Resolving the issue yourself
Most agencies have their own internal complaint handling procedures. Agencies themselves are often best placed to address problems without a need for the Ombudsman to investigate.
As a general rule, the Ombudsman will not, and in some cases cannot, investigate complaints unless they have been raised with the agency first.
If you have not yet contacted the agency about your issue, the following information may assist you in resolving your complaint with the agency directly.
Tips and advice
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 specific issue that you want to complain about, and think about what you believe could be done to address 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.
Most people prefer telephoning to writing, because it’s 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).
If it is not clear where, or to whom you should direct your complaint, it may be useful to telephone first. It might also help to clarify the issues and in some circumstances, the problem might be resolved by a phone call
That said, telephone complaints can be frustrating. You are not always able to speak to the person directly responsible, calls are sometimes not returned, and it is often harder to set out your issues as clearly as you would in writing.
It is also easier for the person dealing with you, to incorrectly record your issue or not record it all. If you subsequently find that nothing has happened regarding your issue, it can be difficult to prove that you did actually complain 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 for their position title. 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 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 or person within the agency. It helps if you know which area or person is dealing with your complaint, but it is not essential.
If you are unable to identify the correct person or area to address your complaint, it is 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.
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:
- a description of your issue, incident or decision
- relevant dates and times
- details of telephone conversations or meetings
- any steps you may have taken to sort out the problem already
- any explanations you think are important
Always include your name and contact details, attach copies of relevant documents. If your communication is posted rather than electronic, ensure that you sign and date your letter.
Having explained the problem, indicate what action or outcome you would like to see as a resuilt of your complaint.
Politeness is always helpful. 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. Such an approach 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 requested outcomes are not unreasonable. If they are realistic and within the power of the person you are complaining to, you are more likely to reach 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 provide more information. If you do need to refer your complaint to the Ombudsman, it helps if you can easily find your records and present evidence to back up your claims.
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.