Babergh/Mid Suffolk: Council officer cites welfare reforms as cause of complaints

Babergh District Council offices, Corks Lane, Hadleigh.

Babergh District Council offices, Corks Lane, Hadleigh.

Figures have been published outlining the number of complaints received by Babergh and Mid Suffolk district councils since the two authorities started integrating their services.

Under a new joint system, introduced in April, for handling ratepayers’ compliments, comments and grievances, the councils received 78 complaints during the first financial quarter.

The housing department received the highest number with 21, while 19 were made to the new shared revenue partnership (SRP), which handles benefits and council tax.

In a report presented to the councils’ joint scrutiny committee, it was estimated that around 250 complaints would be received annually across both areas, but this figure is likely to be exceeded if the current level of complaints continues.

The councils’ head of corporate resources, Katherine Steel, said it was “early days” for the new joint systems and procedures.

She said: “When you consider that the SRP across the two councils is dealing with 12,200 benefit recipients and collecting £130million of income, 19 complaints in context with the huge number of people we are dealing with is not very many.

“As for the housing department, we have 7,000 council houses so again, 21 complaints across the whole area in a three month period doesn’t seem like an excessive amount.”

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According to Ms Steel, the number of complaints has risen due to changes brought about by the national welfare reforms.

“People are a little confused about what’s what and that has increased what we are seeing going through customer desks in terms of queries.”

The councils have set a target of responding to any formal complaint within 10 working days.

If the complainant is not satisfied with the response, an officer undertakes an independent investigation. Grievances are referred to the Local Government Ombudsman only as a last resort.

Ms Steel added: “We are taking the opportunity through the complaints system to see what we need to change, improve and do better, and we are using it as a learning exercise.

“We are certainly aiming for the joint system to improve matters.”

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