Better Practice Complaint Handling Guide


About this guide

This Better Practice Guide is a resource to help your agency ensure it has an effective and user-centred complaint handling system.

It will tell you:

  • what your agency stands to gain from a good complaint handling system

  • what a good system looks like

  • practical steps for handling complaints well.


In 1997 my Office published the first Good Practice Guide for Effective Complaint handling to address the general absence of internal complaint handling systems at that time. By 2009, agencies broadly accepted complaint handling as a necessary part of program and service delivery, but needed clearer guidance about how to do it well. Therefore the Office published the Better Practice Guide to Complaint handling (the Guide).

This updated Guide reinforces the principles of complaint handling and provides additional guidance on new complaint handling practices. It reflects the emergence of human-centred design as the accepted standard of better practice in service design, and opportunities to improve complaint handling presented by new technology, data analysis and behavioural insights.

While complaints are important to the people who make them, they are also valuable to agencies and policy makers.

A user friendly and efficient complaint handling system doesn't just resolve problems for individuals. A well-handled complaint can help restore complainant satisfaction and confidence in public administration. Complaints also provide a wealth of data that can be interrogated to identify program weakness, systemic administration issues and opportunities to improve business practices. Complaint data may also indicate a difficulty with policy settings that should be considered by policy makers.

This edition of the Guide also introduces a suite of resources for complaint handlers, including practical tools to help agencies review and audit their complaint handling systems against better practice criteria. My Office is also working to support agencies to improve complaint handling with complaint handling communities of practice and a dedicated education program. Agencies looking to improve their complaint handling can also ask to participate in my Office's Complaint Assurance Program, which enables agencies to draw on the Office's complaint handling expertise.

Michael Manthorpe PSM

Commonwealth Ombudsman

Who is this Guide for?

If you work for the public service, or for a contractor providing government funded services, you should be familiar with and use this guide.

It explains what you need to do to get complaint handling right, whether you are:

  • a senior executive

  • a complaint manager

  • a complaint handler

  • other frontline service staff

  • other business areas (including policy development, contract management, business improvement, service delivery).

It explains the standard we expect when we investigate complaints from members of the public.

This guide will also be useful for private sector organisations and is broadly consistent with AS/NZS 10002:2014 and ISO 10002:2018.

See also key terms and principles used in this guide.

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