7.1 Channels of communication
Surveyed customers have interacted with local authority building standards using a variety of channels. Telephone and email communications are the most popular forms (together accounting for 62% of responses) followed by hard-copy letters and on-site visits (Figure 23). These results are almost identical to the findings from 2018.
On average, customers reported using 2.6 channels of communication and the proportional mix is broadly similar between applicants and agents, although direct applicants are more likely to interact via an on-site visit (20%) compared to agents (13%).
Figure 23 Channels of interaction
The 1% of responses classified as ‘other’ primarily stem from direct applicants interacting with the building standards service via an agent, architect or builder. Both agents and direct applicants using the e-portal and attending meetings were also stated.
7.2 Written information and documentation
On a scale from 1 ‘very poor’ to 10 ‘very good’, customers were asked to rate different aspects of the written information and documentation they received from their local authority.
The resulting average ratings fall between 7.7 and 8.1 out of 10, demonstrating an increase on figures of between 7.6 and 7.9 in 2018 and between 7.4 and 7.8 in 2017 (Figure 24).
Figure 24 Quality of written information and documentation
7.3 Electronic communications
Just under three quarters of customers (74%) reported having visited the building standards section of their local authority’s website. This is a decrease from 79% in 2018. Instances of visiting the website are higher among surveyed agents (84%) than direct applicants (70%), although the gap has narrowed by 4% since 2018 – Figure 25.
Figure 25 Whether visited the building standards section of the local authority website
Customers were asked to rate their satisfaction with specific forms of electronic communication made available by their local authority building standards service.
Three quarters (75%) are satisfied with email communications – an increase of 4% from 2018. Two thirds (66%) are satisfied with the local authority’s website – a slight rise from 65% in 2018.
The base number of respondents rating their satisfaction with SMS/text message and e-newsletter communications is about half that of other forms, indicating that these methods of communication are not as widespread (Figure 26).
Figure 26 Satisfaction with electronic communications
Customers stating ‘very/fairly dissatisfied
Respondents stating ‘fairly dissatisfied’ or ‘very dissatisfied’ with respect to at least one of the above forms of electronic communication were asked to give their reasons.
Based on 326 responses, the main themes echo those raised over the past five years. In particular:
- Emails are not always answered, or the speed of response is slow;
- Websites are confusingly laid out and unintuitive, making it difficult to find the information needed, and some information is significantly out of date.
“The website is poor, difficult to navigate and it’s difficult to find what you are looking for.”
“I did not receive a prompt response to my email about arranging inspection visit and had to chase it up by phone.”
There were very few reasons provided by customers dissatisfied with SMS/text message and e-newsletter communications. Most seemed unaware that communications might be available through these channels.
7.4 E-building standards
Whilst a direct question was not asked on the topic of e-building standards, there has been some feedback consistent with the 2017 and 2018 reports.
The small number of customers commenting on the e-building standards portal note that it could be altered so as to be simpler and more intuitive to use, and that accompanying guidance would be beneficial. Some suggest that the portal could be extended to automatically include all correspondence related to an application.
7.5 Improving communications in the future
Customers were asked in what ways the local authority building standards service could improve its overall communications in the future. The main suggestions include:
- Returning phone calls and emails more efficiently and timeously, with many respondents suggesting this is non-existent;
- Improving response times on applications, or providing a more realistic timescale at the outset;
- Providing a capability to effectively track applications and responses;
- Being more proactive, customer oriented and commercially aware;
- Employing more staff;
- Ensuring greater consistency and clarity in the knowledge and quality of service from all staff, within and between local authorities;
- Improving navigability and functionality of the website to ensure it is more user-friendly;
- Using clearer (plain) English in written documents;
- Providing clearer and more specific instructions for the actions that applicants need to take;
- Providing relevant and up-to-date information, especially online.
“Overhaul the language and covering letter for the building warrant as it's confusing and unhelpful - a contrast to the help and friendliness of the actual staff working at the council. Plain English is needed with a step by step guide for applicants/recipients, including how to apply for a completion certification (there is nothing on this in the warrant that was sent to me).”
“It would be very helpful if reports stated specifically what information the officer was looking to be provided … rather than quoting the regulation.”
“Respond or provide acknowledgement of receipt of emails in a timely manner.”
“Provide a better website and explain conditions put on developments more clearly. Also, when quoting clauses from standards the current standard should be used. In one case a standard from 2000 was quoted and the latest standard was revised in 2016.”