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. 

We want complaints to be resolved quickly.  Straightforward ones should be dealt with within 5 days, while more complicated ones should usually take no more than 20 days.

We're also aiming to transform the culture in public bodies so that complaints are seen as a tool to help improve services. 

We're doing this by giving organisations support, advice, and training.

Our Consultation

Part 3 of the Public Services Ombudsman Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 set out our responsibilities to consult on and create complaints handling standards for the public sector in Northern Ireland.

In June 2021 we launched a Consultation on our proposals, alongside a research report.  The aim of the report was to gain a greater understanding of the complaints processes, procedures and practices of a range of public bodies within NIPSO’s jurisdiction. 

It looked at experience of complaining to a public body in Northern Ireland, barriers to improved complaints handling, and improvements that might be made to complaints handling in the future.  

The consultation ran from June to September.

There were over 100 responses, with the vast majority showing widespread support for our plans and for our suggested approach for introducing the changes across the public sector.  

In January 2022 the Northern Ireland Assembly approved our complaints handling Statement of Principles, giving us the go ahead to design new Model Complaints Handling Principles with public bodies.

Model Complaints Handling Procedures

We chose local government as the first sector to develop a Model Complaints Handling Procedure (MCHP), and began work with local councils and others in March 2022.

We set up a Strategic Network made up of senior local government officials, and an Operational Network of staff involved in the handling of complaints.

This work led to the creation of the new Local Government Model Complaints Handling Procedure in July 2023.

The sector was given six months from this date to set up any new IT systems to record and report complaints information, and to provide staff with training in the new complaints standards procedure.  Therefore, from 1 January 2024 all local government organisations must adhere to and manage complaints according to the Model Complaints Handling Procedure.

This states that straightforward complaints should be dealt with within 5 working days, with more complicated ones should be passed to a second investigation stage which should take the public body no more than 20 working days to complete.

As well as setting timescales for responding to people’s concerns, we want to change the culture in organisations so that complaints are taken more seriously.  Complaints matter because they are an early warning system for public bodies.

Our training and advice to public bodies, including on how complaints should be investigated and how to communicate with complainants, will help support the changes.

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