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The issue of handling complaints is an important part of service delivery in government, underpinning the theme of ‘serving the customer better’ as emphasised in the Better Government modernisation, delivery programme and social partnership agreements, including Sustaining Progress.

Government’s commitment to the principles of quality customer service have been illustrated in recent years through a variety of practical developments, such as through extending opening hours, improving facilities, providing more accessible services, e-government initiatives, and published service standards, in many cases through public customer charters and customer service actions plans.

Customer complaints systems are another clear expression of government’s commitment to customer service and to treating citizens with courtesy and fairness, and in an open and transparent manner.

The commitment of management is an essential ingredient in a successful complaints system. The organisation should foster a positive and receptive attitude to complaints, and see the efficient processing of complaints as part of the day-to-day work of the organisation.

A complaints system can:

•           serve as a quick, efficient and low-cost means of resolving difficulties which service users may encounter;

•           provide accurate information for the local authority on the quality of the services they provide;

•           enable changes to be made in procedures and systems to ensure that similar complaints do not continue to arise;

•           avoid the extra time and cost involved in appeals;

•           indicate where problems or system failures exist in the provision of services;

•           highlight shortcomings in the administrative system and areas which might need improvement; and

•           help the government to avoid unfavourable publicity.

It should also be understood within the organisation that there is a commitment on the part of management to treating people in a fair, courteous and impartial manner.

Likewise, the commitment on the part of staff, particularly frontline staff dealing with the public (as the ‘face’ of the local authority so to speak) is vital.

Staff should be encouraged to take a positive attitude to complaints, and their experience of dealing with the public, and the issues that can arise, should be reflected in the design of the complaints system.

It is also important for the organisation to promote a culture that ensures that learning takes place –with that in mind, staff should be kept informed of the outcome of complaints.