How to Complain About Me (or to the Local Authority generally)

A brief guide to how to complain from someone who has been on the other side of complaints. Not many times, I hasten to add, and none that have actually gone very far –  but I know what ticks the boxes as far as official complaints procedures are concerned.

Firstly, local authorities actually quite like official complaints. Of course, the people complained about don’t, in general. They and their immediate managers prefer to go down the unofficial dialogue route – try and iron things out before they need to go further – but the local authorities themselves like official complaints because they have targets based around them.

image Piez at Flickr

It’s always worth mentioning you want to raise an official complaint because then they’ll be someone from outside the department (there is a complaints department) overseeing it and keeping on the back of the person or service complained about to make sure they are doing what they say they are doing.

Official complaints make managers nervous but it also frees their time to actually deal with the issues at hand – rather than trying to deal with it among a heap of paperwork.

Things that scare people into action:

  • Threatening to go to the press. The local press works much better at this point. I was discussing with a friend of mine who wanted to make a complaint about her parking fine (when she had a disabled badge). She was writing a letter explaining how she had ‘contacts’ in the national press (her husband used to work for a national newspaper). I told her local works better. The Telegraph or Independent are far less likely to be interested in an unfair parking fine than the Sutton Telegraph or the Croydon Independent.
  • MPs/Councillors.  This gets management in local authorities moving like nothing else. When we get a complaint letter from an MP or Councillor it gets assigned immediately to top priority and to one of the more experienced workers. Sometimes they were over quite trivial matters in comparison to some of the work you were being taken away from and it really emphasised to me that the people who shout loudest get the best quality of service which isn’t how it should work. But it does – so if you need to, use it. I would do it myself and would advise anyone else to.

(Note: I have never seen a complaint coming from an MEP but somehow I feel they might not have the same effect!).

When an official complaint is raised (and you have to be careful and ensure that you mention those magic words – official complaint). A leaflet is sent out. This might look like prevaricating and postponing  but it is a part of procedure. DO NOT GIVE UP AT THIS POINT. Lots of people do. The leaflet gives timescales which become very important. It means you know -something- will happen.

If you feel ill-equipped to deal with confrontation, the complaints managers that I’ve worked with provide a barrier between the person and service being complained about and the person making the complaint. That is one of the reasons it is worth pursuing an official complaint.

Another thing to be aware of it that for the most part, I’m happy to accept complaints and I think most of my colleagues are too – usually they aren’t too personal and it is probably better to make a complaint about a service rather than an individual. If it is an individual at fault, better to express it as the service that was offered by that individual rather than anything based on personality. Even if they were really rude, it was because of that you received a poor service. It means your complaint will be less likely to be written off as an issue of personality conflict.

I don’t bear any ill-will to people who make complaints, often I am cheering from behind the scenes. One of the complaints I received about my own work resulted in me being able to point to a time when I was having an increasing number of the most complex cases landing on my desk and I was able to work on it as a means of demonstrating what happens when increasingly unrealistic expectations are made.

Of course, I don’t want to be complained about – I would rather deliver a faultless and seamless service that can be held without any mistakes but if I do make errors, not see things, not do what I say I am going to do, I’d rather it was picked up than not.

Stress Relief

The Mental Health Foundation has developed and published a series of seven podcasts which are designed to, in their words

help you relax and improve your sense of wellbeing.

There are a couple of versions of each – one longer and one shorter version and they explain different relaxation and stress relieving  techniques and strategies.

I haven’t actually listened to any yet but fully intend to.

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They’re free so there isn’t really anything to lose and they can be listened to on an MP3 or the computer.

Download the podcasts here

Pet Therapy

A couple of years back, I visited a residential home with a woman (that I’ll call A) who needed to move into residential care. She didn’t particularly want to, but she had accepted the need with a heavy heart. She didn’t have any other family so I took her to see some of the available places in the area.

There were some very modern and accessible, some friendly but none seemed to be homely to  her.

Until we arrived in one other home. It was a converted house. We went to speak to the manager together and the manager had to extract an extremely large and very pampered long haired cat from the desk to meet us.

image Los Cardinalos on Flickr

A’s face lit up. Fluffy flopped down onto her lap. The Manager apologised and said that Fluffy was so used to being patted and stroked by the residents that she just made herself at home on anyone’s lap.

A was sold though. She told me, though some tears, that she had always wanted a pet but her husband (deceased) had been allergic to cats. She was stroking Fluffy almost aggressively. Fluffy though, was happy.

I spoke to the manager, A being more or less oblivious to the conversation because she was concentrating her efforts on Fluffy.

Fluffy shifted around a little but levels of purring rose.

Needless to say, we had found a home that A wanted to move to. And she did.

And so, remembering Fluffy and A and all the amazing help that animals can bring and the excellent work done by Pets as Therapy (who visit residential homes and hospitals with animals to pet!) I leave you with more photos. I know they’re superfluous but it’s the weekend and I’m supposed to be on holiday….

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With thanks to my sister for uncredited photos!

and if that isn’t enough for the weekend – try kitten war

Random Sunday Mumblings

Just for the record, I’ve added a page with additional links and resources because I felt the front page was getting a bit clogged up! I intend to add another page for other blogs at some point but it might take a few weeks for me to organise – and am working on some more general reorganisation ‘behind the scenes’.

And just because I couldn’t resist take a look at this link from Mental Health Notes if you like cats. You won’t regret it!

Of cars and kittens

I don’t drive. Not only do I not drive, I don’t actually have a driving license. My last driving lesson (14 years ago) ended in my driving instructor actually telling me she did not want to teach me anymore (2nd crash – in my defence it wasn’t serious – I only drove into the back of a stationary police car – noone was hurt!).

So  it’s probably no surprise that I have no interest in cars. Yesterday, I visited a woman who has an anxiety disorder. I go as regularly as I can and just keep an eye on how she is managing and in general it is one of those fairly low-key visits.

She has a car, and her car was broken. I offered to phone the RAC for her as she has a distrust and dislike of the telephone. I feel faintly embarrassed by the conversation I had – but I think the RAC man had a good old laugh.

An RAC roadside-assistance van in 2004.

Image via Wikipedia

OK, perhaps when I was asked what type of car it was, answering ‘Green’ might not have been the wisest answer – but I don’t know what car is what! I also tried ‘Green and smallish, I think it’s quite old’. At that point, I could hear him sniggering. Of course, when he asked what was wrong with it,  we entered an almost surreal level of conversation – as I wasn’t actually sure.

‘It won’t start’ I said.

‘Yes’ said the still-giggling RAC man ‘I understand that, but why?’

‘Because it doesn’t go – I don’t know’

I’m sure he was calling his mates over or had me on speaker phone in his call centre place!

‘Can you be a bit more specific, miss’ Grrrr. I wish I knew about cars. I  really hate conforming to gender stereotypes and I find ‘miss’ faintly patronising but I felt I wasn’t in a position to complain for want of causing more hilarity.

‘Not really, because I don’t know’.

Anyway, in the end, he agreed to come. I’ll pop in today to check the car was actually fixed.

If he’d asked me about ancient Greek philosophy or discourse theory, I’d have had a really good response to him – but cars.. not my forte.

image Mel @ flickr

Another visit yesterday with an almost comical slant. I was visiting a man with fairly advanced dementia and substantial physical health problems and his wife. There were three generations living in the same two bedroom flat, so there were a couple of children running in the corridor.

As I walked to the lounge, one of the kids shouted at me to ‘Watch out’. I looked down – and I had almost stood on  a tiny  kitten.

Luckily I managed to sidestep out of the way,  but this kitten was minute. I was told by the wife that it had been given to one of the children by someone in a park but it was much too small to have been away from its mother – still it was quite a sprightly thing. It was fascinated by my feet, which it constantly tried to nibble and was trying to climb into my bag (which I did close) throughout.

I had to be really careful when I left the house with a small kitten that would have fit easily into the palm of my hand scurrying around my feet. I had the constant ‘Must not tread on cat’ mantra running through my head. And that’s a thought I don’t often consider.