant Head of Service investigates and responds to their complaint. In doing so they should provide full details in writing of which parts of the complaint remain unresolved state their desired outcome.
The relevant Head of Service will normally be the head of service with responsibility for the service which is primarily being complained about. Depending on the nature and circumstances of the complaint, the Head of Service may arrange for a different Head of Service to investigate and respond to a complaint. For example if the complaint concerns them personally, or if they believe the complaint should be assessed independently of the service area being complaint about. The Head of Service dealing with the complaint will consult with the relevant Executive Director as appropriate.
The Head of Service will aim to respond within 20 working days from request to escalate, or within 20 working days of sufficient information being provided by the complainant to enable an investigation (if later). If this is not possible then an explanation and a timescale for the stage two response will be provided to the complainant. This should not exceed a further ten working days without good reason.
If it is identified during the complaints process that a fault by the Council has directly caused personal injustice the Council will seek to offer a remedy that is proportionate and reasonable in view of the circumstances of the situation. This may include, for example, offering an apology, reviewing processes and procedures, or offering to compensate any financial loss resulting directly from the Council’s actions.
The Council expects that most complaints will be resolved within the two stages described above.
If, having exhausted this procedure, a complainant feels that their complaint has not been resolved satisfactorily, they can refer the matter to the relevant ombudsman service for an independent investigation. The stage 2 response will include the contact details of the relevant ombudsman service.
For complaints about the Council as a registered provider of social housing:
Housing Ombudsman Service
PO Box 152
For all other complaints:
Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman
PO Box 4771
Once this procedure has been exhausted the Council will not reopen a complaint or consider a substantially similar complaint from or on behalf of the same complainant without good reason.
Reasonable and unreasonable behaviour
It is reasonable to complain to the Council and to express criticism of the Council. All complainants can expect to be treated with respect and to have their concerns considered fairly. It is also reasonable to escalate a complaint under this procedure.
It is not reasonable to be threatening or abusive towards Council staff or those acting on behalf of the Council. It is also not reasonable to persistently pursue a matter that has already been addressed.
The Council has adopted the Local Government Ombudsman’s definition for unreasonable or unreasonably persistent complainants:
“For us, unreasonable and unreasonably persistent complainants are those complainants who, because of the nature or frequency of their contacts with an organisation, hinder the organisation’s consideration of their, or other people’s, complaints”.
Managing unreasonable behaviour and vexatious complaints
The Council may take proportionate action to protect its staff and those acting on behalf of the Council from members of the public who are acting in a way that is considered to be abusive, threatening, unreasonable, unreasonably persistent or vexatious.
Before taking such action the Council must be satisfied that the complainant’s personal circumstances have been properly considered, including any equalities issues. The Council must explain to the complainant why their behaviour is a cause for concern and what actions the Council may take if the behaviour does not change.
If the behaviour does not change the Council may take the reasonable and proportionate action on a time limited basis (normally limited to a maximum of 6 months). This may include the following types of action. This list is not exhaustive:
- Limiting a complainant to one form of contact (e.g. telephone or email).
- Requiring a complainant to direct all communication to a single point of contact (e.g. a named officer or a shared mailbox).
- Requiring contact to take place on specified dates and times.
- Not responding to further correspondence that does not include substantially new and different information.
Where a complaint has exhausted the stages of the complaints procedure and / or has been investigated by the ombudsman, the complainant will be informed in writing that the Council considers the matter to be closed.
In extreme cases where the behaviour does not improve the Council may decide to cease contact with the complainant and to refer the matter to the ombudsman, circumventing the normal two stage complaints process.
Where unreasonable behaviour is considered to be so extreme that it poses a threat to the safety of staff, or is potentially unlawful, the Council may contact the Police or take legal action without first notifying the complainant.
Any substantially new and different complaints submitted by people who have been, or are currently, subject to action under this procedure will be considered on their individual merits.
How will the Council learn from comments, compliments and complaints?
The Council is committed to learning from comments, compliments and complaints and using them to improve services to the public.
Comments will be reviewed regularly by Council services with a view to improving services and outcomes.
Compliments will be reviewed by the Council service but also corporately so that the Council can adopt good practice and celebrate an individual employee or departments' success.
Heads of Service will receive regular information about comments, compliments and complaints.
Complaints will be monitored by Council services and by the Council’s companies. The Council’s Corporate Management Team will receive an annual report on complaints including any lessons learned, actions taken to address complaints and the outcomes of any ombudsman investigations. The Audit and Governance Committee will also receive complaints information annually.
This procedure will be reviewed regularly by the Council’s Monitoring Officer to ensure that it continues to comply with the law, reflect good practice and meet the needs of the Council.