7.1 Channels of communication
Surveyed customers have interacted with local authority building standards using a variety of channels. Telephone and email communications remain the most popular forms, together accounting for three fifths of responses. Letters have increased in preference to 17% (13% in 2017) whilst on-site visits have decreased from 17% in 2017 to 11% this year (Figure 23). These results are almost identical to the findings
from 2016 and 2017 (on-site visits have returned behind hard-copy letters, after experience a first-time preference over hard-copy letters in 2017).
On average, customers reported using 2.8 channels of communication and the proportional mix is very similar between applicants and agents.
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 or architect. 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 7.6 and 7.9 out of 10, demonstrating an increase on 2017 figures between 7.4 and 7.8 (Figure 24).
Figure 24 Quality of written information and documentation
7.3 Electronic communications
More than three quarters of customers (79%) reported having visited the building standards section of their local authority's website, matching 2017 response levels. Instances of visiting the website are higher among surveyed agents (91%) than direct applicants (72%), although the gap has narrowed by 2% since 2017 (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.
Almost three quarters (71%) are satisfied with email communications - a slight increase of 1% from 2017. Just under two thirds (65%) are satisfied with the local authority's website - a slight rise from 63% in 2017.
As has historically been the case, the base number of respondents rating their satisfaction with SMS/text message and e-newsletter communications is less than 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 311 responses, the main themes echo those raised over the past four 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, three respondents suggested a frequently asked questions capability would be of value.
"The council's website is poor and seems to be designed to deflect any queries away from the building standards department, so much so that there are no contact details provided on the website. This could be a great resource with answers to frequently asked questions, but it's not."
"Emails are OK, but very slow. I think that depending on email is dangerous. There has to be an option for verbal communication."
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 report to suggest it is not increasing efficiency in the application process.
"All communication is now meant to go through the e-standards site, which means quick e-mail queries seem not to be allowable anymore."
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;
- Provide 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;
- Provide simplified and more prescriptive guidance to support non-professionals involved in the process;
- Improving navigability and functionality of the website to ensure it is more user-friendly;
- Using clearer (plain) English in written documents.
"A step by step guide would be very helpful for the nonprofessional. Giving each step to be followed."
"I think it could be more helpful in outlining how to communicate the reaching of the Key Construction Stages within the CCNP document. For example, the wording of the email and email title required would both make things easier to manage each application by the council and make it clear how this was to be reported by the applicant."
"It could improve my starting to communicate in the first place. It should not set unrealistic deadlines and should keep customers appraised of issues or delays. It should also have an element of consistency as to who is dealing with a case and should make individual officers details more accessible."
"The main problem appears to be staffing and workload, with officers being slow to respond. But once they are engaged, the communication is usually quite efficient."
"Turnaround needs to be quicker and enforcement is a must, many competitors do not stick to warrant approval and many builders do not understand their legal responsibility when carrying out work without warrant approval. I have been inundated with works which have been carried out without approval and do not meet current requirements."