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An Analysis of Complaints Management & Resolution Undertaken by Victoria’s Disability Services Commissioner

A Snapshot from the Annual Reports      2008 - 2013

Max Jackson & Margaret Ryan

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Text Box: July 2014

An Analysis of Complaints Management & Resolution Undertaken by

Victoria’s Disability Services Commissioner

A Snapshot from the Annual Reports 2008 – 2013

Synopsis

The analysis provided in this paper highlights three critical findings that reflect negatively on the work of Victoria’s Disability Services Commissioner (DSC).  The analysis shines the spotlight well and truly on a set of significant deficits.  Deficits that raise serious question as to the way in which the Commissioner’s office manages and seeks to resolve complaints.

The critical findings

  1. That in the four years from and including 2010, the Commissioner has failed to meet his obligations under Sections 16 and 118 of the Disability Act 2006.  This failure being characterised by the fact he did not institute any investigations and further he failed to identify what further action was required where conciliation had failed.

  1. That by including the outcome category of “substantially resolved” with that of “fully resolved” and also including a category of “partially resolved”, the Commissioner has sought to divert attention away from the number of complaints not actually fully resolved.  Therefore, in so doing he has diminished his failure to fully resolve a significant percentage of complaints each year and instead has sought to manipulate the true results.

  1. That by presenting the data and information the way he does in his annual reports, and in particular linking enquiries and complaints and emphasising actions peripheral to his core business, the Commissioner has failed to present to the Parliament and the public of Victoria a cohesive and fully transparent overview of his legislated functions of complaints management and resolution.

About the authors

Max Jackson & Margaret Ryan, of JacksonRyan Partners, have a long experience in the disability sector in a range of capacities.  They have, over many years, demonstrated a preparedness to call to account the establishment and challenge entities such as the DSC, when and where it is clear they have failed to meet their legislative obligations.  This paper represents just one example. 

It is also worthy of note that JacksonRyan Partners have extensive experience in addressing complaints, including in the disability sector, through processes including mediation, conciliation, formal grievance hearings and investigations.

***********

  1. Why such an analysis?

The Office of the Disability Services Commissioner (DSC) came into effect in July 2007, as legislated by Victoria’s Disability Act 2006.  As such, at the time of the release of this paper, July 2014, the Commissioner had been operating for a full seven years.

Given the DSC is now well past what might be called its establishment phase, as well as the fact the current Commissioner has commenced the third year of his second five-year term, the writers submit that an external analysis of the success or otherwise of the DSC, in terms of complaints management and resolution, is well due.  Or, in other words, it is now more than reasonable that an assessment should be made as to whether the principal rationale that underpinned the creation of the DSC has been largely achieved.  Noting that, as stated on the DSC website, “The Commissioner has been created to work with people with a disability and disability service providers to resolve complaints.”

The question therefore arises as to how best to conduct such an analysis that assesses whether or not the Commissioner has been effective in resolving complaints, without seeking to conduct some form of longitudinal research or fabricated consultations. 

  1. Why the Annual Reports?

The above question has been answered by undertaking an analysis of the DSC Annual Reports.  At the time of writing six Annual Reports had been produced with the seventh report due later in 2014.

As statutory reports, the Annual Reports must be assumed to provide an accurate and detailed overview of the workings of the DSC for each of the reporting years.   

  1. An Overview of the Annual Reports - Structure and Content

Understandably the Annual Reports have changed to some degree over each of the reporting years.  However, apart for the first two years, which seemed to reflect an experimental approach to the presentation of information and data, the presentation of certain sets of core information has remained similar since 2010, with 2010 something of a transitional year.  One other significant change is that of what might be described as a change from what seemed to be more photographic and complex graphical presentations in the 2008 and 2009 reports to that of a more line-graph presentation of data, and significant absence of photographs, in the later reports.

Essentially, the structure of the report follows a format of, for example:

  • An overview of the DSC structure, values and principles
  • Summary of performance
  • Promoting rights, change and building capacity
  • Resolving complaints to (i) the DSC (ii) to service providers
  • Learning from complaints
  • Financial statements

In terms of content there are a number of principal sets of data recorded with each report comparing and contrasting with the same set of information for the previous year.  Significant among the sets of data are:

  • Number of enquiries and complaints
  • Enquiries by service types
  • Types of issues raised in enquiries and complaints
  • Resolution rates for complaints by (i) the DSC (ii) service providers
  • Outcome of in-scope complaints by (i) the DSC (ii) service providers
  • Ways complaints were resolved by (i) the DSC (ii) service providers
  • Common sources of enquiries and complaints to (i) the DSC (ii) service providers
  1. The mandates

There is a mandated requirement for the DSC to report annually via the designated Minister (now entitled the Minister for Disability Services and Reform) to the Parliament.

Apart from this mandated requirement, however, the Disability Act 2006 (the Act) also requires the DSC to undertake a total of 17 functions as recorded under Section 16 of the Act and significantly which includes:

  • 16 (a) “investigate complaints relating to disability services”, and
  • 16 (b) “review and identify the cause of complaints and to suggest ways of removing and minimising the causes”, and
  • 16 (d) “conciliate where a complaint has been made in relation to a disability service provider”

Section 118 of the Act – Investigation of a complaint – states in part in Section 118 (1) “The Disability Services Commissioner must –

  1. investigate a complaint which –
  1. the Disability Services Commissioner has decided to accept and the Disability Services Commissioner considers is not suitable for conciliation; or
  2. the Disability Services Commissioner is of the view that conciliation has failed and further action is required”

The writers submit that the above requires critical comment on the basis that the DSC has clearly adopted a particular interpretation of the above clauses, which the writers contend is open to significant challenge.  As such, this is discussed further in the section below.

5.    Considerations

It should be noted that in reading the tables included in this paper the following need to be considered, noting that the figures included in the tables have been extracted from the annual reports and reference to their location is as per Appendix 1 to this paper.

  • The 2008 Annual Report reported data largely by a circle graph approach using percentages only.  Actual figure had to be extracted from the text in the report.  The 2008 report included a number of photographs.
  • The 2009 Annual Report adopted a different approach to that of the 2008 report and in particular using a set of complex triangular graphics on page 21.  Of all six reports reviewed the 2009 Report was the only one that adopted a landscape configuration.  It included a number of photographs as well as some cartoons.
  • The 2010 Annual Report adopted what can be described as a somewhat bland approach in that it had very few graphics.
  • The 2011, 2012 and 2013 Annual Reports tend to reflect the format of the 2010 report albeit with some refinements and more graphics.
  • All reports promote the mantra – “It’s OK to complain.”
  • All reports, other than the 2008 and 2009 reports, gave emphasis to distinguishing between complaints reported to the Commissioner and those reported to service providers.
  • This paper only addresses those complaints reported to the Commissioner, with some comment on complaints to service providers being made in Appendix 2.
  • The writers have established the view that complaints only “partially resolved” means that the overall complaint still remains unresolved. A critical comment is made about this further below.
  • All reports have largely reported on a percentage approach in the graphics with actual numerical reporting being largely restricted to the text.  Additional comment is also made on this further below.
  • While the writers acknowledge some matters are carried over from year to year, and this is noted in each of the reports as appropriate, given these tend to be limited in number the writers have, for the purposes of this paper, only considered the total figures as recorded in the various annual reports for each of the reporting years.
  • The complexity of the reporting of figures as reported in the annual reports and the propensity of the DSC to use percentages makes it difficult for readers to extract actual figures.  Thus, while the writers have made every effort to ensure the accuracy of the figures used in this paper, they submit that any variation that may occur does not affect the issues and contentions made in this paper.  They also submit that any variation can be assumed to be more a product of the way in which figures and data are presented in the annual reports rather than the writers’ inexactness.

  1. The matter of investigation versus conciliation

While the matters of investigation and conciliation present with some degree of contradiction in the Act, the writers suggest that the DSC has generally failed to meet the demands and the intent of the legislation.  In addressing this contention consideration can be given not just to the legislation but also to particular information sheets as produced by the DSC.  Notwithstanding this, however, the writers submit that the contents of the Information Sheets reflect the interpretation given to the legislation by the DSC.  Thus the following comments take account of only the legislation.

The writers argue Section 16 (a), (b) and (c) as detailed above make it clear that investigations are to be conducted in order to identify the cause of complaints and to suggest ways of addressing them.  In light of this section it is only then that the DSC may seek to conciliate in relation to those complaints made against a disability service provider.  That is, investigate first and then conciliate where the complaint is about a service provider. 

If, however, emphasis is given to Section 118 then an investigation “must” be undertaken where conciliation has not been considered suitable or has failed, the significance of the above is that investigation is a required process in dealing with complaints either as a first action, or as one required where conciliation has not been considered suitable or has failed.  The only exception provided for in the Act is that as detailed in Section 113 (3) of the Act, which allows for informal resolution.

The figures as reported in the Annual Reports, and as detailed in the table below, clearly show that the DSC has largely disregarded the requirement to investigate.

Table 1:     Outcomes of In-scope complaints accepted by the Commissioner

Annual Report

Number of

In-scope Complaints

Number of Complaints Referred for

Number of Complaints Referred for Conciliation

Number of Complaints only Partially Resolved

Number of Complaints Not Resolved

  90

Not evident

Not evident

  3

Not evident

Not evident

  5

156

93

In analysing the above the writers emphasise the importance of returning to the intent of this section of the paper, as in the matter of investigation versus conciliation. Although the writers acknowledge Section 113 of the Act in identifying the option of the Commissioner attempting to resolve complaints informally, and clearly this does occur, the important consideration is how the Commissioner applies Section 16 and Section 118 of the Act.

Table 1 above provides an overview of the number of complaints considered in-scope by the Commissioner over each of the years 2008 to 2013.  Significantly, it also details the number of complaints referred for investigation or conciliation.  These figures become critical when considered in light of the last two right-hand columns of the table, which identify those complaints either only partially resolved or not resolved at all.

Despite a total of 51 complaints being referred for conciliation over the period 2010-2013, 161 in-scope complaints still remained only partially resolved or not resolved at all between 2010 and 2013.  Given these figures, then again the question must be asked – Why did the Commissioner not refer any of those complaints - that is not even one - for investigation?  However the Commissioner might choose to answer this question, if indeed he elected to do so, he cannot do so legitimately without again making reference to Sections 16 and 118 of the Act.

Clearly, while Section 16 provides for both investigation and conciliation, as does Section 118, the writers submit that given Section 118 emphasise that where the Commissioner has decided to accept a complaint and decides it is not suitable for conciliation, or conciliation has failed and further action is required, then he “must” refer the matter for investigation.  The Commissioner’s only out is if he is of the view that conciliation has failed and further action is not required”

In terms of the above figures of 51 complaints being referred for conciliation over the period 2010-2013 and 161 in-scope complaints still remaining only partially resolved or not resolved at all the writers therefore contend that given the Commissioner had accepted the complaints, then - Why did the Commissioner not meet his obligations under the Act by enacting Section 118 and conducting an investigation?  

The annual reports for the years in question do not make mention as to how many in-scope complaints where conciliation was attempted and failed, were deemed not to require further action.  Further, they do not make mention as to why no further action was considered necessary.

In considering this matter further it is concerning to note two statements in the 2013 Annual Report. The first, on page 18, states:

“We know positive relationships are a foundation for the provision of quality services.  Is important that we support the person who makes the complaint and their service provider to find ways to resolve the issues together as this is more likely to produce the best long-term outcomes.”

While the writers fully support the importance of positive relationships, they argue that the foundation of the provision of quality services goes well beyond simply that of positive relationships.  Indeed, in any circumstances when an individual purchases a service, while it might be expected that the delivery of that service will be done in a positive way, nonetheless the greater expectation is that the service will be in accord with particular input and output expectations.  A simple example might be that of going to a cafe to have a cup of coffee.  While the customer no doubt expects to be greeted, treated and served in a positive way, he also expects the cup of coffee would be delivered in a timely fashion, served in a clean cup, be hot, be the type of coffee he ordered and that the ambience of the cafe will create a level of enjoyment.  These expectations go well beyond simply that of positive relationships.  As such, the writers challenge the statement as made by the Commissioner in this section of the 2013 Annual Report.

This statement also seems to totally ignore the reality that there are some complaints where a service provider has clearly failed to meet their duty of care responsibilities, particular mandated requirements under the Act, or contract agreements as to the nature of the service to be provided.  In other words, the Commissioner seems to ignore the reality that a service provider may well be in the wrong and therefore, as such, it is not simply a matter of “finding ways to resolve the issue together”.  It is very much a matter of the service providers meeting their legislated obligation and service responsibilities. 

It is concerning that the Commissioner seems to place such great faith in communication as the panacea for resolution.  Certainly, while the writers acknowledge the importance of communication in conflict and its resolution, their experience in this field has also led them to conclude that resolution is also about, to put it bluntly, righting the wrongs; or in other words, fixing the problem.

The second statement of concern is referenced on page 22 of the 2013 Annual Report.  The statement notes “no complaints were referred to investigation by DSC in 2012-2013.”  Apart from challenging the use of the words “referred to” arguing the more accurate way of stating this would be to say ”undertaken by the DSC”, nonetheless, the significant issue, and the second concerning statement, is what the DSC then goes on to say about investigations – which is that these are being done by service providers.  That being:

“However, in response to DSC's recommendations concerning the terms of reference, service providers undertook investigations, broader service reviews or ‘root cause analysis’.”

This approach must be seriously questioned as one through which the Commissioner abrogates his statutory responsibility to investigate and instead refers matters for investigation by service providers.  It might be added, the very same service providers against whom the complaints had been made.

The writers strongly condemn the failure of the DSC to undertake investigations when clearly they are required, in the sense of where complaints remain unresolved or clearly reconciliation has failed.  The current approach, noting this is now been in vogue every year other than the first year of operation, is in stark contrast as to how the DSC considered investigations in his first year of operation.  Page 21 of the 2008 Annual Report states:

“If at any time during the investigation it appears that the complaint could be resolved through conciliation, the Commissioner must refer the complaint to conciliation.”

By making this statement the Commissioner clearly acknowledges the intent of the Act, that being to investigate first and then determine whether the complaint can be resolved through conciliation.  Also in the 2008 Annual Report, on page 31, the DSC again emphasises the importance of investigations by noting they are conducted in accordance with detailed guidelines which were developed with the assistance of the Victorian Government Solicitor’s office.  It is further noted in the same section on page 31 that:

“Investigations take into account the relationship between service users and service providers, and consider points at which part or all of the complaint could be referred to conciliation.” 

Why then has the Commissioner decided to ignore his mandated responsibility under the Act and instead of using investigations as a means of determining the best approach to resolving complaints ignores the investigative approach?  Furthermore, in so doing, and as noted in Table 1 above, a significant number of complaints remain unresolved in each reporting year.

Despite the writers, on a number of occasions, having raised their concerns with the Commissioner concerning his failure to investigate where clearly investigation would be the best approach, the Commissioner has failed to justify why he ignores the Act and has in effect ignored the query.

  1. Reporting and measuring enquiries and complaints

The entry data that provides the platform for identifying contacts made with the DSC is defined as a composite set of data called – enquiries and complaints.  These figures are then separated into enquiries only and complaints only and then further divided into those that are what is called ‘in-scope’ and those that are not.  Table 2 below details the total number of enquiries and the total number of complaints for each of the reporting years, as well as the in-scope complaints. 

While the writers acknowledge that significant traffic is directed to the Commissioner’s office on an annual basis and that enquiries, as well as complaints, must be addressed, the reality is that enquiries, whether assessed as being in-scope or not, are simply that, ‘enquiries’.  Thus, despite the various responsibilities imposed on the Commissioner through the Act and as detailed under Section 16 (c), (e), (i), (j), (m) and (q) the core business of the DSC is that of dealing with, and resolving complaints.  

The core business of complaints is highlighted in section 16 (a) of the Disability Act, which identifies the principal function of the DSC as being to “investigate complaints relating to disability services”.   Additionally, there are a further 11 functions included under clause 16 that relate to complaints is some way.  Therefore, of the total of the 17 functions imposed on the DSC through the Act a total of 12 relate to complaints.  Of the remaining five, three relate to the Disability Services Board, one relates to the Minister or Secretary and one is “other functions specified” in the Act.  Therefore, no matter what argument may be promoted to suggest the DSC has a wide brief, dealing with complaints represents its core business.

Table 2:    

Separating Enquiries, Complaints and In-scope Complaints

Annual Report

Total No: Enquiries & Complaints

Total No: Enquiries

Total No: Complaints

In-scope Complaints

   311

   178

  90

   421

   281

115

   571

   440

   682

   511

   832

   666

   908

   705

Analysis

The DSC in each of the Annual Reports incorporates both enquiries and complaints under the one heading and many of the graphics also combine these two, although in some instances they are separated.  This is not only confusing but has the potential to be misleading. 

Surely, enquiries are just that: a person enquires, an answer is given, or a referral made, or advice about where information can be obtained is provided.  On the other hand, a complaint is also just that, and it is on the basis of the complaint the DSC makes a determination as to whether individual complaints are in-scope or not.  The question therefore arises as to why the DSC persists in amalgamating the two categories, when clearly this can be avoided.  Therefore, it might be asked whether the amalgamation of the figures seeks to convey a sense of the amount of traffic handled by the DSC.  Or, it might also be seen as an attempt to give an inflated sense of the number of actual in-scope complaints, by seeking to bury them in the common grouping. 

The writers defy anyone to go to any of the DSC Annual Reports and find, without having to in effect ‘hunt the slipper’, the figure which states the actual number of in-scope complaints – which after all is the foundation of the core business of the DSC.  The propensity of the reports to represents the graphics in percentage terms serves little purpose.  And, in any event, if percentages must be used, then why not also provide the raw figures.  The writers have previously raised this concern with the DSC but their concerns fell on deaf ears.

Again, while acknowledging the amount and variability of the traffic which is directed to the DSC, the DSC has only received on average over the six years, as reported in the annual reports, approximately two in-scope complaints per week, with only the 2013 year increasing to approximately three per week.  These figures becomes illuminating when considered in light of the number of complaints remaining only partially or not resolved, which on average across the six reporting years equates to in excess of 27 per year, with approximately 45 of the 156 in-scope complaints recorded for 2013 remaining unresolved.

Thus, when the unresolved or only partially resolved complaints are considered in light of the total refusal of the DSC to undertake investigations when complaints remain unresolved and conciliation has failed, this is an issue that cannot go unchallenged.

The writers note a submission as made by the DSC to the Australian Law Reform Commission in January 2014 in which it is stated:

Since the establishment of this office some six and a half years ago we are able to provide comments and proposals based on the evidence and knowledge we have gained in responding to over 3,500 matters to date. Victorian disability service providers also readily contribute to our growing body of knowledge by (as provided for in the Victorian Disability Act) reporting each year on the number and types of complaints they received and how they were resolved.  This information is used to identify systemic issues and inform the ongoing development of the disability service system … The following comments and examples have been drawn from the experience gained from over 3,700 enquiries and complaints dealt with by the Disability Services Commissioner (DSC), and 8,400 complaints reported by disability service providers.

The writers submit that the above statement is not only misleading but, whether intended or not, the figures inflate the experience of the DSC beyond the reality of the work undertaken in dealing with actual in-scope complaints.

As already noted further above, in the six reporting years addressed through this paper the DSC only dealt with 739 in-scope complaints.  By using the combined figure of 3,725 enquiries and complaints as indicated above, the writers submit this is misleading in that it seeks to promote the DSC’s expertise and experience in dealing with and resolving actual complaints eventually identified as in-scope complaints.  What the DCS failed to make comment on in their submission is the fact that over the period of the existence of the office the number of complaints actually dealt with has been relatively few.  Further, given that more than 20 per cent of the complaints dealt with were only partially or not resolved, this makes the implied inference of having a wealth of knowledge and expertise in resolving complaints high questionable.

Further, and with reference to the 8,400 complaints to disability service providers, this figure is also misleading.  In essence this is simply a reporting number and one that engages the DSC on a minimal basis only, in that service providers report on the number and type of complaints and the outcome of complaints.  An on-line recording tool is used; consequently providers’ complaints data is fitted into pre-determined categories.  Therefore, by using the figures that have been used the DSC can be said to be distorting the level of their direct involvement in terms of the 8,400 complaints – and hence level of experience - with complaints made to service providers.

Therefore, despite the claims made in the DSC submission to the Law Reform Commission the writers challenge them.  Thus the writers call on the Commissioner to be totally transparent and report all the facts.

In the context of this paper, however, the writers also call on the Commissioner to stop playing games with complainants.  They also call on the Commissioner to stop rationalising his approach, either by suggesting that all complaints have their roots in communication or by referring complaints to be investigated by the very agencies against which the complaints have been made.  Further, they call on the Commissioner to meet his obligations under Section 16 of the Disability Act 2006.

  1. Two critical gaps
  1. Why no reporting on breaches of the Act?

The annual reports categorises the types of enquiries and complaints; for example, service delivery, quality, standards, communication, relationship, service access, policy and procedures. These are generally recorded as percentages of the total of in-scope enquiries and complaints.  While it might be argued the recording against such categories provides useful information, which can then be used to target particular initiatives undertaken by the DSC, the writer's note no details are provided either as to the number of complaints that relate to transgressions of the Act or what might be characterised as a failure of an agency to meet its duty of care.

The Commissioner has been established under the Disability Act 2006 and that Act provides very clear principles in terms of the nature of care and support to be provided to people with a disability.  Further, the Act also provides details concerning such things as planning and support and the provision of information.  The writers therefore express both surprise and concern as to the Commissioner's failure to report against breaches of the Act.

On the matter of duty of care, the writers argue this must be considered as the primary expectation to be met by service providers. They also argue the breach of duty of care can be considered to constitute a breach of the law.  Therefore, it stands to reason that any complaints which relate to the legislation or duty of care should not only be addressed as being of significance, but that the Commissioner should feel obliged to report on such matters in his annual reports.  Not to do so not only suggests that the Commissioner is dismissive of legislative breaches and a failure to meet duty of care, but also, in dealing with complaints of this nature, equally his tendency is to translate them as being related to any of the other categories against which he reports

The writers therefore ask the question – Why does the Commissioner not report against transgressions of the legislation and transgressions of duty of care?  Given the important role the DSC plays in monitoring and resolving complaints in the disability sector the writers submit the first priority must be to consider complaints which breach the legislation or duty of care.

  1. Why no critical analysis?

The annual reports make much of how complaints were resolved and include a particular section to report on this.  It is of concern, however, particularly noting the average is in excess of 27 complaints per year that were partially or not resolved across the total of the six-year reporting period.  Also noting that in the most recent reporting year there were 45 complaints only partially or not resolved, or 29 per cent of the total of 156 in-scope complaints considered by the DSC.  A similar deficit was also recorded for the 2012 reporting year in which 30 per cent or 43 of 140 in-scope complaints were not resolved or only partially resolved.

It is concerning that the DSC not only fails to record partially and fully unresolved complaints as deficits but also fails to provide any critical analysis of such figures.  Instead, the partially resolved complaints are recorded and commented on as though they are part of the success of resolving complaints and are included in the section of the report headed – Key activities, achievements and directions. 

Reporting partially resolved complaints as though partial success translates into full success is akin to the skydiver who plunges to his death albeit his parachute only partially opened.  The current reporting of partially resolved complaints is both misleading and some might say dishonest.  Annual reports should not be used as a marketing tool simply to promote the agency on which they report.

In addition to the above the writers also raise a further significant concern.  They note a new approach taken by the Commissioner in his 2012 and 2013 reports.  They note that in recording the percentage of in-scope complaints recorded as being “resolved” there is an added rider, that is, that this category includes those complaints that were either “fully” resolved or “substantially” resolved.  Added to this there is a further category called “partially resolved” plus another category entitled “not resolved”.

Therefore, this raises three significant questions:

  1. Why does “fully resolved” not record only those matters that have in fact been fully resolved?
  2. What is the distinction between “substantially” and “partially?
  3. How many of the ”substantially”, “partially” and “not resolved” in-scope complaints were either considered as not requiring any further action, or if not, were referred to conciliation?

This information should be recorded in the annual reports. Currently it is not.  Therefore, given the Commissioner’s own brief as stated on the DSC website as being, “to pursue the effective resolution of complaints”, one must ask – What constitutes “effective resolution”?  The writers therefore call on the Commissioner to address the serious flaw of seeking to bury critical information.  The annual reports should report on:

  • The number of in-scope complaints fully resolved – without the riders of “substantially” and “partially”.
  • The number of in-scope complaints not resolved – which is all those not fully resolved.
  • The number of in-scope complaints not resolved which were referred to conciliation.
  • The number of in-scope complaints not resolved which were referred to investigation.
  • The number of in-scope complaints not resolved but for which no further action was considered as being warranted and why not.

Not to report in these categories is to continue to make the DSC annual report an exercise in self-aggrandisement.  

Resolution can take various forms.  It can be a resolution which:

  • Satisfies both the person making the complaint and the service provider, or
  • Satisfies only the complainant, or
  • Satisfies only the service provider, or
  • Satisfies neither the complainant nor the service provider.

The critical issue is that at the only truly acceptable inclusion of complaints in the “resolved” category must only be those that are fully resolved.  By contrast, the “not resolved” category must include all other complaints, whether substantially, partially or not resolved to any degree.  Further, the annual reports must also record those complaints where no further action was considered as being considered warranted along with the reasons as to why.

  1. Concluding comment

Annual Reports can be written and used in various ways.  The assumption should be, however, that the intent of such documents is to ensure that they do convey useful information to the reader, and, even more importantly, the information is transparent and does not seek to impart bias by only promoting the positive achievements of the agency.

Based on the above analysis of the DSC annual reports the writers can only conclude that the reports fail the transparency test.  This being particularly in relation to how the Commissioner records and makes critical analysis on the outcomes of in-scope complaints.  The reports indicate that the Commissioner has also failed the self-analysis test in that he has failed to articulate why, in the face of so many unresolved or only partially resolved complaints, he has failed to undertake investigations.

The writers await with interest the publication of the next DSC annual report.  It can only be hoped that the Commissioner will make the necessary adjustments in order to demonstrate that it will be a document that will truly provide totally transparent information to the reader.  But, of even greater import is that the report will assure the Victorian public, and in particularly those people with disabilities and their families, that the Commissioner and his staff are adhering to their responsibilities as required by the Disability Act.

***************

Appendix 1:

Source of information in Tables in the Paper

Reference Table 1:          

Outcomes of In-scope complaints accepted by the Commissioner

Annual Report

Number of In-scope Complaints

Number of Complaints Referred for

Number of Complaints Referred for Conciliation

Number of Complaints only partially resolved

Number of Complaints not resolved

  90

Not evident

Not evident

  3

Not evident

Not evident

  5

156

93

Notes re source of figures for Table 1:

  • 2008: conciliation and investigation p 30
  • 2009: conciliation and investigation p 22
  • 2010: used figures from 2011 report, p 32 figure 6; 2010 report source for conciliation and investigation p 22
  • 2011: p 32; p 33 for conciliation and investigation
  • 2012: p 21, text under figure 5 and p 22 for conciliation and investigation figures
  • 2013: p 21, text under figure 5, and p 22 for conciliation and investigation figures

Reference Table 2:

            Separating Enquiries, Complaints and In-scope Complaints

Annual Report

Total No: Enquiries & Complaints

Total No: Enquiries

Total No: Complaints

In-scope Complaints

   311

   178

  90

   421

   281

115

   571

   440

   682

   511

   832

   666

   908

   705

Notes re source of figures for in-scope complaints:

2008:  figure of 90 comes from 2009 report, p 22 Figure 4.  There does not appear to be reference in 2008 report about “in scope” complaints. 

2009:  Figure 4 on p 22, Outcomes for in-scope complaints

2010:  used 2011 report, figure 6 on p 32, for “like comparison” as no comparable figure apparent in 2010 report, noting that figure 5 on p 21 of 2010 report is for assessment stage outcomes

2011:  Figure 6 on p 32

2012:  Figure 5 on p 21

2013:  Figure 5 on p 21

Appendix 2

Analysis of complaints made to service providers

for those years only when all providers reported as required by the

Disability Act 2006

Entry Notes:

  • Although the body of this paper is focussed on complaints made directly to the Commissioner, the writers have considered it important, nonetheless, to provide an overview and analysis of those complaints made direct to service providers. 
  • In part the significance of this lies in the way in which these complaints are recorded in the DSC Annual Reports and in part by the Commissioner’s reference to referring some complaints made to him to agencies for investigation by the agency.
  • The following therefore provides the figures as reported in the Annual Reports, and as associated with providers, plus an analysis of these figures.
  • Where appropriate, there has been some extrapolation from the figures. 

Year

2011

2012

2013

Total Number of Providers

301

296

313

Total Complaints Reported

1428

1756

1740

Distribution of complaints

Providers reporting Zero complaints

134 providers (45% of total number

123 providers (42% of total number)

129 providers (41% of total number)

Providers reporting 1+ complaints

167 (55%) providers

173 (58%)providers

184 (59%) providers

A Breakdown of the reported complaints

Providers reporting 1-49 complaints

163 providers reported a combined total of 957 complaints.  This equates to 77% of total number of complaints

169 providers reported a combined total of 1089 complaints.  This equates to 62% of total number of complaints

181 providers reported a combined total of 1089 complaints.  This equates to 65% of total number of complaints

Average number of complaints per provider in the 1 to 49 category

5.87

6.44

6.25

Providers reporting 50+ complaints

4 providers (1.33%) reported a combined total of 471 complaints.  This equates to 33% of total number of complaints

4 providers (1.35%) reported a combined total of 667 complaints.  This equates to 38% of total number of complaints

3 providers (0.96%) reported a combined total of 609 complaints.  This equates to 35% of total number of complaints

Average number of complaints per provider in the 50+ category

118

167

203

Average number of complaints per provider as per Combined DSC Annual Reports

Average

4.7

5.93

5.6

Sources:

  • 2011:  Annual Report, pp 40-41.  Note that 1428 complaints dealt with includes 24 complaints carried over from previous year
  • 2012:  Annual Report, pp 26-27.  Note that 1756 complaints dealt with includes 183 complaints carried over from previous year
  • 2013: Annual Report, pp 24-25.  Note that 1740 complaints dealt with includes 180 complaints carried over from previous years

Analysis:

The concept of averaging:

  • The Commissioner has adopted an averaging approach to reporting on complaints received by providers.  Across the three years this ranges between 4.7 and 5.6 complaints per provider.
  • Given that of the total number of agencies, noting this ranges between 296 and 313 across the three years, and further noting the high number of agencies with 0 complaints, which ranges between 40 and 45 per cent, and 3 to 4 agencies with between 33 and 38 per cent of the complaints, clearly the averaging approach can only be deemed to be manipulative reporting.
  • Thus, while the average figures as provided by the Commissioner are technically correct in terms of the concept of average, nonetheless, they must be deemed on the one hand to be misleading and on the other to be absolutely pointless, in that they provide no reality-based analytical perspective.

Category: Zero complaints:

  • This category across the three years accounts for between 41 and 45 per cent of providers. 
  • Other than making this distinction, there is nothing in the reports, which identify the size or nature or location of the agencies involved, which has the potential to provide indicators as to service delivery.
  • Given the size of this cohort, the writers contend that the identification as per the above point could have significance in terms of analysing whether an agency is so well run it has no complaints or whether its complaints management system requires attention.  Therefore the writers urge the inclusion of such analysis in future reports.  

Category: 1-49 complaints:

  • This category accounts for approximately 55 to 59 per cent of providers.
  • Given the size of this cohort, noting that for the three years it ranges between 167 and 184 providers, the writers argue that to group such a large number of providers in the single category of 1 to 49 complaints is inappropriate and unfair on those agencies at the lower end of the scale. 
  • The significance of the above is that although the category is so wide-ranging the actual average number of complaints per agency within this category ranges between 5.87 and 6.44 across the three reporting years. Clearly, with such a relatively low average, this is meaningless, as it gives no indication as to the spread of complaints across the total of agencies.
  • Given the above, the writers therefore query why the Commissioner has applied such a wide range.  The writers hold the view that a far more appropriate approach to the grouping of complaints would be to use a 1-10, 11-20 and so on grouping.  By adopting this approach the writers further contend that a far more critical analysis could be applied in targeting both the level and management of complaints. 
  • The above point is further noted in the category below.

Category: 50+ complaints

  • There is no analysis of the service providers in this category.  Thus, they could have a “world’s best practice” complaints system which ensures all negative feedback is addressed, and their clients practice that “It’s OK to complain”.  Without such an analysis, the interpretation as to whether their service provision is deficient because of the number of complaints has no basis.
  • This category accounts for around one-third of complaints.  Of itself, because of the significant number of complaints, this demands that there be analysis specifically about these providers.
  • As also noted in the category above, the application of the dichotomy 1-49 and 50+ is argued to distort the spread of complaints across agencies. 
  • Given that the category 50+ only involves 3 agencies in one year and 4 in each of the other two years, then it seems reasonable to suggest that the actual number of complaints per agency should have been recorded. 
  • Associated with the above point, is that when averaged, the number of complaints across the total of the agencies for each of the three years ranges between 118 and 203.  While it could be that each of the agencies in this cohort had about the average, equally it is possible that the average could be distorted by one or two agencies having significantly above the average.  As such, the writers again emphasise the unfairness of this to each of the agencies and the distortion created by such reporting.

Double counting of complaints

  • Of the 3,496 complaints for the 2012 and 2013 years, 10 per cent were “double-counted” in that because they were carried over from previous year they had already been counted for that year.  There were 183 carried over from 2011 to 2012 and 180 were carried over from 2012 to 2013, for a total of 363 for the two years.  No information as related to the carry-over of complaints was provided for in the 2011 report.
  • This double counting not only distorts analysis but of even greater significance it inappropriately inflates the actual number of complaints.

Complaint resolution:

  • The reporting on resolution of complaints incorporates the categories of “mostly/fully” and “partially”.  The combination of these two categories begs the question of what constitutes “mostly”.  From an analytical perspective it seems to reasonable to suggest that by applying the term “mostly” this tends to distort the real number of complaints that were “fully” resolved. 
  • Notwithstanding the above, agency reporting does nonetheless make a distinction between “fully” and “mostly” by reporting the percentages for each.  It is interesting to note that the Commissioner makes no such distinction when reporting on those complaints made directly to the Commission. 
  • Although the agency data reported on those complaints “closed and not resolved” and also identified a percentage as “unknown” there is no analysis provided in relation to the reasons why complaints were closed and not resolved.
  • The 2013 report states, “ … for 97 per cent of complaints some form of positive outcome or resolution was reported”.  Given that only 78 per cent were fully resolved (p 28) this statement is clearly misleading when considered in the context of full resolution, which the writers contend ought to be considered as the significant indicator of success.
  • The 2012 report (p 30) notes that in 2012, 74 per cent of complaints were resolved “fully” and in 2011, 84 percent of complaints were resolved “fully”.  The significance of these figures when considered in concert with the 2013 figures is that around one in five of these complaints is not fully resolved.
  • Apart from the fact that approximately 20 per cent of complaints in any one-year are not fully resolved, it is equally significant to note the Commissioner’s comment as referenced on page 7 above where the Commissioner refers some complaints that are addressed to him to the agencies for investigation by the agency.  Given the figure of 20 per cent of complaints are not fully resolved by the agencies, apart from the inappropriateness of the referral by the Commissioner, there is also the issue of whether particular agencies have the ability to investigate complaints to the degree where they can be fully resolved.

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