Part 1: Introduction

Auckland Council: How it deals with complaints.

In this Part, we discuss:

The purpose of our audit

Section 104 of the Local Government (Auckland Council) Act 2009 requires the Auditor-General to review the service performance of Auckland Council (the Council) and its council-controlled organisations. In recent years, we have completed three reviews. For our fourth review, we decided to look at the Council's complaints-handling process.

How well an organisation deals with complaints can show how committed it is to providing a high-quality service to people. Dealt with correctly, complaints can be an opportunity for entities to improve their services.

Since 2013, the Council has carried out work to improve its complaints-management system. The Council was keen to find out where further improvements might be made.

We have reviewed how two other large service delivery entities deal with complaints.1 Assessing how effectively the Council manages complaints builds on this work.

The role of Auckland Council

The Council was set up in November 2010 by bringing together eight councils. The Council is made up of the mayor, 20 councillors (the governing body), and 149 local board members in 21 local boards.

Council employees support the governing body and members of local boards by providing specialist advice, implementing decisions, and delivering services through several departments. The services include drafting bylaws, issuing resource and building consents, collecting kerbside rubbish and recycling, managing community and recreation centres and parks, and supporting and funding local events.

The Council delivers several services through council-controlled organisations. The Council sets up and owns council-controlled organisations, but they carry out their activities independently. The Council is responsible for setting council-controlled organisations' objectives and strategies and for monitoring their performance.

The six main council-controlled organisations are:

  • Auckland Council Investments Limited;
  • Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development Limited;
  • Auckland Transport;
  • Development Auckland Limited;
  • Regional Facilities Auckland; and
  • Watercare Services Limited (Watercare).

The Council serves a culturally diverse population of about 1.5 million people, living from Rodney in the north to Franklin in the south.

Each of the eight councils that were amalgamated to form the Council had their own approach to handling complaints. The Council set up a single organisation-wide system to log and manage complaints in 2010. However, there were no Council-wide complaints policies at that time, and the system did not record all the information the Council wanted, such as compliments and suggestions.

In 2013, the Council began a project to redesign this complaints system, taking into account best practice guidelines published by the Office of the Ombudsman. Part of this work has been creating an organisational culture that values complaints and uses them as an opportunity to learn and improve services.

At the time of our audit, the Council still had some aspects to finish implementing, including introducing a new customer relationship management system (the new system). We looked at the results of the work the Council has carried out to date to improve its complaints-handling process.

The Council receives more than 4500 complaints (excluding Watercare and Auckland Transport) each year. As Figure 1 shows, overall complaint numbers have fluctuated but have been trending downward in the last five years.

Figure 1
Monthly complaints from November 2010 to December 2015

Figure 1, showing five years of complaints fluctuating but trending down, from nearly 800 in November 2010 to just over 400 in November 2015.

Source: Auckland Council.

The complaints are spread over the many services that the Council delivers through a range of departments. The main types of complaints the Council receives are about:

  • rates;
  • resource and building consents;
  • animal management – dogs;
  • parks; and
  • rubbish (solid waste and inorganic collection).

What we audited

We looked at how well the Council manages complaints about its services. We wanted to understand:

  • the Council's approach to managing complaints;
  • how easy it is for people to complain to the Council;
  • how well the Council responds to complaints; and
  • how the Council uses information about complaints and other comments to improve services.

Our focus was the complaints that the Council manages, as defined by its complaints policy (which we discuss in more detail in Part 2). The policy document explains that a complaint is an:

… expression of dissatisfaction by one or more members of our customers, citizens, ratepayers and visitors about the council's:
  • action or lack of action;
  • decision; or
  • the standard of service provided by or on behalf of the council.

What we did not audit

We did not look at:

  • the process for managing complaints about services provided by Auckland Transport or Watercare Services Limited, which have their own processes for managing complaints;
  • the Council's "request a service" process (such as requesting the Council to investigate a noise disturbance);
  • the process for managing requests under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987;
  • complaints under the Privacy Act 1993; or
  • complaints about a decision governed by any other legislation or regulatory process.

How we carried out our audit

To carry out our audit, we:

  • reviewed the Council's policy, training, and accountability documents, process manuals, and internal performance reports;
  • reviewed the Council's customer relationship management tool, intranet pages, and business reporting tools; and
  • interviewed 77 people throughout the organisation.

We also reviewed research commissioned by the Council that involved 12 in-depth interviews with people who had made a complaint in December 2015 or January 2016.2

Structure of this report

In Part 2, we discuss the Council's approach to managing complaints and look at the Council's policies and processes.

In Part 3, we discuss how easy it is for people to complain and how the Council deals with complaints.

In Part 4, we discuss how the Council reviews performance information on complaints handling and how it has used complaints and other information to support service improvements.

1: Controller and Auditor-General (2014), Accident Compensation Corporation: How it deals with complaints and Ministry of Social Development: How it deals with complaints, Wellington.

2: Auckland Council (2016), Complainants Research: Understanding our complaints process from the customer's perspective, Auckland.