OCC to audit Internal Complaints Processes

| 06/10/2008

(CNS): Following a three-year programme by the Office of the Complaints Commissioner (OCC) to encourage each government department and agency to implement or review their internal complaints process (ICP), Complaints Commissioner Dr John Epp has initiated an Own Motion Investigation to audit those ICPs.

“Our review of the complaints processes was based on interviews and surveys of the government entities, and at the end of the programme we found that all 70 departments that should have a formal ICP now has in place either a formal or an informal complaints process,” explained Epp. “The purpose of this investigation is to see how those ICPs actually function.”

An ICP gives each entity an opportunity to assess the quality and timeliness of the service that it provides to the public, and provides information about how to improve delivery of its services.
An internal complaints process allows the organisation to gain valuable information from the people it serves, and therefore to improve its reputation. Information given by people complaining comes free of charge and often contains useful criticism, and an organisation that listens and corrects any errors, will be spoken of well by those who once were dissatisfied. It will also gain the respect of the broader community.

It is the duty of governmental organisations to serve the public. It is the role of civil servants to serve in a courteous and competent manner, and an internal complaints process will aid in achieving these service outcomes. All complaints may have value; even frivolous complaints, or complaints made in bad faith, can inform management of the challenges faced by employees.

An ICP must be accessible, with simple instructions about how to make a complaint. These instructions should be made available via websites, posters and/or brochures in each entity reception area, and any other mediums that promote the functions of the various government offices.

The instructions should clearly identify the designated officers handling complaints and explain the process. The various ways in which a complaint may be registered should be stated, such as by telephone, fax, email, inperson or by regular post. If a complainant wishes to make a complaint in person, they should be able to do so in private, and complainants with disabilities and literacy difficulties should be given special consideration.

At all times it should be emphasised that complaints or comments are welcomed by the public body as a means of improving the quality of service provided.

The complaints process should also be simple, with as few stages in the complaint handling process as possible, and targets should be set for acknowledging receipt of complaints and the completion of their examination. Where it is not possible to meet the target for completion, interim letters updating the complainant on progress should be issued. In order to provide maximum efficiency in addressing complaints, a person at a managerial level should be actively involved in complaint resolution.

It is also essential that the process is credible to the public. Complaints that have not been resolved by the original decision maker should be examined objectively by someone not involved with the original decisions or actions.

All complaints should be treated in confidence (except where the complainant wishes otherwise). The public should be assured that making a complaint will not adversely affect their future dealings and contacts with the entity concerned. Correspondence about the complaint should be filed separately from other information held on the complainant as a client of the entity.

The internal complaints process must include a degree of flexibility. The process may not be suitable for some unanticipated reason, for example if the complaint is so sensitive and grave that only the head of the organisation might properly receive it.

Each organisation should include in its performance measurements targets for the addressing of complaints through its internal process. These should include targets such as the number of hours within which a telephone message left at the complaints desk is answered, the number of days within which a letter is sent to the complainant, and the number of days within which the complaint must be investigated. In addition, a target should be set concerning the preparation and communication of the result of the investigation.

“The aim of this audit of ICPs is to review the complaints process each government entity now has in place and to show where it should be improved upon,” said Epp. “The ultimate goal is to provide each department with the tools to constantly provide a better service, which will in turn lead to a more efficient system throughout the public sector.”

The OCC is located on the 2nd floor, 202 Piccadilly Centre, Georgetown, Grand Cayman, phone number (345) 943 2220. The website is www.occ.gov.ky.

The aim of the OCC is to investigate in a fair and independent manner complaints against government to ascertain whether injustice has been caused by improper, unreasonable, or inadequate government administrative conduct, and to ascertain the inequitable or unreasonable nature or operation of any enactment or rule of law.

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