A NUMBER of central Victorian councils could only provide limited or inaccurate data on the number of complaints they received last year, a new report has revealed.
Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass surveyed all 79 Victorian councils, asking them how to define complaints and how many complaints they received in 2018.
Ms Glass found many Victorian councils were either understating the number of complaints they received or were unable to provide figures all together.
"Far too many councils still adopt a narrow definition of complaint or interpret it narrowly in practice," Ms Glass said.
"This matters. Not only is it impossible to compare the councils, those who understate the level of public dissatisfaction may well be failing to deal with it."
The City of Greater Bendigo told the Ombudsman there were 485 complaints made to the council in 2018, along with 40,858 requests for service.
But the council advised the Ombudsman those figures may not be accurate or reliable.
The City of Greater Bendigo said it regularly analyses complaints to identify trends and areas for improvement as part of it a quarterly "health-check".
The council said it does not make its complaints data public.
The Central Goldfields could not provide the number of complaints it received last year to the Ombudsman, but said they received 799 requests for service.
The council told the Ombudsman they were "unable to accurately calculate the number of complaints received due to inadequate systems".
The Buloke Shire Council also did not provide complaint numbers, although there were 1,740 requests for service.
The shire's chief executive Anthony Judd said the council had been transitioning to a new information technology solution for the capture and tracking of service requests.
"Between the new and old systems, there is some difficulty in extracting reports on what is a request, like fixing a pot hole, and a complaint, like a bin being missed in a collection run," Mr Judd said.
"Council will look to rectify this over coming months.
"Council has made the commitment in this year's Annual Plan to develop a new complaints handling policy and process and see a real opportunity to improve our level of service in this area."
The Mount Alexander Shire Council also received 132 complaints in 2018 and 9,736 requests for service. The council advised that it does not make its complaints data public.
Campaspe Shire Council also received 735 complaints in 2018 with 29,731 requests for service.
The council told the Ombudsman missing bin reports were classified as complaints in its request management system from 2018.
"This would have significant contribution to the number of complaints registered," the council spokesperson said.
While the Campaspe Shire does not have a complaints handling policy, the council's chief executive Ray Burton said there would be changes in the coming years.
"Council has adopted a four-step framework for dealing with complaints in line with the Victorian Ombudsman best practice guidelines," Mr Burton said.
"Over the coming year further work is planned in this area, to develop a policy, refine reporting and systems as well as train staff."
The Loddon Shire Council told the Ombudsman it received 65 complaints in 2018 with 10,419 requests for service.
The council said it does not currently make its complaints data public but that it was looking to do so through its new Customer Service Strategy.
"The Customer Service Strategy Action Plan is aspirational," a spokesperson said.
"It is hoped that over time we will be able to capture and analyse the right data to enable better identification of improvement opportunities for the future."
Gannawarra Shire Council told the Ombudsman they received only two complaints in 2018, but received 1,025 requests for service.
The council said it has a complaint handling policy available on the council website and that it makes its complaints data public in its annual report.
Ms Glass said one of the main causes of complaints about councils to the Ombudsman office was the way councils dealt with complaints
"All too often complaints are seen as a nuisance, or provoke a defensive, unhelpful, bureaucratic response," Ms Glass said.
"Complaints are actually a good thing - they are free feedback.
"Capturing them as complaints allows councils to consider what may be needed to address systemic patterns of dissatisfaction that may emerge, to improve their service to their communities."
The full report is available to read at: ombudsman.vic.gov.au/Publications/Parliamentary-Reports/Revisiting-councils-and-complaints
Have you signed up to the Bendigo Advertiser's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in central Victoria.