Effective handling of complaints

Complaints are an important way for the management of an agency to be accountable to the public, as well as providing valuable prompts to review agency performance and the conduct of people that work within and for it.

A complaint is an “expression of dissatisfaction made to or about an organisation, related to its products, services, staff or the handling of a complaint, where a response or resolution is explicitly or implicitly expected or legally required” (as defined by the Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 10002:2014, Guidelines for complaint management in origanizations (as amended)).

An effective complaint handling system provides three key benefits to agencies:

  • It resolves issues raised by a dissatisfied person in a timely and cost-effective way.
  • It provides information which can lead to improvements in service delivery.
  • Where complaints are handled properly, a good system can improve the reputation of an agency and strengthen public confidence in an agency’s administrative processes.
The public wants:
  • a user friendly complaints system
  • to be heard and understood
  • to be respected
  • an explanation
  • an apology
  • actions as soon as possible
The agency needs:
  • a user friendly system for accepting feedback
  • clear delegations & procedures for staff to deal with complaints and provide remedies
  • a recording system to capture complaint data
  • to use complaint data to identify problems and trends
  • to improve service delivery in identified areas

Most Western Australian State Government public sector agencies are required to have a complaints management system in place as required by Public Sector Commissioner’s Circular 2009-27 - Complaints Management.

To assist agencies to develop effective internal complaints processes, the Ombudsman has developed a suite of guidelines as follows:

  • Effective handling of complaints made to your organisation
    These guidelines detail the key features of an effective complaint handling systems and how complaints made to organisations can be dealt with effectively.
  • Complaint handling systems checklist
    Organisations can use this checklist in conjunction with the Ombudsman’s guidelines for Effective Handling of Complaints made to your Organisation to assess their complaint handling system against the key features required for an effective system.
  • Making your complaint handling system accessible
    These guidelines detail how to make your complaint handling system accessible to all members of the diverse Western Australian community.
  • Guidance for Complaint Handling Officers
    These guidelines offer assistance to Complaint Handling Officers in handling and investigating complaints made to their organisation.
  • Good record keeping
    These guidelines provide information about the importance of good record keeping and explains who is responsible.
  • Investigation of complaints
    A step-by-step guide for conducting an investigation.
  • Conducting administrative investigations
    These guidelines offer guidance to help Government agencies conduct administrative investigations. They are designed to contribute to fairness, integrity and good public administration.
  • Remedies and redress
    These guidelines provide a framework to help managers make decisions about addressing a complainant’s sense of grievance when they are dissatisfied with the service they have received from the agency.
  • Procedural fairness (natural justice)
    These guidelines give more detail on what it means to apply the rules of procedural fairness while conducting an administrative investigation.
  • Dealing with unreasonable complainant conduct
    These guidelines provide some practical tips to assist agencies in handling complainants whose conduct is unreasonable.
  • Unreasonable complainant conduct - Interim practice manual
    The practice manual provides information, strategies, training materials and scripts on dealing with unreasonable complainant conduct.

Agencies requiring further assistance in the development of effective complaint handling systems and how to respond effectively to complaints should contact the Ombudsman’s office on (08) 9220 7555 or 1800 117 000 (toll free for country callers).