National Audit Office Press Releases
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Department for Work and Pensions: Handling Customer Complaints

Jobcentre Plus, The Pension Service and the Disability and Carers Service provided services to 22 million customers in 2007-08, over 80 per cent of whom were satisfied with the services they received. Nevertheless, there were 70,000 complaints recorded in 2007-08. For those customers who do complain, the complaints system is easily accessible and the majority of complaints are handled directly by front-line staff. A report out today by the National Audit Office, however, finds that over 40 per cent of complainants remain dissatisfied, for a number of reasons relating both to the complaints process and to the outcome of their complaint.

Recorded complaints probably account for some 20 per cent of all complaints received by Agencies. There is a risk, therefore, that difficulties in recording complaints may mean that Agencies could miss early warnings of poor service, systematic errors, or problems with their processes. The report also found significant dissatisfaction with how complaints were handled. The main areas of dissatisfaction were timeliness, knowledge of staff and adequacy of response given to customers’ complaints, though Agencies’ response times range from 72 to 99 per cent of their target response times.

Improving the quality of responses could prevent complaints being unnecessarily escalated. Complaints handled effectively by front-line staff can be up to 40 times cheaper than those escalated up to the final stage of the internal process. There is, however, no consistently applied Department wide quality checking of responses given to complaints to determine whether they are handled effectively by staff across the three Agencies.

Cost data on complaints is limited, but the NAO estimates that the Agencies spent between £4.7 million and £6.2 million responding to their recorded complaints during 2007-08. This figure could be up to £11 million when both recorded and non-recorded complaints are considered. The Department also made compensation payments of £3.6 million during this period, as a result of complaints.

Tim Burr, head of the National Audit Office, said:

“Whilst there is general satisfaction with the services customers receive from the Department and its Agencies, there is scope to handle complaints better. The three Agencies need to record accurately customer complaints so that they can identify where they are not meeting customer needs and can improve services accordingly. Agencies also need to do more to understand why some customers are dissatisfied with the handling of their complaints.”

Notes for Editors:

  1. Jobcentre Plus, The Pension Service and the Disability and Carers Service are Executive Agencies of The Department for Work and Pensions. In April 2008 The Pension Service and the Disability and Carers Service merged to become The Pension, Disability and Carers Service.
  2. The three Agencies use a three-tiered internal complaints handling process that enables unresolved issues to be escalated from front-line staff up to the appropriate Agency Chief Executive. Customers can also seek redress through the Independent Case Examiner as well as the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman
  3. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website, which is Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.
  4. The Comptroller and Auditor General, Tim Burr, is the head of the National Audit Office which employs some 850 staff. He and the NAO are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of all Government departments and a wide range of other public sector bodies; and he has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and other bodies have used their resources.

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