Covid-19: Delivering our Service
Six months ago all our lives were very, very different.
Looking back to 1 January none of us could have foreseen how a pandemic could have altered our lives so dramatically to the point of lockdown. While it has been challenging for everyone responding to this pandemic, it has brought out the best in all of us as we adapt to different ways of working.
Doing work remotely
At SCOAF, we took the decision to keep our office open to provide minimal disruption to our service: continuing to accept new applications for referral and investigation. A remote working plan was created to safeguard the health and wellbeing of staff and ensure the tools and support were available to remain productive and stay connected while we worked remotely. This included:
- daily check-ins to ensure a work and home life balance
- regular phone and video calls with the team about work-related matters
- flexible working schedules to assist staff with home learning and caring responsibilities
Despite our best efforts, it was impossible to predict the long-term effect COVID-19 would have on our workflow and output. As the pandemic progressed, SCOAF received a surge in enquiries and applications of all types.
On the whole, the operational arm of our business has managed to maintain the same standard and level of output as pre-pandemic.
That is not to say SCOAF investigators have not encountered challenges, because they have. What they have done is to try and find ways to manage those challenges. This may be though increased use of phone conversations rather than email with both the particular Service and Complainant. We are constantly aware of the challenges that both the Services and complainants were facing as they too were working remotely and providing sufficient time for all parties to respond.
The need for hard copy files – while technology allows us to do so much there are still size limitations on data that can be sent and received electronically at any one time. This means some Service files have to be sent by alternative means and in accordance with GDPR guidelines. Working remotely has impacted on this process and there has been some delay in receiving files, which has resulted in us having to make difficult decisions and undertake some investigations slightly out of order. We hope now restrictions are gradually easing this issue will be resolved.
Combined with the increased demand, one of our investigators left SCOAF to take on another position and we are due to lose another at the end of this month. This means that the team are operating at a reduced capacity, which is not the situation that we expected to be in, and the pandemic has not helped this. However, our aim to recruit into this vacant post is uppermost on our list of priorities.
As an office which has the power to investigate undue delay we certainly do not wish to have our own delay. We have been very candid about this and while our backlog has reduced significantly there is still work to be done. We can assure you that any application made to this office will always be investigated thoroughly, without fear or favour. That being said we apologise for any delay experienced waiting for applications to be investigated. We understand the frustration and concerns – on both sides – about the delivery of our service against our strategic goal to have access to a system that is efficient, effective and fair. We acknowledge this delay is not acceptable in our office or the Service complaints system as a whole. However, the team are doing everything they can to reduce the delay, and we appreciate your patience while we try to resolve this. We will continue to keep you informed with regular monthly updates on applications in the queue, including a revised timetable for the allocation of an investigator, the reason for the delay and subsequent completion of any investigation.
If you are thinking about making an application to our office, please do not allow the delay to put you off. Failure to make an application could see you lose your right to an Ombudsman investigation for your particular complaint.
Please note there is no delay to Ombudsman applications for referral, undue delay or admissibility decisions.
SCOAF is a learning organisation and we will look and learn from this experience to ensure improvements can be made if we find ourselves in this situation again.
Returning to the workplace
Last week, the government announced that the official guidance advising people to work remotely will be relaxed and has encouraged workers to return to the office if it is safe to do so. For us at SCOAF, the safety of our staff is important and we are looking at what measures need to be implemented so that staff can return to work safely to prevent the spread of the virus.
For the time being our staff will continue to work remotely to manage the risk, but will have limited access to the office until we gradually return later in the year. This means that:
- Our phone line will continue to operate as normal, but the Enquiries and Referrals Team cannot answer the phone. They can receive messages so please leave a voicemail and they will call you back. We aim to respond to all messages within 2 working days.
- Applications and supporting documents should still not be sent to us in the post if possible, as there may be a delay in processing this information. If you need to send in information, it should be sent directly to the investigator handling your complaint, or our contact mailbox: email@example.com.
Over the next few months, we will continue to keep you updated on any procedural changes that we make. Be assured that we continue to be committed to delivering a high-quality professional service which is both responsive and efficient.
In the meantime, if you need support there are many charities and organisations available, please see our useful links and contacts, or if you need assistance with anything else, read our page on frequently answered questions.