Complaints procedure found wanting

MATHEW GROCOTT
Last updated 09:00 25/01/2014

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Horowhenua District Council has no formal procedure for dealing with complaints it receives, a MidCentral Health investigation sparked by problems with Foxton Beach's water has found.

There was also no record kept of whether complainants were informed of the outcome of their reports and the contractor tasked with investigating problems was not being audited.

In response to his findings, the health protection officer for MidCentral Health, Peter Wood, warned the council he would contact the Ministry of Health if a complaints management procedure was not established at the council.

Mr Wood's investigation was sparked by a complaint from Foxton Beach resident Christina Paton. In his response to her he said he met council staff in mid-December and a copy of the follow-up chart they useD for managing complaints was produced.

"They were reasonably up-front that no complaints management procedure existed, and that the flow chart had been drawn up for the meeting," he said. "They advised that as a result of the process they were writing a complaint management procedure."

Mr Wood said that not having a complaints management procedure was a potential breach of the Health Act and if one was not completed he would contact the Ministry of Health. Council staff had told him that "everybody knew what they were supposed to be doing".

Mrs Paton said the council's approach to complaints was not good enough.

"This council has had since local body amalgamations in 1989 to get a proper complaints procedure in place," she said.

Mr Wood said the council did have a system for recording and acting on complaints. Most water complaints were assigned to Downers for follow-up. However, Downers were not audited to see if they were meeting their contract and it was not always recorded whether complainants were advised of the outcome of their complaint.

"This will leave some complainants hanging and concerned that council has done nothing about their complaint, which may not be the case," Mr Wood said. "I have recommended feedback to complainants always occur."

Mrs Paton said it was disappointing that complainants were potentially being left in the dark. She was also concerned the council's contractors were not being audited.

Contractors practically ran the council's infrastructure, she said, and as this was funded by rates the council should be checking money was being properly spent.

"We're being rated to pay for this and there's no accountability."

A Horowhenua District Council spokesman said the council would not respond to questions about Mr Wood's investigation.

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