If you have a problem with a public service, do you know how to complain?

June 18, 2015 9:07 AM

Public services, in many cases, are no longer provided by single monolithic bodies. The range of providers has grown with an emphasis on public choice. While this is broadly positive, it has created a need for effective and efficient complaint and redress procedures – things do occasionally go wrong and it is essential that the impact of problems is minimised.

However, the National Audit Office have released figures today showing that the problems in the system are substantial.

“At present, the complaints and redress system in the public sector cannot be regarded as good value for money. Effective consumer and redress systems allow providers to be held accountable, improve quality and identify failure and malpractice. Many users have problems with public services, and serious detriment can and does occur. If government took the power of redress to improve public services seriously, it would recognize that the present system is incoherent and dissatisfying to users and would show urgency in reforming and rationalizing the system.”

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, 17 June 2015

Of the 10.6 million people who had a problem using a public service last year, only 49 per cent complained. Even then 36 per cent spent more than a year trying to resolve the problem before escalating to an ombudsman. Perhaps more concerning, is the lack of systematic collection and analysis of complaints – if one problem keeps coming up, systems are not in place for that to be picked up and resolved. Problem resolution ought to be about ensuring

Public faith in complaints procedures is very low. Of those that had a problem but did not complain, 35 per cent said that they felt that it would not have been worth the effort. If complaints and redress procedures are not seen as accessible or effective then the organisations involved out to be seriously rethinking their efforts. Many people do not know how to complain or who to and in some cases there is not an established complaints procedure at all.

There is a clear need for improvements in complaints and redress procedures, not only for those that have a problem, but to prevent the same problems happening for others. If public services are to provide good value for money to taxpayers, they need to be open about where they are going wrong.

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