Cause for complaint: making an effective complaint to a public body

Posted on: February 4th, 2019

Spencer Gardner in our Court of Protection team explains how to make an effective complaint to a public body.

If you are unhappy with the service you have received from a public body, such as a Local Council or the NHS, you have the right to make complaint. If you have ever found yourself in the position of having to do so, you will be aware of some of the frustrations faced in trying to get your complaint resolved.

Many people decide against making a formal complaint as they do not wish to make a fuss, are sceptical a complaint will result in any change, or find the complaint process confusing and complex. This is a shame, because a well-articulated and evidenced complaint can have the benefit of helping public bodies improve their procedures and services for others – complaints serve as a great source of insight to public bodies.

The following will help present your complaint in the most effective way to get what you need, whether it’s a service improvement, compensation, access to particular services, or even just an apology:

Check for a complaints procedure

Check to see if the body you are complaining to has a complaints policy as this will give you a head start and explain the procedure to follow.

It is important to get your complaint in front of the right person; the feeling of being pushed from person to person around an organisation can be infuriating. The policy should confirm the specific department or person to send the complaint to and by what means, for example post, web form, or email. If this isn’t clear before submitting the complaint, call or email the public body and ask.

Make sure that a complaint is brought within any applicable time limit set out in the policy. It is best to complain as soon as possible after the event, as it is easier to remember details and it makes it easier for the body complained against to address the issues. If you are unhappy with the reply, you may (depending on the particular complaints procedure) be able to take your complaint to a second stage.

Gather your evidence

Evidence is something that supports that the facts of your complaint are true. It could be a log of incidents, photographs, receipts, email correspondence, even a reference to the body’s own policies.

Check whether the public body has published any policies that may be relevant to your complaint. If any policies have been breached, then refer to both the policy and the breach in your complaint. Policies are sometimes published by public bodies on their websites. If they are not, you can contact the public body to ask for details of any policies.

If the public body has information you want from it, set out your queries clearly and ask it to provide copies of their documents about your complaint (i.e. repairs report, previous response to a complaint).

Write your complaint

Be clear and brief. Cover all the relevant points, as briefly as you can. Avoid writing long letters or emails if possible – you may feel you need to write in great detail but in most cases this is not necessary. Set out the issues in chronological and/or thematic order if you can. 

If you are complaining about more than one thing (for example delay in dealing with an issue, a staff member being rude, or a failure to be kept informed), then it may make your complaint clearer to separate the points out and number them. Make sure you put the most important points first.

Send copies of relevant documents – but only if they will help the complaint officer understand your complaint, or they provide evidence to support your complaint. If you are providing relevant documents, make sure these are well organised and in coherent order. Make sure you keep copies yourself of all documents including the complaint itself, in case anything goes missing in the post.

If you have any solutions, suggest them. Tell the public body what it is that you want them to do to resolve your problem. This may make it easier for the situation to be rectified, and will make clear what you want from the complaint. For example, you may ideally want an apology, or for the body to do something or refrain from doing something specific, or just an acknowledgement of any adverse impact you have experienced.

Submit your complaint

You do not want your complaint to get lost in the system. Having identified the specific person or department your complaint should be sent to, this shouldn’t be an issue for you, but still make sure that your complaint is logged and you have something in writing confirming your complaint has been received. Record the date as they might be useful later if you are required to chase for a response.

The response

Hopefully, when you receive a response it provides the solution you requested, however you may receive a response that does not properly resolve your complaint. If you are not satisfied, then you need to go to the next stage of the complaints process and say why you are not satisfied. If you are not, you may consider escalating the complaint if there is a process to do so set out in the complaints policy, contact a local councillor or MP or ask an ombudsman to investigate.

If, despite being given the opportunity to resolve your complaint, the body is still not able solve the issue, please do not hesitate to contact Spencer Gardner or a member of our Court of Protection team to discuss your options further.