New central Government Complaint Standards will improve outcomes for all

Public services would be significantly improved if complaints made about central Government departments were easier to make and quickly resolved, the public sector watchdog has said, as new Complaint Standards are unveiled by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

Published for consultation and developed by the Ombudsman in collaboration with staff from central Government departments, other public bodies, advice and advocacy groups, the new Standards will provide a single vision of best practice for complaint handling.

Research by the Ombudsman shows people do not feel confident that under existing processes complaints are managed correctly or that action is taken. By adopting the Standards, organisations will resolve more complaints at the earliest opportunity and use learning to improve services for the public.

The new 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.

The new central Government Complaint Standards follow the successful production of NHS Standards now being rolled out across the health service. The Standards were welcomed by the health sector as much needed guidelines to provide a unified approach that will benefit complaint staff and complainants alike. 

Ombudsman Rob Behrens, said: 

“Central government organisations regularly provide high quality, essential public services. But when things go wrong, people must feel empowered to speak up, knowing their complaint will be treated seriously and acted on.

“Good complaint handling can mean the difference between better services and mistakes being needlessly repeated. As I have seen time and again, learning lessons from complaints can prevent serious harm and even lives being lost.

“This is why organisations must embed a learning and improvement culture that places complaints at the heart of service improvements. The Standards will support this approach.”

The draft Standards are open for public consultation until 31 May 2022.

Why do complaints matter? 

When things go wrong in public services, the impact on individuals and their families can be severe. An administrative error with benefit payments can mean a family struggles to buy adequate food. Poor communication about visa applications can lead to individuals being stranded overseas. If the mechanisms for complaining are confusing and inefficient, such problems can keep happening and people can be left without resolution and redress. But many central Government departments have multiple complaint stages, leading to a complex, drawn-out process.

Research shows that people do not feel confident about existing complaints processes. A survey commissioned by the Ombudsman found that:

  • more than two thirds of people did not think their complaint to public services would be listened to
  • less than one fifth thought it would make a difference
  • a third said they would be worried that complaining might affect how they were treated by the organisation in future.

The results paint a stark picture and highlight why organisations need to do more to show that they welcome feedback and are invested in creating a ‘learn not blame’ culture. The new Standards will support better communication between providers and the public, leading to better, more efficient public services.

Have your say and complete the consultation here: