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New Standards will improve the way complaints are handled in central Government

How central Government handles complaints about services will be transformed by new Complaint Standards unveiled recently by the public services watchdog.

The UK Central Government Complaint Standards have been developed by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO), in collaboration with central Government departments, other public bodies, and advice and advocacy groups.

Organisations including the Cabinet Office, Department for Transport, HMRC, and the Food Standards Agency are acting as trailblazers for the Standards. They will lead the way in embedding the Standards in their organisation and will work with the PHSO to further develop and share good practice across Government.

The Standards were created following research that revealed:

  • more than two thirds of people didn’t think their complaint to public services would be listened to
  • 44% thought complaining would not make a difference
  • almost a third said they would be worried that complaining might affect how they were treated by the organisation in future.

The Standards aim to improve this situation by helping organisations provide a quicker and simpler complaints handling service that:

  • promotes a learning culture
  • welcomes complaints in a positive way
  • is thorough and fair
  • gives fair and accountable responses.

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Rob Behrens recently said:

“By adopting the Standards, organisations will resolve more complaints at the earliest opportunity and use learning to improve services for the public.

“Mistakes happen, but how they’re handled can avoid them being repeated and make a big difference to those affected. It’s no exaggeration to say that in some circumstances this could be life-changing.

“I’m glad to see support for the Standards. I hope that senior leaders across central Government commit to embedding them as part of creating a culture where complaints are embraced and welcomed as opportunities to learn.”

In developing the Standards, the Ombudsman also held a consultation with Government complaints handlers, the public, and third sector and advocacy organisations. The results showed widespread backing for the Standards, with 82% saying it was clear what they were trying to achieve and 91% supporting their aims.

Feedback from this consultation further highlighted the need for reform. A respondent working in the third sector recently told PHSO:

“From consultation with our community, it is clear that they face a complicated and confusing complaints landscape.”

Talking in a recent PHSO podcast, the Complaints Champion for UK Government, Angela MacDonald, recently said:

“We in the Civil Service and the broader public sector are here to serve the public. When you’re serving 70 million people, it means that even if you’re fantastic 99% of the time, that 1% is an awful lot of people.

"There should be some commonality about how we put it right when things go wrong. Having had the opportunity to spend time with Government departments, large and small, I’ve realised there’s massive diversity of experience and capability.

“But the mark of who we are is what we do when it goes wrong and there has to be a good-quality consistent way of doing that. Hopefully these Standards will deliver that level of constancy and support colleagues to deliver good service to complainants.”

Find out more about the UK Central Government Complaint Standards.


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