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30.3.08 HOC's Report - When Citizens Complain

House of Commons
Select Committee on Public Administration
When Citizens Complain

This is the first of several Reports on our inquiry into Public Services: Putting People First. One of the key themes of this inquiry has been how government and the public services handle and learn from complaints.

In this Report, we consider how citizens know what they can complain about and who they can complain to (Chapter 2), what makes for best practice in handling complaints within government organisations (Chapter 3), how complaints should be used by public services to address problems and inform service design and delivery (Chapter 4), and the role of central government in issuing guidance and in holding departments to account for how they handle complaints (Chapter 5).

Complaints should be handled effectively at the earliest possible point. We are disturbed that there seems to be a systemic problem with first-tier complaint handling by government organisations. Complaints systems need to be accessible and easy to navigate. To assist in this, the Government should explore providing a single point of contact for impartial information on where to make a complaint or seek redress.

Although complaints systems should not be unnecessarily complex, public confidence demands robust and impartial processes for dealing with disputed complaints, including independent sector-specific complaint handlers where proportionate.

Public services need to adopt the perspective of citizens who use them. They should seek to discover what complainants hope to achieve from making their views known, and they should have a systematic and active strategy for monitoring and learning from complaints to inform service delivery.

While individual organisations need to take responsibility for the services they provide, we identify a need for a centrally co-ordinated official effort to champion good practice in complaints handling and to monitor how organisations across government handle and learn from complaints in practice. The Cabinet Office is best placed to take on this role.

These goals—not just to put things right for the citizen but also to get them right for the future—will only be achieved if the dominant culture across the public service invites and values complaints.