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Council complaints: Ombudsman’s report reveals huge discrepancies between councils

A new Victorian Ombudsman report suggests that some councils may be fudging the books when it comes to the number of complaints they receive.

The report, which examined complaints in 79 councils across the state, revealed huge discrepancies in what councils define as a ‘complaint’.

Ombudsman Deborah Glass said there is no common definition.

“Let’s say your bin has been missed … You ring up the council, you’re pretty grumpy, you’re complaining about a missed bin,” she told 3AW’s Neil Mitchell.

“Only about 30 per cent of councils in Victoria actually treat that as a complaint. The rest of them say it’s a request for service!”

The differing definitions have lead to huge variations in the number of complaints a council reports receiving.

“Melbourne City Council recorded 88 complaints last year. They recorded 295,000 requests for service,” Ms Glass said.

“Ararat Council recorded over 1000 complaints.

“Some councils couldn’t even tell us how many complaints they’ve got!”

The Ombudsman has recommended a common definition of a complaint be included in the Local Government Act, and Minister for Local Government, Adem Somyurek, has accepted the suggestion.

A common definition is expected to be included in the act before the end of the year.

Ms Glass urged councils not to consider complaints as a bad thing.

“The danger here is that those councils, who understated the amount of public dissatisfaction in their communities, are at risk of failing to deal with it,” she said.

“Complaints are important. They are free feedback, they are a way of telling councils what they think of their service and helping them to improve it.

“All too often councils come up with a bureaucratic or defensive response, and what that does is fuel the initial grievance, and makes people feel even grumpier.”

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