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Complaint handling

Complaints from the Ombudsman can be viewed as an opportunity to review decisions and for the body complained of to take a proactive approach to resolving the matter. Where a dismissive or defensive approach is adopted, however, an opportunity for a constructive outcome can be lost, and an issue can escalate from what might have been a minor matter into something more serious.

Good complaint handling procedures provide an opportunity to put things right. They also have an equally important role in planning and improving services to the public and are a useful means of monitoring the quality of service being provided. Constructive comments and suggestions can provide a helpful insight into existing problems and offer new ideas on how services can be improved. Effective complaint handling procedures provide an opportunity to establish a more positive relationship with the complainant and to develop an understanding of his/her needs. In the experience of the Office, people who make complaints are not usually motivated by ill will or malice and, generally, do not expect or seek financial compensation. They do, however, expect an explanation and a sincere apology together with some assurance that the matter giving rise to the complaint will not re-occur. Where a complaint is seen to be ignored, or is handled inadequately, the situation can rapidly deteriorate and lessen the prospects of a resolution.

This is why, in addressing those bodies within the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman, the Office has stressed the importance of installing good internal complaint handing procedures as set out in The Ombudsman's Guide to Internal Complaints Systems which can be viewed on our website: www.ombudsman.ie. It is important, therefore, that local authorities have an efficient complaint handling system in place, not just in relation to complaints received directly from the public, but also to deal with those referred by the Ombudsman.