We are here to help.

Before you make a complaint to us you should normally have:

  • Complained directly to the organisation  
  • Gone through its complaints process
  • Received a final response to your complaint

General information

What does NIPSO do?

We provide a free, independent, and impartial service for looking at unresolved complaints about public services in Northern Ireland.

Our role is to make a decision on each case by taking into account all the available facts and evidence. We do this by carefully considering the views and opinions of both the person making the complaint and whoever is being complained about.

Our aim is to help public services improve through our investigations and reports.

What can I complain about?

We investigate public service complaints covering education, local authorities, central government, social housing, and health and social care. We look at complaints about maladministration, which is generally taken to mean poor administration or the wrong application of rules. Examples include:

  • Avoidable delay
  • Faulty procedures or failing to follow the correct procedures
  • Not telling you about any rights of appeal you have
  • Unfairness, bias or prejudice
  • Giving advice that is misleading or inadequate
  • Discourtesy and failure to apologise
  • Mistakes in handling your complaint
  • Refusing to answer reasonable questions

Is there anything you cannot investigate?

We can only deal with complaints about public service providers.

We would not generally accept your complaint if:

  • You make your complaint more than 6 months after completing the organisation’s complaints procedure
  • You could take your case to a tribunal
  • We believe that the action or decision you are complaining about was reasonable
  • It is about government policy
  • It is about private health care
  • If you are not sure whether we can deal with your particular complaint, please contact us on Freephone 0800 34 34 24.

Do I have to pay to make a complaint?

  • No, our service is free of charge.

What is an 'Own Initiative' investigation

Our ‘Own Initiative’ function allows us to investigate when we believe that there is reasonable suspicion of systemic service failure, even where we have not received complaints from members of the public.

What are complaints standards?

Complaints standards are a set of procedures which explain to public bodies how they should deal with complaints.  They are contained in our Model Complaints Handling Procedures, which have been created to help all public bodies handle complaints in broadly the same way. 

Making a complaint

How do I complain?

You should first put your complaint to the public body concerned.

If you remain dissatisfied after completing the body’s complaint procedure, then you can bring your complaint to us.

You can submit a complaint form online or download the form from our website.

Please contact us if you have difficulty in submitting your complaint to us in writing, or would like the complaint form in another language or format.

What information do you need from me?

The best way to send in your complaint to us is by sending in a fully completed Complaints Form.  We ask for the following information:

  • Your name, address and other contact details
  • Whether you intend to, or have begun, legal action
  • Whether your complaint is on behalf of someone else
  • The name of the organisation you are complaining about
  • Whether you have complained to the organisation
  • If so, whether you have received a final response from them or completed their complaints procedure
  • When the event you are complaining about happened
  • Any copies of supporting paperwork received from the organisation in relation to your complaint
  • An outline of the background to your complaint and a brief description of what you think the organisation failed to do, or did wrongly.
  • How the actions of the organisation have affected you
  • The outcome or remedy you would like us to achieve for you.

Can someone complain on my behalf?

Yes.  A family member, solicitor, advocacy body, or MLA may bring a complaint to us on your behalf.

We may contact you to ensure you consent to someone else bringing the complaint on your behalf.

Is there a time limit for making a complaint?

Once the public body has completed its complaints procedure, you must bring your complaint to us within 6 months.  In exceptional cases we may be able to accept complaints if they are brought to us after this.

Assessing your complaint

Will my complaint be investigated?

We will check your complaint to see if the law allows us to investigate it.  If we cannot accept your complaint we will inform you of our decision in writing within 2 weeks.

Investigating your complaint

What happens in an investigation?

Our specialist investigators bring a wide variety of experience to the role. They obtain all relevant evidence from the complainant and the public service provider.

They also check policies and procedures to help them understand what should have happened.

Will I be interviewed?

You may be interviewed by an Investigating Officer if we need more information from you.  If so we will contact you to arrange a suitable time and date.

How long does an investigation take?

Some investigations can be completed within a few weeks, but complex investigations will take longer.  These would be cases where we need to get professional advice, look at a lot of written material, interview a number of people or make detailed enquiries.  

During this time we will keep you updated on the progress of our investigation.

Do your investigators get specialist case advice?

Yes, we use Independent Professional Advisors (IPAs) in some investigations, such as complex medical cases.

Can I see your draft report?

Yes. Once the investigation has finished we will write a draft report. This will be sent to you for your comment. A copy will also be sent to the organisation.

You will also be asked at this stage whether you have any comment to make on us publishing an anonymised version of the report.

After the investigation

What happens if you uphold my complaint?

Where we find that a public body has done something wrong we will recommend how things can be put right. This could be an apology, a suggestion for service improvement, or for a public body to refund money to a complainant.

We often ask that these are done within a specific timescale.

What percentage of the complaints you investigate are ‘upheld’?

We uphold (or partially uphold) around two thirds of the complaints we investigate. Around one third are not upheld.

Do you issue a report?

If your complaint is closed at the assessment stage you will receive a letter from us.

If your complaint goes for investigation a report will be sent to you and the public body.  The report will set out:

  • the full details of the complaint
  • what standards, policies, procedures or legislation were referred to during the investigation
  • the response of the public body
  • details of any advice received from the Independent Professional Advisors
  • our findings and the reasons for them
  • any recommendations made to the organisation

Will your report be made public?

We publish our reports where we believe there is a public interest in doing so.

Before deciding to publish any report we will ask any interested parties for their comments.

If a report is published, as far as possible any personal details which might cause individuals to be identified will be removed. The name of the public body will remain.

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