This document gives our views on the Principles of Good Complaint Handling. We want public bodies and complainants to understand what we mean by good complaint handling and to be clear about what we expect from public bodies when dealing with complaints. We will also apply the Principles to any complaints made to us about our own service.
These Principles of Good Complaint Handling should be read in conjunction with our Principles of Good Administration and Principles for Remedy. Everyone has the right to expect a good service from public bodies and to have things put right if they go wrong.
When things do go wrong, public bodies should manage complaints properly so customers’ concerns are dealt with appropriately. Good complaint handling matters because it is an important way of ensuring customers receive the service they are entitled to expect.
Complaints are a valuable source of feedback for the public body; they provide an audit trail and can be an early warning of failures in service delivery. When handled well, complaints provide an opportunity for public bodies to improve their service and reputation.
We understand there is often a balance between responding appropriately to complaints and acting proportionately within available resources. However, prompt and efficient complaint handling can save the public body time and money by preventing a complaint from escalating unnecessarily. Learning from complaints can reduce the number of complaints in the future.
The public bodies within our jurisdiction are many and varied, and sometimes complainants will be individuals and sometimes organisations. Accordingly, the systems that public bodies have in place for handling complaints will depend on their own circumstances.
However, certain Principles should be common to all. Good complaint handling should be led from the top, focused on outcomes, fair and proportionate, and sensitive to complainants’ needs.
The process should be clear and straightforward, and readily accessible to customers. It should be well managed throughout so that decisions are taken quickly, things put right where necessary and lessons learnt for service improvement.
In many of the complaints investigated by the Ombudsman, we have found that poor complaint handling itself constituted maladministration or service failure leading to an injustice or hardship for the complainant. This was so even in cases in which we did not uphold the original complaint.
The Principles set out here are intended to promote a shared understanding of what is meant by good complaint handling and to help public bodies in the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s jurisdiction deliver first-class complaint handling to all their customers.