Principles of Good Complaint Handling


  1. Getting it right
  • Acting in accordance with the law and relevant guidance, and with regard for the rights of those concerned.
  • Ensuring that those at the top of the public body provide leadership to support good complaint management and develop an organisational culture that values complaints.
  • Having clear governance arrangements, which set out roles and responsibilities, and ensure lessons are learnt from complaints.
  • Including complaint management as an integral part of service design.
  • Ensuring that staff are equipped and empowered to act decisively to resolve complaints.
  • Focusing on the outcomes for the complainant and the public body.
  • Signposting to the next stage of the complaints procedure, in the right way and at the right time.
  • Having clear and simple procedures.
  • Ensuring that complainants can easily access the service dealing with complaints, and informing them about advice and advocacy services where appropriate.
  • Dealing with complainants promptly and sensitively, bearing in mind their individual circumstances.
  • Listening to complainants to understand the complaint and the outcome they are seeking.
  • Responding flexibly, including co-ordinating responses with any other bodies involved in the same complaint, where appropriate.

2. Being customer focused

  • Publishing clear, accurate and complete information about how to complain, and how and when to
    take complaints further.
  • Publishing service standards for handling complaints.
  • Providing honest, evidence-based explanations and giving reasons for decisions.
  • Keeping full and accurate records.

3. Being open and accountable

  • Treating the complainant impartially, and without unlawful discrimination or prejudice.
  • Ensuring that complaints are investigated thoroughly and fairly to establish the facts of the case.
  • Ensuring that decisions are proportionate, appropriate and fair.
  • Ensuring that complaints are reviewed by someone not involved in the events leading to the complaint.
  • Acting fairly towards staff complained about as well as towards complainants.

4. Acting fairly and proportionately

  • Acknowledging mistakes and apologising where appropriate.
  • Providing prompt, appropriate and proportionate remedies.
  • Considering all the relevant factors of the case when offering remedies.
  • Taking account of any injustice or hardship that results from pursuing the complaint as well as from
    the original dispute.

5. Putting things right 

  • Using all feedback and the lessons learnt from complaints to improve service design and delivery.
  • Having systems in place to record, analyse and report on the learning from complaints.
  • Regularly reviewing the lessons to be learnt from complaints.
  • Where appropriate, telling the complainant about the lessons learnt and changes made to services, guidance or policy.

6. Seeking continuous improvement

These Principles are not a checklist to be applied mechanically. Public bodies should use their judgment in applying the Principles to produce reasonable, fair and proportionate results in all the circumstances of the case. The Ombudsman will adopt a similar approach when considering the standard of complaint handling by public bodies in her jurisdiction.