Frequently Asked Questions
Quick answers to your most commonly asked questions
Before you make a complaint to us you should normally have:
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.
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:
We can only deal with complaints about public service providers.
We would not generally accept your complaint if:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yes, we use Independent Professional Advisors (IPAs) in some investigations, such as complex medical cases.
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.
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.
We uphold (or partially uphold) around two thirds of the complaints we investigate. Around one third are not upheld.
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:
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.