7.1 Channels of communication
Surveyed customers have interacted with local authority verifier building standards using a variety of channels. Telephone and email communications are the most popular forms (together accounting for 68% of responses) followed by hard-copy letters and on-site visits (Figure 23). These results are similar to previous years, although email has become slightly more popular.
On average, customers reported using 2.3 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 (17%) compared to agents (12%).
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, pre-Covid-19, were also stated. Due to Covid-19, agents and applicants also used online video conferencing platforms that replaced sites visits and inspections. The most popular platform cited for these purposes was Microsoft Teams.
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 verifier.
The resulting average ratings fall between 7.8 and 8.2 out of 10, demonstrating a continued increase on figures of between 7.7 and 8.1 in 2019 and between 7.6 and 7.9 in 2018 (Figure 24).
7.3 Electronic communications
Just under three quarters of customers (74%) reported having visited the building standards section of their local authority verifier’s website. This is the same level as in 2019. Instances of visiting the website are higher among surveyed agents (85%) than direct applicants (71%) and again this is similar to 2019 – Figure 25.
Customers were asked to rate their satisfaction with specific forms of electronic communication made available by their local authority verifier building standards service.
Just under three quarters (73%) are satisfied with email communications – a decrease of 2% from 2019. Around two thirds (63%) are satisfied with the local authority verifier’s website – a slight fall from 66% in 2019.
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).
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 336 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.
“Email is not the preferred or respected method of communication with the Council. In addition, the Council’s website and links in their emails/letters do not lead to the correct website locations, such as when clicking on links to download approved documents. The approved documents section of the Council’s website has been saying that it is updating/moving/changing for months. The approved document section of the website could be better.”
“Email communications were slow and provided incorrect information.”
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. Some respondents received emails stating staff are working from home due to the Covid-19 pandemic and can therefore accept that there will be delays, however some are left waiting months for a response.
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 reports in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
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 verifier 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.
Respondents did acknowledge that responses to emails and phone calls may have been delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic and were generally accepting of this. A number of respondents stated that they would prefer to meet with someone face to face to discuss their application and building process rather than rely on online or telephone communications.
“Be more accurate with emails. I was asked to confirm that I had supplied information as requested on the email, by phone call to a telephone number on the email. I called the number only to be told that the number was only for reporting dangerous buildings.”
“A tracker to show when officers are engaging with information and a step by step progress bar for those unfamiliar with the processes.”
“Easier access to BC officers i.e. by telephone and quicker email responses to queries pre/post submission. Online application form is a pain - particularly attaching documents which are done one by one. This takes ages and can time out in areas where the internet is poor.”
“Clear flow diagram / layout of what needs to happen when, in each process with plain English used.”