The City of Ballarat is among many municipalities across the state that do not formally analyse the complaints they receive, a critical new report has shown.
The findings, released in the "Revisiting councils and complaints" report by the Victorian Ombudsman on Tuesday, highlighted that complaints data gathered by the council and most other municipalities is not made public - and that options for taking a complaint further were not made clear as a matter of course.
"There is no formal process to analyse complaints and trends," a Ballarat council response within the report reads. "These have largely been identified via emerging issues within the business units."
The Victoria Ombudsman Deborah Glass, who tabled the 170-page report before state parliament on Tuesday, said that many councils were also failing to learn from negative feedback. She described complaints as an opportunity to improve services.
However the City of Ballarat council's approach at providing details by complaint subject matter was cited as a good example within the document.
In the snapshot of all 79 councils published in the report, Ballarat registered 606 complaints, the vast majority of which were directed towards waste collection.
Council said it aimed to acknowledge all complaints within 10 business days and resolve complaints within 28 days. It also told the ombudsman that people making complaints could request an internal review but that not all were informed about the option, nor routinely told about the possibility of taking complaints to the ombudsman.
"There is an escalation process within the complaints procedure, however not all complaints receive a formal response. This escalation process is outlined on Council's website," it was quoted as saying in the document.
Far too many councils still adopt a narrow definition of complaint or interpret it narrowly in practice. This matters. Not only is it impossible to compare the councils, those who understate the level of public dissatisfaction may well be failing to deal with it.Deborah Glass, Victoria Ombudsman
The council said staff also do not report on the outcomes of complaints and that, while it did not make its complaints data public, it did include the number of protected disclosures in its annual report.
Of the ten regional councils, eight said they informed complainants about contacting the ombudsman or other avenues. Half of them said they regularly tried to identify trends in complaints, while just two said they made their complaints public.
Golden Plains Shire, meanwhile, registered five complaints while Moorabool Shire reported 18. The ombudsman also criticised the wide variation in the how complaints are recorded, with the City of Melbourne showing a fraction of the complaints registered by the Rural City of Ararat despite a huge size disparity.
"Far too many councils still adopt a narrow definition of complaint or interpret it narrowly in practice," Ms Glass said. "This matters. Not only is it impossible to compare the councils, those who understate the level of public dissatisfaction may well be failing to deal with it."
WATCH THE OMBUDSMAN EXPLAIN THE REPORT
The report recommended a more unified definition of what a complaint is and that councils be required to have handling policies and an internal process for reviewing decisions under the new Local Government Act, which is due to enter into law over the next few years.
In a council statement to The Courier, City of Ballarat council said it would review the Ombudsman's report and make adjustments "where appropriate".
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