How to ensure effective communication, discretion and flexible solutions are followed when handling complaints about public organisations

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Avoidance of maladministration and effective complaint handling

  • Recognise and acknowledge when someone is making a complaint and respond appropriately and promptly.
  • Communicate clearly and consistently, use discretion, and find flexible solutions.
  • Treat dissatisfaction as a complaint.
  • Avoid adopting a defensive position when communicating with complainants.

Coordination and communication

  • Establish if there’s any crossover with other public organisations and coordinate with each other when dealing with complex and protracted matters.
  • Communicate effectively to avoid confusion and ensure that all parties involved understand the requirements and regulations.

Procedural fairness

  • Ensure that procedural fairness is upheld throughout the process of a complaint.
    • This includes providing clear reasons for decisions, giving individuals the opportunity to be heard, and considering individual circumstances and vulnerabilities.

Discretion and flexibility

  • Exercise discretion and be willing to find flexible solutions when appropriate.
    • This can help prevent unnecessary stress and anxiety for individuals and lead to more satisfactory outcomes.

Clarity and consistency

  • Provide clear and consistent information regarding policies and procedures.
    • This includes ensuring that individuals understand the purpose and requirements and providing accurate and comprehensive guidance.

Learning from mistakes

  • Learn from past mistakes and take steps to prevent similar issues from occurring in the future.
    • This may involve reviewing internal processes, improving communication channels, and providing training and support to staff involved in issuing processes.

In the real world

After the Black Saturday bushfires destroyed everything on Robyn’s land, she rebuilt, including a detached building for her adult son to live in. Robyn believed she had a Building Permit to build a habitable building, but she did not. According to the Building Permit, issued by Mitchell Shire Council, the building should be a shed. After construction, Yarra Ranges Shire Council, Robyn’s local council, ordered her to stop using the building as a habitable building. Robyn complained to the Ombudsman after attempting to work with both councils but finding no solution.

Final word

This story is worth telling. It is a reminder to all councils of why the most basic hallmarks of good complaint handling are important – especially when a matter is complicated and protracted ... While their circumstances may be unique, aspects of this story could happen to any of us.
Deborah Glass, Victorian Ombudsman
  • Complaint handling