Make complaints count: Share your views on new Complaint Standards for UK Central Government

Assistant Director of Strategy and Partnerships

Andrew Medlock gives an update on the work we’ve been doing with partners to develop a comprehensive set of Complaint Standards for public sector organisations. He also invites you to take part in our public consultation on the Standards.

For me, during the pandemic, time simply melded into one blurry memory. While it feels like yesterday, I remind myself that – after much hard effort and engagement – we launched the first version of the NHS Complaint Standards in March 2021. What astonishes me most about this is that the positive momentum we generated to reach that point has simply continued unbound, despite the challenges brought by COVID.

This may be because the Complaint Standards are there primarily to support frontline staff across the public sector who handle complaints. They describe not only a single vision for best practice in complaints handling, but also how this can be achieved in practice.  

I also like to think it is because the Standards are changing people’s perception of complaints – from something that is seen as a negative, to something that is viewed as a valuable source of learning and insight into how public services can be continuously improved.

Common principles and expectations for how complaints are handled

We’ve harnessed this momentum to look at how to expand the Complaint Standards so they cover UK central government departments (and other public bodies) that we investigate.

But would the NHS Complaint Standards easily ‘translate’ over to central government departments and their work?  Over the past ten months we’ve aimed to answer this question. We set up working groups to engage with government departments, advice and advocacy groups that support the public within this sector, and other key stakeholders. Overall, the answer is an emphatic ‘yes’. 

Our conversations reinforced the view that the Complaint Standards contain commonly held principles and expectations that resonate across public services. We found they also align with what service users would expect to see and experience if they were to raise a concern about a central government department.  

A consistent approach to complaint handling

I have been struck by the incredible positivity we have received. Everyone involved is united behind the overall aims of the Standards and what they seek to achieve. This is a hugely important milestone towards embedding a consistent approach to complaints across public services.

Like the NHS Complaint Standards, UK Central Government Standards will focus on:

  • welcoming complaints in a positive way and recognising them as valuable insight for organisations
  • supporting a thorough and fair approach that accurately reflects the experiences of everyone involved
  • encouraging fair and accountable responses that provide open and honest answers as soon as possible
  • promoting a learning culture by supporting organisations to see complaints as opportunities to improve services.

A better experience for people making a complaint

We recently commissioned research into the public’s views on complaining about government services. People told us they do not feel confident that complaints are managed correctly or acted upon under existing public sector complaints processes. These much needed Complaint Standards aim to change that view.

We are now one step closer to the vision that people will experience a high quality, accessible and responsive service should they raise a complaint – regardless of whether it is about the NHS or a central government department. This is hugely significant both in the longer term and the immediate future, as the impact of the pandemic on public services continues to be felt. 

Have your say on the new Standards

I am so proud to share with you the version of the Complaint Standards for UK central government departments and related organisations. We are now keen to hear what you think of these. Your views matter so much, and your feedback will be critical to improving complaints handling for everybody. 

Please take a few minutes to complete our survey and help make complaints count. The survey is open until 31 May 2022.