Managing a Direct Complaint

Step-by-step instructions for handling a complaint

Every complaint is different, so your approach to resolving it will differ in each situation. While there are no hard and fast rules to follow in the resolution of complaints, the following principles will help in most situations.

Respond promptly

Complaints do add to your already hectic workload, but delays in dealing with them can add to tension and generate further resentment. Give a factual, clear, succinct and complete picture of the essential circumstances, answering all questions fully. Be willing to apologise. If you can’t respond quickly, let the service user know as soon as possible. Provide all relevant documents when requested. Aim to make progress towards resolving the complaint within 30 days of receipt.

Ask questions

Be clear about your service users concerns and objectives. The reason for the complaint may not be clear at first. Ask questions and make sure you are on the right track. Check about the need for interpreter services and see if the service user would like a friend or relative to support them. Give due consideration to points of view put forward by the complainant.

Gather all the relevant information

Make sure you have all the necessary records, reports and other relevant information.

Keep clear and accurate records

Separate the service user’s complaint records from their service records. This ensures the matter is properly documented, protects everyone’s privacy and minimises difficulties where other practitioners provide services to your service user.

Emphasise confidentiality and privacy

A complaint should be treated confidentially. Minimise the number of staff who are aware of, or involved in, handling the complaint to protect both your own and the service users privacy.

Plan meetings and stay calm

It is preferable to meet on neutral territory where everyone feels comfortable. Also, try to ensure interruptions or disruptions are minimised.

Keep your promises

Make sure that you set realistic timeframes in relation to promises, offers or agreed actions – and then keep them. If unexpected events arise which make it difficult to keep previous arrangements, personally notify the service user as soon as possible. Consider if complaints expose inadequacy in policy or procedure that need to be fixed promptly to avoid repeat complaints.

Seek advice and assistance if you are unsure about how to proceed

There may be times when it is unrealistic or not appropriate for you to deal with a complaint personally, for example complaints involving extremely distressed or aggressive people, complex situations involving multiple service providers or allegations of assault or sexual misconduct, are all situations where seeking advice is recommended. Advice can be obtained from a respected colleague, your employer, a professional association, an indemnity/insurance body or from HCSCC.

Other points to remember

  • the value of complaints lies in your response to their causes
  • it is perfectly natural to experience some initial defensiveness when a complaint is received
  • take the time to consider the complaint and compose yourself before dealing with the service user.