Part 1: Introduction

Ministry of Social Development: How is deals with complaints.

In this Part, we discuss:

The purpose of our audit

For 2013/14, the theme of our work programme was Service delivery. As part of this theme, we decided to look at how the Accident Compensation Corporation and the Ministry of Social Development (the Ministry) manage cases and complaints. We expect to publish several reports on these two aspects of service delivery in these two public entities during 2014. This report is the first in the series.

We chose complaints management because it is a useful way to measure an organisation's commitment to customer service and because complaints are a valuable source of information for improving service and systems.

This report is about our performance audit to assess how effectively and efficiently the Ministry manages complaints.

The Ministry administers more than $20 billion in government expenditure, provides services and help to more than 1.1 million people and 110,000 families, and is New Zealand's largest public service department.

The Ministry provides:

  • statutory care and protection of children and young people, adoption and youth justice services, and funding to community service providers;
  • employment and income support services, New Zealand Superannuation, and the administration of New Zealand's international welfare portability arrangements;
  • support, information, and advice for families and communities;
  • student allowances and student loans;
  • access to affordable health care for older people, families, and people on lower incomes; and
  • services to uphold the integrity of the welfare system and keep the debt of its clients to a minimum.

What we audited

We looked at how well the Ministry manages complaints about how it delivers its services. We wanted to look at:

  • how easy it is to complain to the Ministry;
  • how responsive the Ministry is to complaints; and
  • how the Ministry uses information about complaints and other comments to keep improving.

The Ministry does not have a Ministry-wide complaints process. We focused on the Ministry's Work and Income, StudyLink, and Senior Services sections (the three sections). Each section runs its own complaints process. We explain how each section deals with complaints in Part 3.

Work and Income has 162 Work and Income service centres, Community Links, and satellite sites, organised into 11 regions, each led by a Regional Commissioner. Frontline staff case-manage about 400,000 people each month and help 86,000 people get work each year. Work and Income's five contact centres together receive more than 125,000 telephone calls a week in any of 12 languages.

The Senior Services section works from Work and Income offices. The Ministry delivers services to almost every senior citizen in New Zealand.

StudyLink has a centralised processing centre in Palmerston North and six Outreach sites in the main university centres. In 2012/13, StudyLink processed 241,319 student loan applications and 148,040 student allowance applications.

What we did not audit

We did not look at individual complaints or legal decisions about entitlements.

We did not audit the Child, Youth and Family complaints process because it was the subject of a recently completed independent review. The review found that the Ministry had taken steps to improve the Child, Youth and Family complaints process but that it required further improvements and oversight to ensure that it works well. We looked at publicly available information about Child, Youth and Family's complaints process as context for assessing the responsiveness of the Ministry's complaints processes.

How we carried out our audit

To carry out our audit, we:

  • interviewed staff from the Ministry's national and regional offices;
  • visited regional service centres and interviewed staff, including people responsible for managing complaints;
  • observed the Work and Income information and complaints management tool and looked at a small sample of complaint files to test the controls in the system; and
  • contracted a market research agency to carry out:
    • a telephone survey of 669 people who had complained about Work and Income and StudyLink;1 and
    • interviews of 10 Work and Income complainants.

Because Senior Services does not keep a centralised record of all of the complaints it receives, the survey did not include people who had complained about Senior Services.

We also looked at:

  • process manuals, standards, and strategic documents;
  • client satisfaction questionnaires and surveys;2
  • service standards and complaints pamphlets;
  • instructions and template letters;
  • registers of information relating to complaints;
  • accountability documents;
  • internal performance reports;
  • case studies of service failures;
  • data for Work and Income complaints from 2010 to 2013; and
  • information that the Appointed Auditor collected as part of the annual audit.

Structure of this report

Part 2 discusses whether the Ministry makes it easy for clients to complain.

Part 3 discusses how the Ministry responds to complaints and keeps clients informed about the progress of the response to their complaint. Part 3 also compares how the three sections respond to complaints.

Part 4 discusses how the Ministry monitors, reviews, and reports performance information about complaints.

Part 5 looks at how the Ministry analyses complaints and provides other comments to improve its services.

1. Colmar Brunton carried out the telephone survey between 8 and 29 May 2014 and the interviews between 20 May and 5 June 2014.

2.. The Ministry uses the term "clients" to describe the people who access its services.

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