Learn how to make sure a complaint against Camden Council is properly investigated
Camden Council provide official methods for making complaints, but they are designed to delay, dither, and eventually destroy your will to live. Without knowledge of how to make an effective complaint, it is most likely that you will not ever hear back from Camden’s usual complaint procedure – at least not in any meaningful way.
Indeed, the trick is to bypass the complaints procedure entirely and use methods which we have found to have a much better chance of making your voice heard.
Whilst we have not found any hard and fast way to have a complaint resolved perfectly every time, our approaches are certainly more effective than Camden’s own procedures.
Total read time: 15 minutes.
Step 0: Work out Your Motivation
You cannot hope to achieve anything meaningful from making a complaint if you don’t know what you want to achieve.
Before continuing, it is worth asking yourself what you actually want to gain from making a complaint.
A complaint is usually defined as an ‘expression of dissatisfaction’. However it may be that you also actually want to see some sort of improvement in something Camden is or isn’t doing.
We will examine how to effectively ‘express dissatisfaction’ but with a view to actually getting a problem resolved.
You can see here how to be effective in just expressing dissatisfaction without a view to resolving a problem.
Step 1: Clarify the Complaint(s)
A list of small complaints about particular problems is far more effective than one large complaint about one general problem.(Even if they turn out to be the same thing)
Think and clarify exactly what it is you are dissatisfied about – the more precise a complaint, the better the chance you will have of success.
It may be that you want to make a complaint about a general problem in Camden that you have experienced. Unfortunately no officer will be able to investigate ‘general’ complaints of this kind, but ‘particular’ complaints are easy to investigate.
This can be frustrating as it is usually the ‘general’ problems that people want to complain about. We will detail later on how to tackle these sorts of wider issues.
To give an example, it may be the case that you are dissatisfied with the levels of street cleanliness in your neighbourhood. There may be a systematic problem where for some reason the streets are always dirty.
Rather than complain along the lines of ‘my whole neighbourhood is always filthy’ you should gather photos and detail exactly how a particular road is falling below an acceptable standard. Clarify exactly what it is causing the lack of cleanliness – old leaves, litter, or bin bags? Are bins overflowing, or do you need more bins? Is it people smoking and leaving fag-ends on the floor?
If you begin to deconstruct a general problem in this way and attack each thing individually, you are much more likely to have some success.
It is a rather bizarre phenomenon with Camden that if you tell a department they’re doing everything wrong they will shrug their shoulders, but if you give them a list of everything which they are doing wrong (which just so happens to be everything they are supposed to be doing) they will often eagerly get to work on resolving each individual issue.
You should also think of things from the point of view of someone receiving your complaint. If you make a general complaint about a service there is not much that an officer can do except say that they will try to improve everything – but they are not even particularly sure what you are dissatisfied with (and surely they can’t be doing everything wrong?). If an officer receives a precise list of things which need attention they can at least look into each individual issue. Often if the problems span multiple departments or offices each problem will be delegated to different officials. It is much more efficient to have things done this way than to make a general complaint.
Step 2: Find who to Contact
Making a successful complaint is about communicating in the right way to the right person at the right time.Finding the right person is the important part.
If you make a formal complaint through the online form, in principle a complaints officer will find out which officer(s) to send it to and simply pass it on to them. A complaints officer generally acts as a middle man.
However the complaints officer doesn’t necessarily know who to send it to, and what’s more we have found that sometimes officers simply don’t bother to respond.
It is instead best to completely bypass the online form and find out exactly who to contact about your complaint.
The difficult part is working out who to complain to.
This is where councillors come in handy. Councillors (usually) have good knowledge of the structure of the council and can hopefully point you in the right direction. Unfortunately it is a case of asking the right councillor about the right thing. Some councillors are totally useless, so if you don’t receive back a helpful response within a few days just email another councillor.
Ward councillors can be found here, but don’t be afraid to email a councillor from another ward if they have a good reputation.
Once you have the name of someone, their email is simply:
Step 3: Ask to Meet Informally with an Officer
Officers are far more receptive to your concerns if you discuss them informally in person.
The most effective way to resolve an issue is to meet with an officer in person to informally discuss the matter.
It can often be useful to meet in an area and walk around if the problem is a localised one.
You may be surprised at how keen officers can be to meet in person, even if it is only for five or ten minutes – it gives them an excuse to get out of the office, after all. The advantage of meeting in person is that in a more relaxed and informal setting, officers are much more likely to communicate openly and honestly about a problem. It is certainly the case that officers are afraid to let slip any detail by email in case it be used against them. This is the reason why written responses are often so bureaucratic and unhelpful.
Time and time again we see that individuals who have had a bad experience with a particular officer through email will come away much happier after a face-to-face meeting with them. Even the most helpful Camden officer appears extremely bureaucratic by email.
In contacting the person found in Step 2, you should politely ask for a meeting with an officer to discuss the problems clarified in Step 1. If all has gone to plan, you should have been given an email of a senior member of staff who will pass your email down to a more junior officer.
This is useful, as a junior officer will both be ‘watched’ by their manager in how they deal with your (so far informal) complaint, but also junior officers tend to be more helpful than senior ones. Senior officers often have more of a public profile and are much more guarded about what they say and do.
Officers will be keen to resolve the problem informally as it also means avoiding the burden of potentially processing a formal complaint.
Usually at this stage the need to make a complaint more or less disappears. The complainant and officer agree on a way forward and keep in touch to ensure that the issues are resolved.
However this is not always the case. Unfortunately a minority of officers can also be unhelpful in person, or often will agree to do some things but then later claim that you misquoted them.
Step 4: Increase the Pressure Gradually
Hold off on making a formal complaint for as long as possible. The threat of a complaint is often more effective than actually making one.
Whichever officer was assigned to your informal complaint will almost certainly be the one dealing with a formal complaint if you eventually make one. Unfortunately if the particular officer that you’re dealing with is not helpful, you are stuck with that officer, and you need to find a way to make it work.
You should try to clarify with a councillor if you are dealing with the correct officer – sometimes complaints can fall on the border between two or even three departments, and departments can love to ping-pong complaints back and forth claiming it’s not their responsibility.
At this point, you may think that it is justified to throw in a formal complaint in order to ‘force’ the officer into doing whatever you want them to do. However this is completely ineffective with Camden. Camden’s formal complaint procedure is woeful and you will generally not achieve anything more except to have your officer receive your angry comments indirectly. Particularly if your officer is unhelpful, the officer will then typically rescind into sending bureaucratic responses and will do everything in their power to not do what you want. It has even been observed that officers simply completely ignore emails after receiving a formal complaint.
Of course Camden ‘should’ have a complaints procedure which holds officers accountable for their actions and ensures they deal with your complaint with some level of integrity. However the simple fact is that they just don’t, and to get things done you will have to approach things differently.
Typically also by making a complaint the whole department will close ranks and be much less helpful. Managers will more often protect their officers than properly investigate your complaint. Again, this perhaps ‘shouldn’t’ happen but the fact is that it does.
Instead, you need to find a way to motivate your officer into resolving your concerns.
Be persistent – but polite. Eventually when a lazy officer realises you aren’t going away they will recognise it is just easier to do whatever you’re asking so that you do go away. Make indirect enquiries – perhaps correspond with your councillors about it. Quite effective can be to contact the manager to discuss the matter with them. Camden does have quite a number of proactive and helpful employees and they can often nudge the more lazy officers into action. Remember to be patient – things in Camden can take much longer than expected. You certainly shouldn’t get annoyed if things haven’t changed over the course of a week or so – unless it is urgent.
Just ensure that you don’t state anything openly critical about an officer until you have no choice left. You want to make the officer feel rewarded for resolving your informal complaint, rather than as though they are forced into doing it for a ‘nasty resident’.
If things are really not going well, you can also try to involve another person in your informal complaint. This could be a friend or a councillor.
For problems in Bloomsbury you can also contact us. Between our members we have a fair number of contacts in Camden who can be extremely useful in dealing with complaints.
However admittedly if an officer is not being helpful a third party may not make a difference.
Step 5: File a Formal Complaint
Filing a formal complaint is a blunt tool that can have unintended consequences.But sometimes there’s no choice left.
Hopefully you have not reached this stage, or if you have it is after some weeks of liaising with an officer.
However the good thing about following the previous five steps is that you now have a very specific complaint that you can make about the conduct of a particular officer. You can detail all the ways that you have tried to resolve a problem informally to no avail.
We will detail how best to lend force to your formal complaint.
Step 5a: Write a Formal Complaint to the Chief Executive
Making a formal complaint begins with an email to the Chief Executive.
Don’t write the complaint in an email – write it in a formal letter format and address it to the Chief Executive. Despite what Camden say, this is the proper formal procedure for making a complaint. In fact if you don’t do this you don’t have a right of appeal, which is perhaps why Camden try to hide this.
Detail everything that has happened, mentioning names and dates and events explicitly. Try to make the letter as formal and objective as possible.
The address should be as follows:
The Chief Executive The London Borough of Camden 5 Pancras Square King's Cross London N1C 4AG
The Chief Executive is currently Jenny Rowlands.
Once the letter is finalised, save it as a PDF and attach it to an email to :
Which is the email of the Chief Executive. You should also CC your ward councillors and Georgia Gould, the Leader of the Council, for good measure.
Ensure that you state in the email that it is a formal complaint, and that you would like it recorded as a formal complaint and investigated. Astonishingly we find that the Chief Executive will ignore emails at the first go, but if you later seek clarification on the progress of the complaint, and whether it has been indeed recorded, you will get a response, usually claiming that the assistant was ‘delayed’ in responding to you.
The email address is not generally checked by the Chief Executive herself but you will receive a response from a personal assistant on her behalf.
Step 5b: Circulate the Complaint
Having others involved with your complaint forces an open and transparent investigation.
If you send off a complaint and leave it at that, inevitably it will trickle through the ranks and end up getting lost or forgotten. Camden often simply don’t have a sense of integrity when it comes to complaints, although this varies significantly between departments.
The aim of the game is then to get a number of people involved with the complaint. Without this, there will be little incentive for Camden to properly investigate it. The idea is that when each person involved knows that other people are watching, the complaint will be properly investigated by whoever is tasked to investigate it. Astonishingly we find that without this complaints will often simply be ignored or just passed back to the original officer for response.
In this way you should also forward the email to your local MP. MPs can take up complaints on their constituent’s behalf. Often what they do is simply send out a short letter on your behalf to the Council to enquire about the progress of the complaint. This can be useful as it forces the Council to respond to the MP, who then will forward the response to you.
You can use this trick a few times in succession.
Step 5c: Check up on your Complaint
Regularly checking on the progress of your complaint will ensure that it is not forgotten.
You should discuss the complaint with your councillors and check up regularly on the ‘progress’ of the complaint.
Remember to stay polite at all times. Although an officer may have been unhelpful, the people investigating the complaint probably had no idea about what was going on. It is fair to say that Camden employees do not enjoy dealing with complaints, so you have to make sure that they know you are not just another ‘angry resident’.
You can also use the old trick of asking for a meeting again to discuss the complaint with whoever is investigating it.
At this point the original officer will most likely be keen to just get whatever you wanted done, and we often find that during the investigation the officer will become a lot more helpful.
Eventually you will receive the outcome of the complaint, which is usually a formality.
For whatever reason, you may find that even at this point your complaint is not resolved.
Step 6: Contact Us
We have not ever known a problem to not be more or less resolved at this point, but if you have come this far without a resolution, you should contact us.
Save Bloomsbury has a number of members with expertise and experience in ‘dealing’ with Camden. We offer free informal advice and help where we can. We operate in the wider Bloomsbury area of Camden.