Lewisham Council is planning to reduce its target for dealing with complaints on time.

It comes as the council admits response times to enquiries and complaints “clearly fall short of current targets”. 

Lewisham has published its annual complaints report, which details what residents were raising concerns about to the council and its housing partners between April 2019 and March 2020, as well as general enquiries.  

Refuge collections and bin requests were the biggest issues for residents.  

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The top five complaints Lewisham Homes received were about plumbing, appointments, roof repair, damp, and major works. 

The three wards that received the highest level of complaints and enquires were Brockley, Ladywell, and Sydenham.  

Whitefoot received the lowest number of complaints. 

The report, going to mayor and cabinet on March 24, states that the cause of complaints is “not being consistently recorded”, so the information available for 2019/20 “does not give us a complete or accurate view of the most common root causes of complaints across the council”. 

In 2019/20 the council and Lewisham Homes received nearly 8,000 new complaints and enquiries, nearly 2,500 of which were complaints. 

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Based on what was recorded, the top three issues raised in 2019/20 regarding council services were requests for a new or replacement bin, missed bin collections, and ‘disposal’, which is a mix of non-collections, food bin requests and bag deliveries. 

On average the environment department receives about 660 reports of missed collections per month (0.05 per cent of all households).   

Complaints are dealt with under a three-stage process – the complaints move on to the next stage if they are not deemed dealt with by the resident.  

A stage 1 complaint, which has a response time target of 10 working days, goes to a service manager at the council. 

A stage 2 complaint, which has a target of 20 working days, goes to the corporate complaints and casework team. 

A stage 3 complaint, which has a target of 30 days, goes to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.  

Enquiries to MPs, the mayor, councillors, and the CEO, should be dealt with in 10 working days by the corporate complaints and casework team. 

Of the 7,869 new cases received in 2019/20, there were 122 complaints escalated to stage 2, 84 complaints escalated to stage 3, and 122 cases were referred to the LGSCO. 

The volume of first stage complaints received in 2019/20 went down by 49 cases compared to the previous year and enquiries went up by 141 cases.

But the report noted that the rate of new cases received slowed down “significantly in the last two months of the year around the time of the Covid-19 outbreak”. 

Lewisham Homes paid out £13,300 in compensation for the 20 cases that went to the Ombudsman, more than double what it paid out the year before. 

In an increase of 12 per cent compared to the previous year, 70 per cent of complaints to the council that went to the LGSCO were upheld, leaving Lewisham with a compensation bill of £10,006. 

On dealing with complaints and enquiries on time, the report states that the “council’s performance […] clearly falls short of current targets” and as “there does need to be greater accountability by officers across all services to improve this”. 

Though 96 per cent of general enquiries were dealt with on time, only 77 per cent of stage 1 complaints were.  

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The timeliness of dealing with Stage 2 complaints and enquiries to MPs, the mayor, cabinet members, and the CEO was “significantly below target”. 

Only 22 per cent of enquiries to the mayor about children and young people services were dealt with on time, 26 per cent for MPs, 50 per cent for cabinet members, and 0 per cent (1 case) for the CEO. 

Overall, enquiries to MPs that were dealt with on time dropped by five per cent and to the mayor by nine per cent. Members increased the number of cases dealt with on time by two per cent.  

Last year, stage 2 complaints that were dealt with on time went down by 16 per cent overall to 75 per cent. 

“Changes are being put in place to increase accountability for all service areas to improve our courtesy and responsiveness to residents and services users,” according to the report. 

Lewisham Homes responded to 91.1 per cent of complaints in time, under the 95 per cent target.  

There was an increase of almost one third in the number of complaints and enquiries received during 2019/20.  

The council has launched an improvement action plan to address issues in dealing with complaints, but is also set to reduce timeliness targets from 100 per cent to 90 per cent.  

A council spokesperson said this was down to “increased pressures” on services, but did not comment on whether the move would make it seem like the council was performing better than it is in future reports.  

“The council’s complaints team endeavours to resolve complaints from residents as quickly as possible.  

“Due to increased pressures on all council services we have decided to adjust our target to fairly reflect the challenges our services are facing.  

“We do not foresee a significant reduction in our response time and will continue to work hard to resolve complaints in a timely manner,” she said.  

To address the issues with recording complaints the corporate team is “reviewing the roots cause classification with each directorate, updating the root cause classifications on the iCasework system, setting up system reminders for officer to record root cause data when completing cases, developing new internal reports for directorates including quarterly root cause data for directorate management teams to address service issues”.  

The amount of time the council has to respond to complaints was increased in November 2020 due to the pandemic, which will likely impact next year’s figures.