Complaint handling guide for agencies during a crisis

Date posted:

The Victorian Ombudsman has drawn on the experience of government agencies to create a new guide to help those involved in emergency response work to deal with complaints about their programs.

As pandemic programs wind up and staff move on, we wanted to learn from what happened and share the knowledge.

This guide sets out 12 key lessons for handling complaints in emergency response and relief programs. They represent the collective wisdom of the agency officers, and of our office.

Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass: "This guide draws on what very different agencies did in response to crisis. The best put complaint handling front and centre and evolved as they went. We engaged with staff from four programs, and I thank them for their openness and willingness both to learn and to share, before their hard-won knowledge was scattered to the winds."

Helping Victorians in a crisis is a growing reality for agencies, government departments, councils, charities and community groups. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the difficulties in responding quickly and appropriately to an emergency.

Amid the haste to get appropriate help to those who require it urgently, the need for a well-planned complaint handling process to accompany government programs should always be among top priorities “You can guarantee if you are running an emergency response and relief program, you will get complaints” said Ombudsman Deborah Glass.

During the pandemic some agencies managed complaints well. Others struggled to deal with high volumes of complaints on top of the other pressures they faced.

The guide details the complaint handling efforts of four pandemic response and relief programs, with staff sharing what worked well, what they would do differently next time, and other advice for grappling with future emergencies.

The four programs included in the guide – financial support for small business, grants to boost residential construction, quarantine services, and quick rent dispute resolution – present a useful snapshot of how agencies can prepare for the next crisis.

Ms. Glass: “This, then, is the opportunity: for others to get a faster start when faced with the next crisis. Because crisis is a certainty, whenever or however it next evolves. And the more we can learn from the last one, the better we will handle it. My advice to all public organisations – keep this Guide close by.”

LINK to guide Good Practice Guide: Complaint handling in a crisis

Media contact: or 0409 936 235