We aim to provide excellent service to all our customers. If we get something wrong, we want to try to put it right quickly and learn from the mistake to help improve services in the future.
This policy sets out how we define complaints and how we will respond to them, including the different stages a complaint would go through, the timescales involved and who handles and responds to the complaint.
When looking into a complaint we will try to:
- deal with complaints fairly, objectively and professionally
- resolve complaints without avoidable delay
- use the information from complaints to help us to improve our services
- maintain records of (and report on) complaints for monitoring and public accountability
What is a complaint?
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsmen defines a complaint as 'an expression of dissatisfaction about a council service (whether that service is provided directly by the council or by a contractor or partner) that requires a response.'
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.
We recognise and accept complaints under either definition. It might be about:
- failure to deliver a service
- a delay in providing a service
- unsatisfactory quality of a service
- the behaviour of a member of our staff; and/or
- the failure of a member of our staff in following council policy
There are certain subject areas that we would not consider as a complaint, these include:
- a first time request for a service
- a request for information or an explanation of council policy or practice (such as why the council tax is set at a certain level)
- a disagreement with a council decision
- general feedback about a service or the council
There are also some occasions when it is not appropriate to deal with a complaint under this policy.
- if your complaint relates to a statutory process such as appealing against a planning decision you disagree with (usually dealt with by the Planning Inspectorate) or the issuing of a penalty charge notice (dealt with by the Traffic Penalty Tribunal) etc
- where there is an existing appeals process available
- where legal proceedings have commenced or
- where the matter(s) have already been considered under the complaints process
If this is the case, we will explain this when you first contact us and tell you what to do next.
If you have a complaint against a councillor, or about how a council meeting was conducted, this should be directed to the council's monitoring officer for consideration. Alternatively please view the information about members conduct on our website.
How to make a complaint
Your complaint should be about something specific. Please let us know:
- what has gone wrong, giving us as much detail as possible because it helps us to understand the situation better
- how it has affected you and
- what you would like us to do to put things right
We encourage you to make a complaint as soon as possible after the incident because it is easier to gather relevant information at the time and to avoid repeated incidents.
We want to ensure the process for making a complaint is clear and simple. Putting your complaint in writing is a more effective way of making sure we understand the details and what you would like us to do to put matters right. We encourage you to make use of the online complaint form as it is the fastest way to reach us.
There are, however, the following alternative methods:
- by phone on 01423 500600
- in writing to Customer services, Harrogate Borough Council, PO Box 787, Harrogate HG1 9RW
- in person at the Civic Centre, St Luke's Avenue, Harrogate HG1 2AE
- via our official social media (Harrogate Borough Council Facebook or Twitter account)
- by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
We also encourage you to register for a My Harrogate account when providing feedback on our services because this will help you keep in touch with us and check the progress of the response process.
A My Harrogate account gives you access to our services at any time and also allows you to make and track payments, check the progress of your requests, report something that needs to be fixed, cleaned or changed, and receive alerts (for example, changes to bank holiday recycling and bin collections) and information based on your address.
If you have any problems using our customer account, please let us know using our contact us form.
You or any other person acting on your behalf can make the complaint.
Our complaints procedure
Our procedure seeks to resolve customer dissatisfaction as close as possible to the point of service delivery and to conduct thorough and fair investigations of customer complaints.
If you speak to us about your complaint, we will try to resolve it on the spot. We will confirm with you what the problem is and how you would like it to be resolved. We will try to solve the problem promptly without undue delay and will respond to you within 10 working days.
We will check to see if you are satisfied with the resolution. If you are not happy with the initial response, you can ask to move to our formal complaints procedure, which has two stages:
Stage one - Local resolution and resolution
The manager of the service about which you complain will look into and explain the reasons behind the decisions and actions.
We aim to acknowledge your complaint within five working days of receiving it and give you a full response within 10 working days.
If you are not happy with the outcome of your complaint then you can request, within 28 days of the stage one response, that the complaint is escalated to a stage two complaint, stating the reasons why you feel your complaint has not been addressed. If we don't hear from you within 28 days, we'll consider your complaint closed.
If the complaint has not been resolved under stage one, or you are unhappy with the outcome then you can request that a stage two investigation is undertaken.
Stage two - Corporate investigation and resolution
Stage two is a request for a corporate investigation. It is a comprehensive consideration of the complaint by a senior officer appointed by the chief executive to carry out the investigation. That senior officer will be from a different service area to the one about which you complain. The outcome will be a formal written report of the investigation. As with stage one, we will acknowledge your concerns within five working days. We will then complete the further investigation and reply, normally within 20 working days of our acknowledgement.
We aim to complete all complaints within the timescales above; however, if a complaint is very complex it may be necessary to extend the time limit. We will tell you as soon as we know if there is a delay in replying to you. This delay will not exceed 10 working days without good reason and if an extension beyond 20 working days is required to respond to the complaint fully this will be agreed with you.
Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman and Housing Ombudsman
There may be occasions when we will not be able to resolve your complaint to your satisfaction. If this is the case, you can contact the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGO) or the Housing Ombudsman (HO) who will consider your complaint and investigate, if appropriate.
The Ombudsmen are independent bodies responsible for investigating and resolving complaints from members of the public about councils, care providers and housing organisations by remedying injustice and helping to improve local services. They offer a free and independent service.
The Ombudsmen will normally expect a complainant to have had their complaint investigated at all stages of the council's complaints policy before they will consider looking into their complaint.
If you wish to refer your complaint to the LGO or HO then please contact them using the links above.
The Ombudsmen also offer advice (via dispute support advisors) and will provide you with guidance about contacting a designated person (local MP or councillor) who may also be able to help find a solution to your complaint.
How you can help us
We understand that it is frustrating when we do not meet your expectations. We will do everything we can to resolve your complaint to your satisfaction. In return, we ask that you:
- treat our staff with respect
- do not use abusive language or behaviour when dealing with us
- comply with all reasonable requests made to resolve your concerns
On the rare occasion when a customer makes a complaint in an unreasonable way: repeatedly, obsessively or aggressively, for example, we will write to them explaining what action we are taking to bring the matter to an end.
We support the objectives of the Data Protection Act 1998 and are registered as a data processor. If you use our complaints procedure, you are agreeing that we can use any personal information you send us for purposes connected with your complaint.
We may also give your personal information to other people and organisations if we have to do so by law or if you have given us permission.
Equality and reasonable adjustments
We are committed to ensuring that all our services are available to all service users in line with the principles of equality and fairness and that all service users are treated with fairness, dignity and respect. Our aim is to make our complaints policy easy to use and accessible for everyone. We will take steps to make any reasonable adjustments needed to access this policy, or any requests to provide responses in other formats.
We are committed to achieving our Public Sector Equality Duty, as set out in the Equality Act 2010, and we recognise that there will be occasions where a reasonable adjustment is needed to adapt normal policies, procedures or processes to accommodate an individual's needs so that all customers can access services without barriers.
We will take steps to meet the needs of people from protected groups where these are different from the needs of other people. It is not possible to set out all these adjustments in writing; however, we have published information on our activities to demonstrate our compliance with our Public Sector Equality Duty.
We can also offer, or help you access, support to help make a complaint and to understand a decision or complaint response.
What is not a complaint?
We cannot deal with issues over which we have no control. For example:
- a complaint about a housing association
- a complaint about a company providing transport services
- a complaint about highways or on street parking
Public authorities are subject to the fluency duty whereby all staff in customer-facing roles must speak fluent English. This includes the ability to speak with confidence and accuracy, using appropriate sentence structures and vocabulary and understanding customer needs and responding clearly.
To make a complaint under the Fluency Duty Code of Conduct, you should use our complaints procedure.
For the purposes of the fluency duty, a legitimate complaint is one about the standard of spoken English of a public sector member of staff in a customer-facing role. It will be made by a member of the public or someone acting on their behalf, complaining that the council has not met the fluency duty.
A complaint about a member of staff's accent, dialect, manner or tone of communication, origin or nationality would not be considered a legitimate complaint about the fluency duty.
What if you want to leave a compliment about a service or have feedback or concern but do not want to make a formal complaint?
Sometimes you might want to let us know of something that you are concerned about, but do not want to make a formal complaint
You can tell us about your concern either by completing the online customer satisfaction survey, in person, by telephone or by letter. Your feedback will be passed to a service manager to look into. If you would like us to get back to you about your concern, please tell us when you contact us.