Principles of Good Complaint Handling

Getting it right

All public bodies must comply with the law and have regard for the rights of those concerned. They should act according to their statutory powers and duties, and any other rules governing the service they provide. They should follow their own policy and procedural guidance on complaint handling, whether published or internal.

Good complaint handling requires strong and effective leadership. Those at the top of the public body should take the lead in ensuring good complaint handling, with regard to both the practice and the culture. Senior managers should:

  • set the complaint handling policy, and own both the policy and the process
  • give priority and importance to good complaint handling, to set the tone and act as an example for all staff
  • develop a culture that values and welcomes complaints as a way of putting things right and improving service
  • be responsible and accountable for complaint handling
  • ensure that effective governance arrangements underpin and support good complaint handling
  • ensure the policy is delivered through a clear and accountable complaint handling process
  • ensure learning from complaints is used to improve service.

Public bodies should consider the policy and practice of complaint handling as an integral part of the service they provide to customers.

Staff should be properly equipped and empowered to put things right promptly where something has gone wrong. They should be supported by clear lines of authority and decision making that are flexible enough to respond to complaints effectively and authoritatively.

Complaint handling should focus on the outcomes for the complainant and, where appropriate, others affected. Public bodies should put in place policies and procedures to ensure complainants are treated fairly, to aid decision making and to ensure fair outcomes. Those policies and procedures should allow staff the flexibility to resolve complaints promptly and in the most appropriate way while still learning from complaints.

Public bodies should make it clear to complainants when they have provided their final response to a complaint. At that stage, public bodies should provide clear and accurate information about the next stage of the complaint process so the complainant is clear about what to do next if they remain dissatisfied. If the complaints procedure is not the most appropriate way for a customer to take forward their concern, public bodies should also clearly direct them to the most appropriate way, for example through alternative appeals mechanisms.