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 agency. Most agencies  have internal complaint handling procedures that may be able to sort  out the problem to your satisfaction. If you have not contacted the  agency first, the Ombudsman may decide not to investigate until you  have tried to resolve the problem with the agency itself.

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 agency 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

Most people prefer telephoning to writing, because it’s cheaper, easier  and quicker. But if you are dealing with a large agency, or if the  complaint is complex, in our experience it is usually best to write  (either a letter or email). However it may be useful to telephone first  to identify the person responsible for dealing with your type of  complaint and their position.

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  would like. It is also easier to fob people off. 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 agencies, 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  letter. 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 letters.

So unless it is an urgent problem, or the matter can obviously be  resolved over the phone, it is best to write. Your letter will be  answered, and it is more likely to be handled by the right area and  person in the agency. It helps if you know who that person is and their  correct title, but that is not essential.

As a general rule, complain to the person in the agency who is  responsible for supervising the person or area that you are having  trouble with. If you can’t identify the right person, it is quite  appropriate to write to the head of the agency. Make it clear in your  letter that you consider them responsible for resolving the problem,  even though they may not have caused it personally.

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 may have taken to sort out the problem already; and any  explanations you think are important. Attach copies of relevant  documents to your covering letter, and sign and date it.

State what you want

Having explained the problem, indicate what action or outcome you would  like to see as a result of your complaint. Calmness and politeness are  always helpful here. Make it clear that you are giving the agency a  chance to fix a mistake or an omission, and avoid becoming abusive or  aggressive, or blaming an individual for what happened. That usually  just encourages people to defend their actions or the actions of their  agency, rather than to think about the problem from your perspective,  and how to resolve it.

Make sure your demands are not unreasonable. 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.

Keep records

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 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, telephone the agency to ask about the progress of  your complaint. If no progress has occurred, or if the agency cannot or  will not explain how things have progressed, then write again. Make it  clear that you will not be fobbed off, and that the problem will not go  away unless it is properly resolved. If you are unable to sort out the  matter after making all reasonable efforts to do so, you should  consider contacting the Ombudsman.

See also