5. Timeliness and Keeping Customers Informed
Just under three in five customers (58%) are satisfied with the timeliness of various aspects of the service they received, which is a slight decrease from 60% in 2019.
Among the 16% of dissatisfied customers, most criticism relates to ‘processing the application and granting a building warrant’ (Figure 8).
In a change to previous years, agents responding to the survey are more satisfied than direct applicants with respect to the timeliness of various aspects of the service. Agents are more satisfied than direct applicants with most aspects, although applicants are more satisfied with the timeliness of ‘Response to telephone enquiries’ and ‘Responding to a request for a site visit’.
The 2020 breakdowns by applicants and agent are shown in Figures 9 and 10, below.
5.2 Keeping customers informed
Just over three in five surveyed customers (61%) are satisfied with the way they were kept informed about the progress of their application or submission. This is the same proportion as in 2019. One in five customers (20%) are not satisfied and this is highest among applicants (Figure 11). This is a continued improvement on the 32% not satisfied in 2017, 27% not satisfied in 2018, and 22% not satisfied in 2019.
Among respondents stating ‘fairly dissatisfied’ or ‘very dissatisfied’, 479 provided supporting reasons. These customers primarily gave examples relating to communication, either in the initiation of communications or responsiveness. This was consistent between agents and applicants.
The main reported issues include slow, inadequate, and sometimes unhelpful communications, with limited interaction, transparency and guidance from local authorities on progress. Customer perceptions were that resource mismanagement and a lack of resources were the main causes of issues. Staff absence, Covid-19, and the e-portal are cited as common responses from local authorities to justify delays.
“The only way to contact [the] council is via “The Portal”. This allows the inspectors to hide behind the system and not engage with their customers. When I did get an email address for one of the inspectors, he just referred me back to “The Portal””.
“One of my Warrants was 'in limbo' for weeks, and I was informed that was due to a staff shortfall. The officer replied to phone calls, but that did not speed up the process. Not his fault, if there is more work than staff.”
“A complete refusal to use language that could be understood and when clarification was asked for, exactly the same language and wording was used. If fact when I informed them I did not understand, I was told they were being clear enough.”
“All deadlines quoted to us were missed by the planning team. Emails were not responded to. We were eventually told that a member of staff who had been handling our case had been placed on long-term sick, but no one appeared to pick up his work until we started to complain about it, causing extensive delays to the application process.”
“I had no updates whatsoever and when I tried to contact them to enquire about what stage my application was at, they were most unhelpful and very rude on the phone.”
“I had to constantly chase the application. I kept getting told that there were multiple databases where the form might be and that they were all being searched. I was also told several times to expect a call back within 24 hours, though it never happened on any occasion. I would be given timescales via telephone that were never met. Ultimately, the building warrant copy couldn't be found by the council, but they took my application fee anyway. Not the sign of a great organisation.”