Complaint handling casebook: Resolving issues informally

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Sometimes, all it takes is the Ombudsman’s elbow

The Victorian Ombudsman receives more than 18,000 complaints each year. Resolving these complaints makes up the vast majority of the office’s work and many can be resolved, with informal enquiries or by conciliation.

In her latest report Complaint handling casebook: Resolving issues informally, Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass describes how her office resolves complaints and works constructively with agencies and public bodies to fix problems and improve public administration.

“The cases in this report illustrate what can be achieved when complainants have a potentially legitimate grievance and when, prompted by the Ombudsman, agencies are willing to reconsider decisions”, Ms Glass said.

The report also highlights the Ombudsman’s new conciliation function where complainants are able to meet face-to-face with the agency they have a grievance with, under the careful guidance of qualified conciliators.

Samuel’s experience with Remembrance Parks Cemetery highlights the power of bringing the affected parties together. Samuel was shocked and distressed after the Trust removed his mother Bethany’s treasured mementoes he had placed on her grave. After complaining to the Ombudsman, Samuel and the Trust agreed to participate in a conciliation.

Samuel said the conciliation was what he needed, as his concerns had been acknowledged by the Trust and they had apologised to him and taken ownership of the problem. 

“Conciliation is a particularly useful tool when there is an ongoing relationship between the complainant and an agency, such as a tenant in public housing when there have been multiple ongoing complaints that could not be resolved. Bringing parties together can achieve tangible and lasting results to some intractable problems. It can also ‘humanise the bureaucracy’ and empower complainants”, Ms Glass said.

Other cases highlighted in the report include:

  • a restless city-dweller getting his post-lockdown travel voucher after initially being denied
  • a pensioner in public housing getting her leaky roof fixed
  • the owner of a hybrid vehicle getting a discount after initially being denied by VicRoads because of a mistake
  • a prison improving its processes after a menstruating prisoner’s dignity was not respected.

“These stories demonstrate that although we hold powers similar to a Royal Commission, the nudge of the Ombudsman’s elbow is often the only power we need”, Ms Glass said.

Link to report