Complex complaints to councils rose 10%, finds new research

Research has found a 10% increase in the number of citizen complaints that were escalated to local councils, as uncovered by a Freedom of Information (FOI) request from technology company Quadient.

Complex complaints to councils rose 10%, new research finds

Balancing reduced budgets with addressing citizen concerns becomes even more crucial in the face of unforeseen challenges that require an additional £2.4bn this year, with inflation further adding to the financial strain. The increase relates to complaints registered with local councils in 2022.

With local councils already dealing with up to 10,000 complaints annually, the 10% escalation poses a challenge for councils facing resource constraints.

Ongoing budget constraints and wider economic pressures are likely contributing to the mishandling of citizen complaints, as already stretched teams lack the necessary resources.

Of the local councils that responded:

  • Southwark Council received the highest number of complaints in both 2021 and 2022. The proportion of complaints escalated also grew by 37% year-on-year: from 5.4% to 7.4%.
  • Largest increase in proportion of escalated complaints came from Amber Valley Borough Council, which saw the proportion grow by 431% between 2021 and 2022. Second was Warwick District Council, which saw a 195% increase.
  • Largest decrease in proportion of escalated complaints was at Carlisle City Council, which saw the proportion of drop by 89%
  • Great falls: North Somerset Council saw the greatest fall in the number of complaints (978).

“Local councils are under huge pressure from citizens to improve services as the cost-of-living increases, so it’s no surprise that complaints are on the rise,” said Phil Jones, Business Development Director, Quadient. “However, it is worrying that the number of complaints escalated has increased by such a significant volume. This will mean more time and resources spent on escalated complaints, and less on the services their communities need.”

Compounding these issues is the fact that several local councils are unable to accurately identify which complaints have been escalated. In some cases, internal council systems do not enable reporting on the precise stage of a complaint, while in others, a change of system means that records of older complaints are not easily available.

The right approach to customer communication is vital to ensure that citizens receive the best possible service and advice using their response delivery channel of choice, while allowing stretched local councils to do more with less. For instance, automating and standardising templates for regular and ad-hoc responses will free more of councils’ time to address the core issues at the heart of complaints.

Citizens are much more likely to see and engage with the council’s response if responses are delivered in a timely manner and using a variety of channels. By ensuring that citizens feel listened to, councils can enhance their brand equity. In addition, having access to a full audit trail of all communications sent and received means the council can demonstrate it is dealing with issues at critical points along the whole complaints’ response and resolution journey.


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