/ Health, Parenting

Tell us your experience of complaining about public services

Make complaints count illustration

How easy is it for you to complain about a public service and to seek redress for any wrong suffered? Charles Nancarrow, from the National Audit Office, has co-authored a report looking at how the system works.

The National Audit Office has been examining the complaints and redress system in public services, and last month we published the results of our investigations.

The report found that the current system is incoherent and dissatisfying to users, and in need of reform and rationalisation.

We’d like to hear about your experiences of complaining when things go wrong, and how you would like to see the system improved.

When things go wrong with public services

Public services are vital to our welfare. When they go wrong, which happens for about one in five of us every year, the consequences can be very serious.

Problems range from relatively straightforward issues – 42% of complainants had problems with quality of service – to serious and potentially life-threatening situations.

Our study found a care home which failed to recognise the signs of stroke in an elderly relative and failed to call an ambulance, and examples of young infants being left unattended in nurseries.

So how can we prevent these failures occurring, and make sure that where users have suffered they can gain redress?

A major line of defence is complaints from the public, who observe the quality of service first hand. Complaints can be a good early warning sign of potential problems.

The public was first able to seek independent redress when a public sector ombudsman was set up in 1967, and the system has grown haphazardly since.

You can now complain to organisations, ranging from regulators, local authorities, and government departments, to consumer advocates, providers and ombudsmen.

The problems with complaining

On the face of it, the sheer number of organisations that can take complaints ought to mean that you’re well served.

However, our report found that the system is failing users. People find it hard to know where to direct their complaints and must approach a range of bodies for different issues.

As a result, it can take a very long time to get problems resolved and about a half of complainants give up.

Last year 36% of complainants about local services spent more than a year trying to resolve their problem with their local authority before taking their complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman.

Add to this the fact that you must often rely on the service provider investigating themselves, and it’s easy to see why less than a third of complainants were satisfied with the outcome of their complaint last year.

It is not for a want of trying from the authorities concerned. Many of those we visited in our study were focused on using complaints to improve services, but current set up makes it hard for them to do so.

The low level of data sharing between organisations means it is very difficult to work out where and why problems occur.

Services that people want

The Government says that it wants to improve the system substantially, and it has introduced a bill on ombudsmen reform. Our report contains further recommendations to help improve services. But reform will involve structural and cultural change across central and local government.

It is our job at the National Audit Office to hold government to account. We want to hear your experiences of complaining, in the public and private sectors. How you would like the current system improved?

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Charles Nancarrow at the National Audit Office. All opinions expressed here are Charles’s own, not necessarily those of Which?

Kev says:
3 July 2015

Bought a new Bosch washing machine WAQ283S1GB as it was a Best Buy. On the first wash the washing didnt spin well and was wet. Had to spin on a separate cyle to get it dry enough to hang out.
Tried again. Same problem.
Phoned retailer AO who refused to refund and offered an engineer visit as it was now used. They offered 45% price refund as it had water in it.
How would you know it was faulty until you used it?
Wrote a letter demanding a refund. No response.
It far exceeds the 77decibel limit on spin. The noisiest thing I have ever heard, so can’t use it when I want to sit at home.
Wouldnot recommend AO to anyone else and won’t be shopping there again in future.

Kev – Providing you act promptly, you can reject a faulty product, even if you are asked to accept a repair: http://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/problem/what-do-i-do-if-i-have-a-faulty-product

AO have this on their website: “Free 14 day returns
If you’re not 100% happy with your new appliance, return it for free within 14 days.”

I suggest you contact Trading Standards and it might help if you let Bosch know how you have been treated by one of their retailers. Best of luck with getting the problem solved promptly.

Apologies for accidentally posting a reply to an off-topic comment. I did report my comment and asked for it to be removed. 🙁

I completely agree on there being far too many organisations and not knowing where to turn to.

I have had cause to complain to the NHS several times when they have messed up our appointments with specialists.

These appointments were made months ago as they were supposedly the earliest that we could be seen at the end of very long waiting lists.

When we have a very long wait for an appointment, I regularly call to see if there are any cancellations, I am always polite and friendly, but a cancellation very rarely comes up.

So why, when the NHS are the ones at fault, do they manage to find you an appointment really quickly usually within the week?

I do have to wonder how many appointment slots are wasted.

The only time I can remember making a complaint about a public service was when I received notification of the forthcoming closure of my local GPs surgery, which was used mainly by students and some of the staff at the university where I used to work. When it became apparent that so many held the one-man GP practice in such high regard, we arranged a meeting with the Primary Care Trust, but to no avail. It did not comply with current standards. The days of being able to call in to see my very knowledgeable GP on any day of the week and be seen even without an appointment were over.