Tips and advice
Before coming to the Ombudsman it is a good idea to try and solve the problem with the agency you want to complain about. As a general rule, the Ombudsman will not, and in some cases cannot, investigate complaints until they have been raised with the organisation, agency, or provider. Most organisations have internal complaint handling procedures that may be able to sort out the problem to your satisfaction. If you have not contacted the organisation first, the Ombudsman may decide not to investigate until you have tried to resolve the problem with the organisation itself.
- Focus on resolving the main problem
- Telephones are often OK, but writing is more effective
- What to include in your complaint
- State what you want
- Keep records
- Don’t give up
Focus on resolving the main problem
Even though you may be feeling angry and frustrated, it is important that you stay calm and focus on the main problem. Take a few moments to identify the issue that you want to complain about, and what you think should be done to fix it. Do not get distracted by minor details. Give the organisation as much detail as it will need to understand and resolve the problem, but no more.
Telephones are often OK, but writing is more effective
Many people prefer the telephone to writing, because it’s cheaper, easier and quicker. But if you are dealing with a large organisation, or if the complaint is complex, in our experience it is usually best to write (either a letter or email). It may be useful to telephone first to identify the person responsible for dealing with your type of complaint and their position, or check their website for their complaints handling policy.
Telephone complaints can be frustrating. You are not always able to speak to the person directly responsible, calls sometimes don't get returned, and it is not always easy to set out your story as clearly as you would like. If nothing happens, it is difficult to prove that you complained in the first place, or what was said during the conversation.
If you do decide to telephone, always ask for the name of the person you speak to and their position. In many organisations, staff are not required to give their surnames, but are always required to give you some means of identifying them, even if it is only their given name and/or a receipt number for the call. Tell them about your complaint, ask them if they can help and what they intend to do. Keep notes of the conversation and the time and date of the call. If there is any doubt about whether your concerns have been properly addressed, write a follow up letter or email. Even if you are satisfied, it may be best to confirm your understanding of what was said during the conversation in writing as soon as possible. Keep copies of your emails or letters.
What to include in your complaint
Whether you write or telephone, set out your complaint as clearly and briefly as possible. Be specific rather than general. Stick to the main facts, and don’t go into excessive detail. If detail is necessary, it is useful to set it out in a logical order including your name and contact details; relevant dates and times; a description of the incident or decision; details of telephone conversations, meetings and any steps you have already taken to sort out the problem; and any explanations you think are important. Attach copies of relevant documents to your email or letter. If you write a letter, be sure to sign and date it.
State what you want
Having explained the problem, indicate what action or outcome you would like to happen as a result of your complaint. Calmness and politeness are always helpful here. Make it clear that you are giving the organisation a chance to fix a mistake or an omission. Do not be abusive or aggressive, or blame an individual for what happened as this may prompt people to focus on defending their actions or the actions of their organisation, rather than on understanding or resolving the problem.
Make sure your demands are reasonable. If they are realistic and within the power of the person you are complaining to, you are more likely to achieve a resolution to your problem.
This is particularly important. Keep copies of all correspondence you receive and send, and any other important documents or notes. This includes details of telephone calls. You may need to send further letters or emails, or provide more information. It helps if you can easily find this and have evidence to back up your claims.
Don’t give up
If nothing happens within a reasonable timeframe, telephone or email the organisation to ask about the progress of your complaint. Most organisations publish information about their timeframes for responding to complaints but, if they don’t, we suggest allowing at least 2 weeks for most matters. If no progress occurs, or the organisation does not explain how things have progressed, then call or write again. Make it clear that you expect a response to your complaint and, if possible, your problem to be fixed. If you are unable to sort out the matter after making all reasonable efforts with the organisation, you should consider contacting the Ombudsman.