[Note: Mr M. MacDonald and Councillor Alex Evans having earlier declared an interest in this item remained in the meeting but did not partake in the discussions or the voting thereof.]
The Committee received for consideration the Council’s Complaints Policy Annual Report for 2022-23 which included details on the corporate and adult services complaints process as well as the data on complaints / compliments received during 2022-23.
In presenting the report, the Corporate Policy and Partnership Manager highlighted that there had been a significant increase in complaints for this period compared to last year. It was explained that circa 500 complaints were attributed mainly to the change in waste service which was introduced early 2023. Members were informed that given the large-scale nature of the change which had impacted on all households within Carmarthenshire, together with the geographical area of the service, the increase was not unusual. However, it was reported that there were lessons were to be learned from the complaints received in connection with the waste service change which would also be used in future service changes.
The observations raised by the Committee were addressed as follows:-
· It was commented that that there were major challenges in regard to the change in waste service and that many lessons should be learned.
· In reference to the number of referrals to the Ombudsman in regard to complaints handling, it was asked, what was being done to address and learn from those complaints that progress onto the Ombudsman’s office? The Business Support Manager, Administration and Legal Division gave reassurance that complaints data from the Ombudsman’s Office would feed into future corporate reports which whilst raising awareness, would enable trends to be identified and lessons to be learned.
· It was commented that the Committee last received the Complaints report in March 2023 where several observations and comments had been raised. Whilst it was pleasing to see there had been some improvements in the quality of the report, strong concern was raised that fundamental issues remained to be addressed.
· It was observed that as the Complaints Report was a composite report which included Corporate Complaints and those covered by the Social Services Complaints Procedure Regulations 2014. In light of this, it was highlighted that the Council’s Annual Report must comply with the requirements of the Regulations and the Statutory Guidance issued thereunder.
In addition, it was highlighted that the 2014 Regulations and Guidance covered all Social Services, i.e Children’s and Adult Services complaints but the report included limited information thereof.
In highlighting that the Social Care Regulations state 10 working days for a resolution of Stage 1 complaints and 25 days working days for Stage 2, it was raised that the timescales set for stage 1 and Stage 2 had not been complied with. It was strongly raised that the report had not provided Committee members with adequate relevant information in regard to when the Stage 1 complaints were responded to outside of these timescales and further concern was expressed in regard to the position of the stage 2 complaints which was deemed to be far worse.
It was strongly suggested that the annual report needed to highlight when the exceptional circumstances were exercised in accordance with Paragraph 18 (3) of the Social Services Complaints Procedure Regulations 2014. This together with the information on the nature of all complaints and how they were resolved should be provided.
Reference was made to Section 5 of the report which included information on the Stage 1 and 2 of Adult Services Complaints. It was highlighted that the report had insufficient information in order for Committee Members to be able to undertake their duty in respect of scrutinising the complaints data therein. In addition, it was expressed that some of the wording in Section 6 of the report was grossly misleading and incorrect citing that ‘there is no requirement for stage 1 complaints to be concluded as upheld or not upheld’.
It was expressed in view of the above-mentioned comments that the report could not be supported.
In response to the above comments/observations, the Corporate Policy and Partnership Manager stated that in regard to the stage 2 information that would be brought back to the committee for consideration. It was explained that the team would develop a way to automate the system to be able to cease undertaking the current manual method.
Furthermore, in terms of the communication and the number of referrals to the Ombudsman, the Committee was assured that ongoing dialogue between the Complaints team and the complainants was a priority at each point.
The request for further information was taken on board and a revised report would be brought back to the Committee.
In response to the observation in regard to the under performance of the Stage 2 timescales, the Corporate Policy and Partnership Manager explained that many complaints were complex in their nature and therefore appointing the most appropriate investigation officer to handle a particular complaint outweighed meeting the deadline of 20 days. In acknowledging that the current performance data was not at a satisfactory level, there were many challenges to overcome.
The Performance, Analysis & Systems Manager further added that much of the data signposted to today was available and that it was currently reported to the Corporate Management Team on a quarterly basis together with the underpinning evidence of each case. The Committee was assured that further work would be undertaken with colleagues to ensure that the complaints data in respect of adult and children’s social care services would be included in future reports for the Committee to consider.
In regard to comment raised in relation to the lack of information on whether complaints at Stage 1 were upheld/not upheld, the Performance, Analysis & Systems Manager explained that the Regulation only requests that the outcomes were to be recorded in a tangible manner. This was currently achieved by setting out the component of the complaint, recommended outcomes and the recommendations that were followed. The recommendations were taken through to lessons learned to the teams, providing reassurance to Members and Management Team that complaints at any stage were transparent and open. Members were informed that the team had received compliments from the Care Inspectorate Wales (CIW) in regard to the processing of complaints within adult services.
Due to concerns having been raised by the Committee during the consideration of the report, not least whether its format complied with the requirements of the Social Services Complaints Procedure (Wales) Regulations 2014, the report was withdrawn with a view to being submitted to a future meeting.