Performance indicator Feedback from clients and stakeholders on satisfaction with service delivery, timeliness and outcomes, and assessment of quantitative data.
A client satisfaction survey was conducted in May–June 2004 of 2,000 complainants across all jurisdictions of the Ombudsman's office. Results from client satisfaction surveys conducted in 2000 and 2004 showed a similar satisfaction rate among complainants: 58% of complainants were satisfied with service delivery and 65% were satisfied that the Ombudsman staff did as much as they should have when investigating complaints. When taking into consideration that only 33% of complaint issues are investigated, the latter satisfaction rate of 65% reflects favourably on the work of Ombudsman staff.
The survey results highlighted a number of areas where we can make improvements to our services and training programs to address areas of weakness and to improve consistency. During 2004–05, we reviewed our training requirements and conducted programs for all investigation staff in mediation and alternative dispute resolution, dealing with difficult people, preventing bullying and harassment, and general investigation training.
We also reviewed our procedures for receiving complaints and allocating those complaints to investigation officers. Changes to our work practices and improvements to our computer-based complaints management system will be implemented in the first half of 2005–06.
Timeliness in complaint handling
In 2004–05, 81% of all complaints were finalised within one month of receipt—marginally below previous years and the office's target of 85% for the year.
The percentage of investigated complaints finalised within one month was 65%, compared to 69% in the previous year.
Data from our complaints management system is used to monitor response times by the office and to identify delays in complaint investigation. With many of the complaints we investigate, we need to factor in the time it takes for agencies to provide us with information. Quality assurance is conducted regularly on complaints investigated, with checks conducted for one in four straightforward investigations and for all of the more complex complaints. Monthly statistical reports enable senior management to monitor current issues and trends.
Timeliness in the handling of complaints relating to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) has remained satisfactory this year. The different complaint-handling procedure established by the Complaints Act means that the majority of investigations and conciliations of complaints are first conducted by AFP Professional Standards, followed with a review by the Ombudsman's office. This is necessarily a longer process than for the handling of Ombudsman Act complaints. A total of 83% of all AFP complaints were finalised within six months of receipt (compared to 89% last year).
This year we encountered difficulty in maintaining staffing numbers within the office's Law Enforcement Team, leading to delays in the review and finalisation of some matters. This led to an increase in the percentage of complaints taking three to six months to complete. The filling of staff positions and a workload management strategy implemented in June 2005 will see the backlog of cases reduced by August 2005. We are also continuing to work with the AFP to ensure that delays in AFP responses to complaints are minimised.
The Ombudsman has reported in detail about timeliness in the handling of complaints about Australian Capital Territory agencies and community policing in a separate report as ACT Ombudsman. This report is available at www.ombudsman.act.gov.au.
Figure 3.1 shows the time taken to finalise complaints under the three Acts in 2004–05.
In 2004–05, as in previous years, the most common remedy for complaints was the provision of a detailed explanation by an agency of its decision or action. This was particularly the case in complaints about police, and reflected the ongoing commitment of the AFP to conciliation of less serious matters. A remedy was provided in 26% of complaints investigated and finalised. A breakdown of remedies by Act is provided in Table 3.3.
Note: Complaints can contain a number of issues, each requiring separate investigation and possibly resulting in a number of different remedies.
We use both positive and negative feedback from complainants to improve our services and to identify areas needing improvement. We also apply the same principle to our own operations that we espouse for other Australian Government agencies: specifically, if a person is not satisfied with the way in which an investigation has been handled there is a clear-cut procedure by which they can seek an internal review of the matter.
The internal review process offered to complainants is set out in the Commonwealth Ombudsman's Client Service Charter. A more senior officer who was not directly involved in handling the original complaint always carries out internal reviews.
In 2004–05, the office received 129 requests for review, a 20% increase on the number of requests received last year. The total figure is less than 1% of all complaints finalised.
Of the 129 review requests received this year, 91% related to decisions or actions of the office on complaint investigations. The main reasons expressed by complainants for seeking a review were wrong decision/action or advice, failure to address issue and misunderstood issue.
Table 3.4 sets out the reasons expressed by complainants who sought review this year.
During the year, 146 reviews were finalised, including 37 review requests received in 2003–04. Of those reviews finalised, the original outcome was affirmed in 119 cases (or almost 81% of reviews). We agreed to conduct additional investigation in 21 reviews, and in six reviews we agreed to change our decision on the original complaint. These review outcomes are summarised in Table 3.5.
Note: Of the 146 reviews finalised in 2004–05, 37 requests were from 2003–04.