Views on the council's complaints procedure

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Thursday 9 October 2014 11.12pm
I'm in the middle of a stage two complaint with the council about issues with disrepair/standard of property we have moved into as council tenants. If the stage one process is anything to go by, or indeed my experience thus far with stage two, I'm not sure it's worth going through.

Has anyone else got experience of a stage two complaint? Was the complaint upheld? From a preliminary meeting with the stage two investigator, I got the distinct impression she had already prejudged the outcome of her "investigation". Am I being paranoid? I'd be interested to hear others' experiences.
Friday 10 October 2014 12.00am
oh this thread may just run and run and run, gavin smith :)

here's what happened to us four years ago now. we thought it'd be a good idea to hold a hustings event in the runner up to the 2010 local elections, as there's not been one in camberwell for as long as anyone could remember. we read up absolutely all of the council guidelines about it (as we'd never done anything of the sort before), we read everything electoral commission people put out, then went and booked a local tra hall, as it was one of the countless listed on the council's own list of spaces you can run these events.
two days after we'd booked a room, i get a call from a local residents involvement officer, alleging local residents had some concerns about the event, then proceeded to tell me how we need to run the event, who needed to be invited, how we should run the q&a part, which the person had no rights whatsoever to do, the electoral commission guidelines are everything but prescriptive.
we went ahead with the event then formally complained. response to stage 1 was utter waffle, not answering the questions/concerns much if at all, response to stage 2 eventually got the results and the apology.

on a different occasion, however (i can't remember what it was about, nothing trivial i can assure you!) we put in a stage 1 complaint which was never dealt with, then submitted a stage 2 only to be told we had to put in a stage 1 before they can proceed, etc i think they wore us down in the end.

most recently however we just went to a public law solicitor, because of the camberwell green orchard scandal (a councillor kept saying they've not decided on the location for the new library, while she was at a meeting where the cabinet agreed where the new library is going to go, and while council officers were adamant we should've requested judicial review long before, when the decision was made although the decision was not made till months later).

phew. i could rant all night :)
Friday 10 October 2014 12.12am
Pros, thanks so much for sharing and, from the subject of your response, for doing your bit and standing up for the community. Although the subject of your complaints were a little different, your experience reflects mine thus far. I think they are trying to wear us down and want to get bogged down in minutiae rather than dealing with the matter at hand. Did you get any joy with the public law solicitor? Shame on the councillor concerned.

We're fortunate as we've had some great assistance from Eliza Mann and Anood Al-Samerai, even though we no longer live in their ward. Whilst it shouldn't be about politics, when I tried to mention these issues to the Labour councillor whose ward we do now live in, Karl Eastham, when I met him in person at a community event, he was distinctly disinterested, away with the fairies and clearly only interested in showing his face. However, I'm not interested in the political side of things but just that these people serve the community that elected them.

All other contributions/suggestions gratefully received.
Friday 10 October 2014 9.16am
Gavin don't let the b*****ds wear you down, make notes of conversation etc. get the names of those you speak to and if they try to fob you off with their first name only insist that they give you their employment recognition identity.
I do not live in Southwark but Lambeth seems to suffer from the same malady. I do now preface my phone calls with the advice that "This call is being recorded for training purposes", once you have their identity tag and the threat of a recording it does concentrate their minds upon the question.
Friday 10 October 2014 12.21pm
Thanks for your sage advice, TBH. In a strange sort of way, I'm glad I'm not the only one who's experiencing has experience of such malady!
Friday 10 October 2014 11.06pm
I'm a seasoned complainer when it comes to Southwark Council! (I'm a TRA committee member, so most of the complaints are communal.) They must follow their own procedure, just check it out on the internet. If your problem is not solved within the time-scale and nothing appears to be happening (sometimes you have to allow things to go beyond the time-scale because the complaints team are often trying to get information out of officers who could be on vacation, ill etc), then you pursue your complaint by going to arbitration, or if it is a more serious matter eg H&S, go to the local Ombudsman. Keep copies of all emails, or if you have a one-to-one conversation over the phone, send a follow-up email summarising the conversation. It can be a pain in the neck following up complaints, but as long as you have hard evidence you should get somewhere in the end. If you end up going to the Ombudsman and your complaint is upheld, you may receive financial compensation.
Saturday 11 October 2014 1.05pm
OK, you asked for it!

Going back - way back - to 2007/08, I joined our Pullens TRA committee as its secretary and immediately encountered a controlling clique of women who were highly suspicious of my motives and inimically opposed to every suggestion I made. It took me a while to realise just how manipulative and obstructive they were prepared to be, but I clearly got the message when a new Council Residents' Involvement Officer - Steve Jones - arrived and was swiftly co-opted into their campaign. He wrote to tell me I was a useless secretary and should resign to avoid a vote of no confidence. I replied that I was the best and most efficient secretary they'd had, who had revived and renewed the Constitution, re-instituted regular public meetings and made sure they were properly minuted. If he wanted to take me down, he would have to do it publicly. Jones backed down and I complained about him to his boss, Brian O'Neil (Stage 1).

O'Neill apologised on behalf of his underling and I accepted the apology. But then O'Neil was himself co-opted into the ongoing hate campaign and, long story short, he eventually facilitated my dismissal from the TRA. I am the only person in its history to have been excluded from Pullens TRA! I renewed my complaint (Stage 2). The investigating officer - an Antipodean woman (Aussie/Kiwis are often recruited into Southwark Council because their qualifications are compatible and South Wark assumes they won't hang around long enough to draw a pension) - avoided my phone calls, totally failed to consult, prevaricated for as long as possible and then dismissed my complaint on the grounds that I had accepted O'Neil's earlier apology.

I was not happy and went to Stage 3: investigating officer, Graham Southwood. Again, he prevaricated for as long as possible - 3 months - but he did interview members of the TRA committee, all of whom were hostile to me. One, in particular, repeatedly and maliciously lied. I assume the others did, too, but Mr Hiscock's nasty e-mail so outraged a fair-minded neighbour that she replied publicly and phoned Southwood to put my case to him. The day after Southwood's judgement was due, I phoned him to find out where it was and, a couple of days later received a ruling that, basically, endorsed his colleagues' findings and dismissed my complaint, saying that if I didn't like it, I could go to the Local Government Ombudsman. So I did.

By that time, it was six months since my dismissal and the LGO took another six months to investigate, but her investigation was thorough and her conclusions were:
1. My exclusion from the TRA was spurious, because it was predicated upon a protocol they applied retrospectively.
2. The grounds for my exclusion were largely fictitious and contrived for the purpose of excluding me.
3. The exclusion was accomplished via an illegal meeting that was not minuted, called by Brian O'Neil, at which I was not represented. The only person to speak up for me was shouted down and driven from the room in tears. Three South Wark officers witnessed this and saw nothing wrong!

(Need I point out that this is the classic process of Fascism: impose acceptable standards of behaviour; identify non-conformists; progressively marginalise them and, ultimately, exclude them. All that is required is a self-righteous but pusillanimous public official, like Brian O'Neil, to implement this agenda. Had I not been white and heterosexual, the bigotry involved in this hate campaign would have been blatant.)

The LGO's recommendations were:
1. I must be given the opportunity - a year later - to publicly answer the accusations against me.
2. Brian O'Neil must apologise and South Wark should review its complaints procedures.
3. I should be compensated.

Only #3 happened. I received a cheque with no covering letter, indeed no narrative whatsoever that described its purpose. The TRA refused to reconsider my (by then, historical) exclusion; the Complaints Dept. is as bad as ever, or worse; O'Neil was promoted, or moved sideways, and continues to be respected within South Wark. As you may detect, I remain pissed off.

It is my view that South Wark's Complaints Department is not fit for purpose. It's officers invariably presume in favour of their colleagues and cover up for them, if an investigation is conducted. More usually, there will be no investigation, or a selective one in which evidence is only taken from one side. Investigating officers will prevaricate for as long as the rules permit in the hope that the complainant will calm down, or get bored, and back off. Then they find in favour of their colleagues. No one ever gets sacked from South Wark for incompetence, even if their actions directly contradict their job description, as in the case of the Neighbourhood Nazis' friend and willing tool, Mr Brian O'Neil.

I have long advocated the abolition of South Wark's in-house Complaints Dept., to be replaced by a properly impartial, external authority. Further, there must be clear disciplinary procedures for Council officers that are rigorously applied, so that they may be removed from their jobs when shown to be malfeasant. Like that will ever happen!

Thanks for reading. Good luck with your complaint.
Saturday 11 October 2014 10.24pm
It's pretty hopeless a system from my experience, but I still feel it's worth pursuing just to make a point and flag up the issues. After all, if people just roll over and give up nothing will ever improve and it's likely similar issue will repeat with other residents.

I'll just refer in brief to two out of many examples:

1. When my windows were replaced by the first contractor of the draper refurbishment saga (running in excess for three years!) the contractor at the time (Breyer Group) did not properly seal between the new window frames and the existing window reveal. It was poorly foamed up and external cover trims were not fitted as it coincided with said contractor being suspended by Southwark. There were gaps, meaning I could see through to the outside world from within my flat.
For clarity I have to add that I refused to have the internal decorative UPVC trims as I was going to do my own thing in timber.
Stage II response stated that as I refused to have the internal decorative trims fitted meant I was left with gaps to outside world and I had no-one else than myself to blame.
I had to advise Southwark Council that clearly the complaints department needed to urgently brush up their construction knowledge as decorative internal trims were precisely that - decorative and nothing else but decorative.
I explained that weathertigthness would not be achieved with decorative internal trims but by fitting external trims and thorough foaming up of gaps. After all it would be poor construction technique to allow the elements to penetrate to the inside of a decorative trim which could cause serious issues long term should water ingress to back of internal trims. I'm glad I refused those internal trims as otherwise it could have taken a long time to find out that works were executed very poorly.

2. Part of same refurbishment works my gas boiler flue was not throughly sealed where it penetrated the wall. Despite me asking what was done at LBS to ensure the same mistake would not repeat again elsewhere, Stage III response at the time was that LBS had mutually terminated it's contract with the contractor in question and that therefore such a mistake would not repeat again.
I thought this was a pathetic response as any contractor could make this very same mistake of forgetting to seal around the flue.
I took it to the Housing Ombudsam whom agreed that LBS did not sufficiently respond to my queries and LBS then had to send me a further response outlining improved checks following completed works to ensure such simple but potentially very dangerous mistakes will not happen again.

It's a time consuming and tedious process. But I feel if left unchallenged mistakes will repeat and I fear another time the outcome of such simple mistakes could have potentially far reaching consequences.
After all my neighbour suffered carbon monoxide poisoning following a window fitter removing her flue (not a gas safe person I hasten to add!) and said flue was not reconnected whilst she was told she could turn her heating on again. Once again, no-one had checked executed works as it would have been quite obvious to someone understanding a little bit of construction to realise that the flue had not been reinstated. Unfortunately, LBS's own investigations simply concluded that the flue had been removed without being reinstated, completely failing to address one of the key issues which was that no-one checked executed works were complete and safe before the resident was allowed to continue inhabiting her apartment.
Saturday 11 October 2014 11.42pm
My own experience of the complaints system in Southwark has not been great, and the council's approach appears designed to fob people off rather than actually investigate and try and resolve any issues.
Sunday 12 October 2014 9.35am
I despair, so far no response from anybody within the closeted halls of Southwark Council.
The silence of Peter John and the CEO, councillors and anonymous staff fills one with the feeling of utter hopelessness.
How is Southwark ever going to improve when it ignores the mistakes it makes, covers them up by obfuscation and obstruction, refuses to recognise complaints, fails to act upon complaints and as in Russell Cronin's case treat the complainer with contempt and uses a smear campaign to denigrate him.
I am sure Russell did not expect an obsequious apology but he did deserve an explanation along with his cheque. Southwark Council must have the mindset that a brief note with the cheque would have meant that they were in the wrong and as they have learned from North Korea and Queen Victoria you must never do that.
Russell is right, the complaints proceedure should be independent and without the council. None of the internal systems work eg the Metropolitan Police, Press Complaints, Bankers,BBC and even Parliament itself. They are all masters in the art of the cover up.
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