Complaints against East Herts Council up 176%
Charges for green garden waste collection and Covid-19 grants have fuelled a new high in complaints about East Herts Council.
In 2020-21 there were 163 complaints compared with 59 in the previous 12 months – a rise of 176%.
The authority dealt with 60% of these within its 10-day target last year and 64% in 2019-20. It partially or completely upheld 55 (34%) in 2020-21 and 20 (34%) the previous year.
A report to a meeting of the council's overview and scrutiny committee on Tuesday (September 7) says: "The increase in recorded complaints should not necessarily be seen as an increased level of dissatisfaction with council services generally."
The authority suggested complaints may not have been recorded correctly in previous years. However, it admitted that formal complaints about green waste charges – in April, residents who want their garden refuse collected had to sign up for a £49 annual fee – resulted in over 1,100 "comments and concerns".
Of these, 20 were deemed to warrant an investigation. A report to the committee says: "A handful of these were upheld (i.e. the council accepted some fault) where they related to difficulties in customers being able to pay for the service."
Complaints about Covid-19 grants or reliefs accounted for 27 of the 57 complaints to the revenues and benefits department.
The report says: "In the case of Covid-related grants and reliefs, the 27 formal complaints all related to business/premises owners challenging a decision not to award anything. All but one of these complaints were not upheld (i.e. the council did not accept it was at fault).
"One business submitted paperwork on occupancy as part of the complaint (which was not previously provided) and they were subsequently awarded a grant and an apology was given."
Of the 29 complaints about planning and building control five were upheld – up from 13 and four in the previous 12 months.
The report says: "Planning complaints are by the far the most complex and time-consuming part of our overall complaints process.
"Often, customers assume that it is a mechanism to review planning decisions and possibly change the outcome. However, this is not the case, and whilst that is made clear to residents, many will cite other reasons for not being happy with any planning decisions, including officer conduct, failure and quality of process.
"Where complainants raise these issues, often in specific detail and against individual officers, they are logged as complaints and investigated."
After an initial investigation, 39 complaints were escalated by the council and of these 12 were upheld – up from 12 complaints and two upheld in 2019-20.
Examples include complaints that a refuse crew had been noisy and rude and damage to property by waste vehicles.
Customers still unhappy after the second review of their complaints by the council can take their concerns to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman. In 2020-21 it investigated eight against East Herts – only one was partially upheld because of how the authority communicated its decision. The complainant received an apology and £100.
The ombudsman investigated one planning complaint and ruled in favour of the council, and declined to investigate the others.