Processes and Procedures
Number of Complaints
54. To place the number of complaints in context, in 2014, COPFS received 255,858 criminal cases and 9,048 death reports. Over the same period, 731 complaints were recorded equating to approximately one complaint for every 350 cases received. Of these, 44 (6%) were dealt with by quick resolution (QR) and 687 (94%) by the formal investigative procedure. During that time, RIU also issued 141 responses to complaints that pre-dated 2014.
55. Chart 1 provides a breakdown of the complaints received by function.
56. Chart 2 shows the recorded outcome.
57. The 'other' category includes complaints dealt with by quick resolution, where no response was received to requests from RIU for further information and complaints that remain ongoing or were withdrawn.
58. Excluding those in the 'other' category, of the remaining 619, 11% were upheld, 10% were partially upheld and 79% were not upheld.
Who Deals with Complaints?
59. Prior to 2013, complaints were handled primarily by senior staff in local Procurator Fiscal Offices, supported by Area Co-ordinators who were responsible for recording complaints, adding documentation to the complaints management IT system and issuing replies. Concerns regarding inconsistencies in the quality of responses, variations in the response time across the Federations and the amount of time spent by senior staff drafting responses led to a proposal for the establishment of a central Customer Care Unit. A number of benefits were envisaged, including:
- a customer care process more focussed on meeting the needs of the public;
- earlier resolution in some cases, with a greater opportunity to get it right first time;
- opportunity for complaints with the potential to cause reputational risk to be identified at an earlier stage;
- better opportunity to monitor trends in complaints received and to act on these where necessary;
- a single management focus for customer care functions; and
- building expertise in complaints handling.
60. The result was the creation of the Response and Information Unit (RIU) (initially launched as the Customer Care Unit), a national specialist unit established by COPFS in June 2013, to provide a central point of contact.
Role of the Response and Information Unit
61. The aims of RIU are:
- to provide a more consistent and timeous service in respect of formal complaints;
- to promote and encourage good customer service, including the use of Quick Resolution; and
- to improve learning from all feedback by recording and analysing results and feeding these back to senior management.
62. RIU is part of Policy Division and the Head of Policy is responsible for the strategic oversight and efficient running of the Unit. The Unit is run on a day-to-day basis by the Head of RIU and consists of three members of legal staff and a four-person administrative team headed up by a Business Manager. The team work across the country with a central unit in Edinburgh. In addition to complaints, RIU deals with all Freedom of Information and data subject access requests.
63. Most quick resolution complaints, comments, compliments or suggestions continue to be handled by the Enquiry Point and local offices but if the matter is complex or requires further investigation, the complaint will ordinarily move to the formal stage two of the policy. RIU deals with all complaints made under the formal stage two of the policy.
64. On receipt of a complaint by RIU, a check is first made to ascertain if there are any associated complaints before the complaint is entered in the COPFS complaints management system. An acknowledgement is made verbally or via email or letter depending on the form of the complaint. The complaint is then passed to the Head of RIU to determine if it can be dealt with by quick resolution or if it is more appropriate for a response under the formal procedure.
65. If it is dealt with by the formal procedure, it is allocated to a member of the team to investigate and draft a reply. If information is required from offices or Federations, a request is normally sent via the Area Co-ordinators or the Federation Head of the subject matter of the complaint. The internal timeline for receipt of such reports is five working days, although it is a source of frustration for those working in RIU that this timescale is regularly exceeded. All replies are approved by the Head of RIU. In addition, any particularly complex or problematic complaints and all complaints referred to SPSO are discussed at a weekly meeting between the Head of RIU and the Crown Agent.
Complaints Management System
66. The complaints management IT system operated by COPFS ("the complaints system") was introduced in 2005. It provides two levels of access:
- Access to log new complaints or search existing complaints is available to all staff;
- Full access to the complaints database is available to a nominated group of persons. Full access requires a licence. COPFS currently holds 43 such licences.
67. The complaints system is used by RIU to record and monitor complaints and feedback. It contains many useful functions, including mandatory fields, diary alerts, document storage facility, etc. It was set up to operate alongside the previous three-stage complaints procedure used within the old 11 Area COPFS structure in which each Area had responsibility to record and monitor its own complaints with the help of nominated Area Co-ordinators, who had full access to the database.
68. In April 2012, COPFS replaced the 11 Areas with three operational Federations and a National Federation. In June 2013, RIU took over responsibility for the complaints handling process and a new two-stage approach was introduced. The complaints system was not adapted or modified to reflect these developments and to compensate RIU has introduced a number of work arounds to operate the system and developed a parallel system of Excel spreadsheets to record and track complaints. RIU uses the spreadsheets as their main source of management information.
69. This negates one of the most valuable functions of a complaints system - the ability to generate reports and interrogate data electronically for analysis. Dual recording is not only inefficient; it increases the potential for human error. We found this practice leads to inconsistent data recording, for example, there were 90 Quick Resolution and 733 'Resolution through Stages' complaints recorded on the complaints system for 2014, whereas the spreadsheet showed 44 'Quick Resolution' and 687 'Resolution through Stages'. There were also inconsistencies between the spreadsheets and the complaints system on the stage of complaints recorded, with the spreadsheets including data on complaints that pre-dated the new two stage process.
70. During our inspection, the mis-match between the configuration of the complaints system and current practices and inefficiencies of double recording were recognised by COPFS, which has recently commissioned a re-configuration of its complaints system to tailor it to reflect the current complaints policy and organisational structures. A number of other modifications have been identified to make it more user-friendly and training for RIU staff on the use of the complaints system has been delivered to maximise its value.
71. The support arrangements for complaints handling were similarly not reviewed following the establishment of RIU. For example, the role of the Area Co-ordinators has not been re-visited. We found a lack of clarity on their role and in some cases we were advised that they no longer had any interaction with the complaints system. Most described their role as facilitating RIU by obtaining reports on their behalf. This would not necessitate having access to the complaints system. Given that the Co-ordinators hold licences, there is considerable scope to explore the current requirements for user licences.
Recommendations 3 and 4
The Response and Information Unit (RIU) should undertake an options appraisal/value for money analysis of their complaints management system and introduce a single system to record, monitor, analyse and manage complaints handling.
COPFS should review the role of the Area Co-ordinators and issue revised guidance on the use of the complaints management system.
72. Ministerial correspondence received by the Law Officers from MPs, MSPs, MEPs, and Scottish Ministers is subject to different procedures in line with Scottish Government policy and is not included in this review.
73. RIU do investigate and respond to complaints from a member of the public addressed to the Law Officers. Although responsibility for handling such complaints rests with RIU, there is a degree of co-ordination between the Private Office and RIU in coordinating response letters.
74. During our visit to the Private Office, however, we heard there is public misperception about escalation of complaints within COPFS with some complainants seeking to use Ministerial correspondence as a "third stage". This view was reiterated by some stakeholders, including some representatives of Victim Support Scotland.
75. To help in addressing this misperception, COPFS should encourage partner agencies and stakeholders to provide a link on their websites to the COPFS Complaints and Feedback policy.
Role of Enquiry Point
76. RIU also incorporates the Enquiry Point. The Enquiry Point acts as the first point of telephone contact for COPFS. It is located in Dumbarton and handles calls, providing information on the status of a case and court processes and directing enquiries to the most appropriate person or office. It receives over 330,000 calls per annum and on average provides a first point of resolution to 85% of these calls. If a person is calling to complain, Enquiry Point staff will try to resolve the issue then and there. The organisation defines this early, front line response as "Quick Resolution".
77. If an issue cannot be resolved via quick resolution, details of the complaint are recorded by Enquiry Point staff and forwarded to RIU.
78. We visited the Enquiry Point and found skilled helpful front line staff dealing with complaints. During an inspection visit call handling staff were observed to be pleasant, patient and helpful, often resolving an initial request for information by sensitive and skilled communication, preventing a call escalating to a complaint.
Recording of Telephone Complaints
79. We were advised that when a call is received by Enquiry Point expressing dissatisfaction the caller will be asked if they want to want to make a complaint and only if the caller replies "yes", will the call be logged as a complaint and transferred to RIU. If, however, the issue is resolved by Enquiry Point, it is unlikely to be logged as a complaint. Resolution at first point of contact is seen as the 'bread and butter' business of the Enquiry Point. Most queries are recorded on the Enquiry Point database by reference to set criteria, reflecting the nature of the caller and subject matter of the enquiry e.g. witness - citation, witness - excusal, victim - case progress, etc.
80. We encountered a lack of clarity over the respective roles of Enquiry Point and RIU in handling complaints and a lack of shared understanding of the terms "quick", "early" and "front line" resolution. Many calls which involve dissatisfaction with some aspect of the Service, are resolved by Enquiry Point, but not recorded as such and so not included in the "quick resolution" figures. This results in under-recording of "quick resolution" complaints and is reflected in the low numbers referred to earlier in this report. The failure to capture the true extent of complaints dealt with at first contact is a missed opportunity. It deprives COPFS of credit for resolving such "complaints" at the earliest contact and the ability to analysis the nature of such complaints to inform and improve services.
81. COPFS recently commissioned an external consultancy review into the functions of the COPFS Enquiry Point. The review supported the view that the current function of the Enquiry Point is not clear within the business and commented that the lack of visibility of the Enquiry Point has led to a failure to recognise its contribution to the wider business. The review highlighted a number of areas that impacted on the ability of Enquiry Point to deliver the level of customer service that COPFS would like to achieve.
82. One of these areas was a lack of co-ordination between Enquiry Point and the wider organisation, including RIU. While acknowledging progress made by Enquiry Point towards providing a more client-focused approach, the review found that this was not replicated across COPFS and highlighted inconsistent processes and policies for dealing with those who come into contact with the organisation. This chimes with the findings from our case review.
83. In addition to issues resolved and dealt with by Enquiry Point, staff across COPFS are encouraged to record complaints resolved at the start of the process as 'Quick Resolution' matters so that COPFS has more information about the type and number of problems which are resolved in this way. However, our review and COPFS statistics suggest an under-reporting throughout the Service of issues resolved by quick resolution.
84. On querying the low number of complaints dealt with by quick resolution, we were informed that staff are unlikely to add a record to the complaints recording system when they have dealt and resolved dissatisfaction, resulting in, yet again, a lack of credit for dealing with dissatisfaction at the frontline.
85. Similarly, an interrogation of the complaints system showed that between January and December 2014, there were only 14 compliments and positive comments recorded. Although it may be that members of the public are less likely to get in touch to record their satisfaction with service, this may also be attributed in part to a lack of awareness by staff of the need to record such feedback.
86. To address this under-reporting, a reminder was issued in the COPFS Bulletin, to record all complaints and compliments to give a true reflection of work carried out and capture positive feedback. Such reminders would benefit from greater clarification, perhaps through the use of examples, on the type of interaction that qualifies as "quick resolution."
87. We consider that complaints and feedback should also be a standard item discussed at team briefings. This will help to reinforce the need to record complaints resolved by quick resolution as well positive feedback received and to develop a culture of learning from customer feedback.
Complaints and feedback should be a standard item discussed at team briefings.
88. Recognising that appropriate quality and tone of responses is essential to improving communication with the public, it is helpful that the recently appointed Head of RIU has a background in corporate communications.
89. Traditionally, COPFS has managed external and internal communication functions through different structures, however, in April 2015 the post of Head of Engagement and Information, combining both functions, was created.
90. The post holder will head up the external facing RIU and have oversight of the Staff Information Unit which includes internal communication and some aspects of corporate communication such as publications. The appointment offers the potential to raise awareness in COPFS of the role of RIU, to encourage front line staff to engage with customers and to strengthen the internal understanding of the importance of clear customer focused communication. The Head of Engagement and Information sits on the COPFS Communications Board which includes the Head of Media Relations and so ensures that internal and external key messages are consistent.
91. Responsibility for both RIU and internal communication affords ample opportunity for the new Head of Engagement and Information to identify complaint themes and areas for organisational improvement and to encourage the Operational Boards to instigate, support and monitor service improvements arising from complaints.
92. The role that communication plays in complaints handling cannot be overemphasised and the creation of this new post is a positive development. Providing helpful, clear information about the role and function of COPFS and getting initial interactions right will minimise the number of customer contacts which escalate into complaints.