Principles of Good Complaint Handling

Putting things right

Providing fair and proportionate remedies is an integral part of good complaint handling. Where a public body has failed to get it right and this has led to injustice or hardship, it should take steps to put things right. That means, if possible, returning complainants and, where appropriate, others who have suffered the same injustice or hardship as a result of the same maladministration or poor service, to the position they were in before this took place. If that is not possible, it means compensating complainants and such others appropriately.

In many cases, a prompt explanation and an apology will be a sufficient and appropriate response and will prevent the complaint escalating. Apologising is not an invitation to litigate or a sign of organisational weakness.[1]

There is a wide range of appropriate responses to a complaint that has been upheld. These include:

  • an apology, explanation and acknowledgement of responsibility
  • remedial action, which may include reviewing or changing a decision on the service given to an individual complainant; revising published material; revising procedures, policies or guidance to prevent the same thing happening again; training or supervising staff; or any combination of these
  • financial compensation for direct or indirect financial loss, loss of opportunity, inconvenience, distress, or any combination of these.

When deciding the level of financial compensation, public bodies should consider:

  • the nature of the complaint
  • the impact on the complainant
  • how long it took to resolve the complaint
  • the trouble the complainant was put to in pursuing it.

Remedies may also need to take account of any injustice or hardship that has resulted from pursuing the complaint as well as from the original dispute.

Further information about the Ombudsman’s views on how public bodies should provide remedies is set out in the Ombudsman’s Principles for Remedy.

[1] Section 2 of the Compensation Act 2006 states: ‘An apology, an offer of treatment or other redress, shall not of itself amount to an admission of negligence or breach of statutory duty’. This section of the Act applies to England and Wales only.