Adjudicator’s Office Business Plan September 2021 to March 2024

Adjudicator’s Office business plan September 2021 to March 2024

The Adjudicator’s foreword

The Adjudicator, Helen Megarry

The Adjudicator’s Office is a public body that investigates complaints against Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the Valuation Office Agency (VOA). We also provide a review of complaints brought to us under the Home Office’s Windrush Compensation Scheme.

My office is funded by our stakeholders, but our independence is reflected in the service level agreements we have with each stakeholder organisation. My fundamental aim is to ensure fair outcomes for the people who use our service. To do that we are, and must always remain, independent. However, this does not prevent us from working closely with HMRC, VOA and the Home Office. In doing so we improve customer service for everyone.

Our core role is to make fair and reasonable decisions on the complaints that are brought to us. I also believe that we can and must go further. Our role is to challenge our stakeholders by helping them to improve their complaint and customer service. To do that we need a robust business model. This document sets out what we have done to date and where we see our priorities in the next three years. In common with other organisations, our approach is based on mitigating risks we face, seeing and grasping opportunities to improve, both for us and the departments we work with.

We have broken the plan down into three annual reviews. Each year we will measure our success against our corporate aims as part of our Annual Report when we will also introduce our next year’s corporate aims.

Our plans to date

My office has undertaken a significant transformation programme in the last three years:

Improved engagement with our stakeholders

  • in partnership with HMRC and VOA, we belong to a cross department Complaints Insight Board. This is an opportunity to share learning at a senior level and ensure that customer service improvement is at the forefront of policy, planning and application

  • built relationships with our stakeholders at all levels, from executive level to complaint handlers within the Adjudicator’s Office and their departmental counterparts in HMRC, VOA and the Home Office

  • we continue to input into the Ombudsman Association’s activities and liaise with the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) on issues of good customer practice

Revitalised our governance and project work

We have significantly improved our governance structures. All our project work and business as usual operations have been revisited to ensure that we meet our business plan and corporate aims efficiently and with clear beneficial outcomes. Our current project work includes:

  • Learning from complaints
  • Learning and development

  • Digital tools and technology

  • Migration to regional centres

  • Wellbeing, diversity and inclusion

  • Operational forecasting

  • Quality assurance

We made a conscious decision to involve as many people as possible from within the Adjudicator’s Office to take part in our project and business as usual activities, guided by the senior leadership team. This is to meet our ongoing aspiration to be a learning organisation where development of our people is at the heart of everything we do.

Learning from complaints

A key strand of our offer to both our stakeholders and customers is our learning from complaints work. We have had significant impact already. In the last year, HMRC has demonstrated that it has listened to us as we raised concerns in key areas:

  • High Income Child Benefit Charge
  • Universal Credit/Tax Credits
  • NHS widening access training scheme (WATS)

We have seen HMRC, at our instigation, undertake comprehensive reviews in these key areas to learn from mistakes in the implementation of policy. We have stressed the need to move quickly on issues we see and to learn lessons when things go wrong. The Complaints Insight Board has ensured that issues remain live until they are resolved. We are confident that our stakeholders are seeing the value of the learning that can be derived from complaints. But of course, as actions and activities improve, our role is to continually raise the bar to the benefit of our mutual customers. We will be consulting with our stakeholders in the coming months to reset our learning from complaints offer for the next three years.

In specific terms we will:

  • develop a sophisticated but easy to use system of categorising the learning from the complaints that we see – this will drive improvements in complaint handling

  • work closely with HMRC, the VOA and the Home Office to ensure that engagement is strong at all levels

  • continue to challenge our stakeholders by producing high quality actionable decisions

Our Vision

Our Vision underpins all that we do and falls into three key areas. By grounding our activities under Our Vision, we will be able to improve the service our customers and our stakeholders’ customers receive.

Our Vision is delivered when:

  • our complaint handling is trusted as fair
  • we are responsive to customer needs
  • insight from complaints improves services for customers

This last year, in common with most people, businesses and organisations, has been challenging.
As a sense of normality starts to slowly return, we look forward to implementing the activities we have set out in our business plan.

Helen Megarry

Our business plan objectives 2021 to 2024

Head of Office, Mike McMahon

Realising our business plan and Vision

As with our previous business plan our objectives focus on four key themes:

  • Our people

  • Our customers

  • Our organisation

  • Learning from complaints

In everything that we do over the next three years, these themes will be at the front of our thinking.

Our people

We want our people to feel supported to do what is a challenging job. Every one of us at the Adjudicator’s Office contributes to our success. Over the next three years we will be providing ongoing leadership training for our managers to equip them with the tools to develop their teams. There is a fundamental risk that by not supporting our people, we are not able to achieve what is an ambitious agenda. But more than that, we want everyone to feel valued and able to be themselves.

We will be using a strengths-based assessment tool as the vehicle for our staff development. This tool will emphasise what we are good at and how we can use strengths to compensate in areas we find more difficult. All our people will complete an assessment that will form the basis for development discussions. We have and will continue to invest in ensuring our manager group are accredited practitioners, able to support ongoing development discussions.

We have also set up a dedicated learning and development project group to set the strategic direction in this important area.

As our interventions take effect, we hope to see the success of our initiatives through improvements in the quality of our work and engagement from our people. The annual Civil Service people survey and more regular engagement surveys will tell us how we are doing.

We pride ourselves on having a diverse workforce where everyone is valued, and we want all our people to feel that they have fair and equal access to opportunities. In the next three years we will continue to evolve our wellbeing, diversity and inclusion plan and we will measure our success through our people surveys.

The quality of the work we produce is crucial to the success of the organisation. We are undertaking a systematic review of our approach to quality assurance to ensure that the data we produce is accurate and the decisions we make are of high quality. During the period of this business plan, we will continue to ensure that our quality assurance is fit for purpose, proportionate and adapts to a changing landscape. We will be asking our stakeholders to reflect on what they think of the work that we do.

Our customers

We have two customer groups, the people who bring complaints to us and the departments against whom complaints are made. Our overarching aim is to ensure that the service provided to complainants is fair and reasonable.

We are not customer advocates, but a key priority over the next three years is to ensure that we listen to what people tell us and there are the mechanisms in place to do that. Every interaction is an opportunity for us to learn and when people complain about the service we have provided, we need to understand why.

In the last two years our relationships with our stakeholders have improved significantly and we will build on that. Working closely with HMRC, VOA and the Home Office, we can address issues that affect groups of people whether or not they have complained to us. This does not impact on our independence – we will guard that closely. Our aim is to improve customer service and complaint handling at every opportunity.

We will also work with PHSO and the Ombudsman Association to share and understand issues of commonality and best practice.

Our organisation

Over the last three years we have made significant progress in developing digital tools to support our work. The pandemic added pace to those activities, and we were able to ensure all our people could work at home without impacting our service.

In recent years we have mitigated the risk of not having the infrastructure to do our job and this remains an ongoing priority. These activities will continue in the next three years. We have secured funding, in partnership with HMRC, to develop a new case management system. We are confident that this will be ready for use by spring 2022 and we will develop it to improve customer outcomes in the coming years. Similarly, we will be migrating onto a new telephone system which will allow us to continue to recover recorded calls which are relevant to the cases we see. This new system will future-proof our telephone platform for years to come.

We will also embrace smarter ways of working going forward. Working from home will become more common and we will engage with our staff to ensure that we offer flexibility of working patterns where it supports the service we provide.

Finally, ensuring that our casework is completed quickly but to a high standard will remain a key focus in the coming years. We will support our staff and managers to ensure that performance is at an optimal level.

Learning from complaints

Reaching fair outcomes for all our customers is our core function, but our role is more than that. Everything we need to know about good service and complaint handling is in the cases that come to us.

We are also very aware that as a small organisation of just under 60 people, but with a remit over organisations with a headcount in the tens of thousands, it is very important that our work is clearly understood. This is an ongoing issue; remaining relevant. We achieve that through the quality of the work we produce and the insight we provide.

We have worked hard in recent years building strong relations with the departments to ensure that customers are treated fairly. Over the next three years we will strengthen our offer in this area. We will build a case categorisation approach that allows us to share learning better. We will also ensure that we continue to engage with the complaint teams at all levels. And we will capitalise on the learning we see to improve the skills of our people and develop the conversations we have with HMRC, VOA and the Home Office.

Our corporate aims

To help ensure that our plans are manageable each year, we will produce corporate aims which will enable us to monitor our success on an annual basis. At the end of each year we will report on how we have done. Internally, we will ensure that all aims and objectives, whatever the grade or role, drive toward the same outcome. In doing so we provide consistency of purpose in all that we do.

Adjudicator’s Office corporate aims for the period September 2021 to March 2022

Our people:

we will develop and engage our people to benefit from their experience and potential 

Corporate aim Measure
1. We will develop and deliver a learning and development programme to improve the skills of all our people. We will support our managers to develop strong coaching and development skills. We will see the benefit of that through improved feedback in the annual Civil Service people survey and by regular small-scale surveys, measured over two years.
All staff will complete a strengths assessment which will underpin our development conversations.
2. Our diversity, wellbeing and inclusion plans will ensure all our people feel supported and valued. We will measure the success of our activities through regular surveys of our people and through improved engagement scores as part of the annual people survey.
3. To build and develop an engaged organisation through inclusive and proportionate communications. We will measure the success of our activities through regular surveys of our people and through improved engagement scores as part of the annual people survey, linking outputs to our plans.
4. We will enhance our quality assurance process that highlights both areas of development and strength. We will benchmark quality results and track improvements over two years.

Our customers:

we will improve the service we give our customers

Corporate aim Measure
1. We will ensure that our customers feel heard when they raise concerns about our service. We will monitor all Subject Access Requests (SAR), Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, post recommendation reviews and service complaints. Using categorisation techniques, we will report our findings annually on areas we could improve.
2. We will work with customer groups to support strong customer service. We will work closely with organisations such as the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) and the Ombudsman Association on areas of common interest. We will support the HMRC charter and complaints strategy and help HMRC implement PHSO complaint standards.
3. We will establish strong working relationships with and engage fully with all internal and external customers and stakeholders. We will work closely with HMRC/VOA/Home Office to provide quality business data and support our independent business management functions.
4. We will reduce the number of complaints that come to us prematurely. We will promote good signposting to reduce the number of premature complaints we see and provide data to help the departments understand why people come to us prematurely.

Our organisation:

we will transform the way we work, responding to the needs of our customers in order to become a more efficient and accountable organisation   

Corporate aim Measure
1. We will ensure that our digital platforms are fit for purpose and support easy access for our customers and usability for our people. We will support implementation of our new case management and telephony systems.
2. We will learn from the Coronavirus (COVID‑19) pandemic and ensure that the positives of a flexible approach to work are maintained while ensuring our culture remains strong. We will work with staff to understand their needs. We will offer greater flexibility of working patterns and we will track performance to ensure our business needs are met and enhanced.
3. We will operate efficiently, balancing strong performance and cost effectiveness. We will adhere to our timeliness standards and ensure cases are progressed quickly and to a high standard. We will set clear performance measures for our people, taking account of complexity of casework and where people are adding value elsewhere.
We will also benchmark quality standards and report on adherence to those standards in a consistent way. For our business management team we will set strong performance standards to ensure delivery of quality outputs to support the business. We will recruit to meet need, balancing that against efficient use of resources.

Learning from complaints:

we will use our insight and expertise to help our stakeholders learn from complaints to improve services to customers

Corporate aim Measure
1. We will build strong working relations with our stakeholders. We will ask our stakeholders and customers what they need from us as an independent complaints body and build this feedback into our plans. We will regularly ask for feedback on the success of our activities in improving customer service.
2. We will share insight in the best way possible. We will provide robust, actionable information for our stakeholders to help them improve their customer service and complaint handling. And we will set up groups, at all levels and grade, to promote the same.
3. We will create groups that support learning from complaints. We will establish internal structures that ensure learning is understood and shared across the organisation, harnessing our project strands around quality assurance, learning and development and policy decision making.

Our governance structures

To ensure that we meet our annual corporate aims and objectives and drive forward our continued change programme over the next three years, we have revitalised our governance and risk framework.

Our governance is overseen by our senior leadership team (SLT). SLT set the strategic direction and oversee the business as usual and project work. Each project has an SLT owner and (typically) a manager leading a small group of staff with a range of skills to complement the work being undertaken. Each project has clear aims linked to our Vision, business plan, and corporate aims. Regular reviews of the plans are undertaken with project leads reporting into SLT project owners who in turn report direct to the rest of SLT.

How we are organised

The Adjudicator

Helen Megarry

Head of Office

Mike McMahon

Complaints Investigation Manager

Clare Kirby

Business Manager

Mandy Fields

Summary

The Adjudicator’s Office has transformed in the last five years. The tools to do our job well have significantly improved; from better technology to increased focus on the quality of our work. We also have strong relationships with our stakeholders meaning our influence over much larger organisations is significant.

The next three years are an opportunity to build on the achievements to date. By breaking this down into three 12-month periods, we can drive forward Our Vision year on year.

Ultimately, our ambition is to improve customer service in the complaints we deal with and across the organisations we work with.

Maria Flores

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