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Complaints Handling Procedure - main text

Scottish Government

Complaints Handling Procedure - main text

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Home About Topics News Publications Consultations   You are here: Contacts Have Your Say Making a complaint Complaints handling The Procedure in detail Menu Contacts Have Your Say Making a complaint Complaints handling How to complain The Procedure in detail Complaints Handling Guidance to Scottish Government staff on the Complaints Handling Procedure (CHP)

This document explains to staff how to handle complaints.  The [insert link] provides information for customers on the CHP.  Together, these form our complaints handling procedure.

It is designed to be adopted as an internal document.  It contains references and links to more details on parts of the procedure, such as how to record complaints, and the criteria for signing off and agreeing time extensions.  These explain how to process, manage and reach decisions on different types of complaints. 

When using this document, please also refer to the 'SPSO Statement of Complaints Handling Principles' and best practice guidance on complaints handling from the Complaints Standards Authority at the SPSO.

What is a complaint?

The Scottish Public Sector Ombudsman’s definition of a complaint is:

'An expression of dissatisfaction by one or more members of the public about the organisation's action or lack of action, or about the standard of service provided by or on behalf of the organisation.'

A complaint may relate to:

failure to provide a service inadequate standard of service dissatisfaction with the Scottish Government’s policy treatment by or attitude of a member of staff disagreement with a decision where the customer cannot use another procedure (for example an appeal) to resolve the matter the Scottish Government's failure to follow the appropriate administrative process.

This list does not cover everything.

Appendix 1 provides a range of examples of complaints we may receive, and how these may be handled.

A complaint is not:

a routine first-time request for a service a request for compensation only issues that are in court or have already been heard by a court or a tribunal disagreement with a decision where a statutory right of appeal exists an attempt to reopen a previously concluded complaint or to have a complaint reconsidered where we have already given our final decision.

You must not treat these issues as complaints, and should instead direct customers to use the appropriate procedures.

Appendix 2 gives more examples of 'what is not a complaint' and how to direct customers appropriately.

An observation, however passionately felt or personally motivated, on Government policy or its implementation is not a complaint that can be dealt with under this process (although a failure to respond, courteously, adequately and in a timely way, to such an observation may legitimately give rise to complaint). Those dissatisfied with decisions of the Scottish Government or its associated bodies should normally follow formal appeal or review processes where such exist (in these cases, a formal complaint, if upheld, is likely only to result in the complainant being redirected back to that appeal process) or through their elected representative. The complaints handling process is designed to deal with those cases where no other route for addressing a concern is available within the Scottish Government.

Handling anonymous complaints

We value all complaints.  This means we treat all complaints including anonymous complaints seriously and will take action to consider them further, wherever this is appropriate.  Generally, we will consider anonymous complaints if there is enough information in the complaint to enable us to make further enquiries.  If, however, an anonymous complaint does not provide enough information to enable us to take further action, we may decide not to pursue it further.  Any decision not to pursue an anonymous complaint must be authorised by a Deputy Director.

If an anonymous complaint makes serious allegations, we will refer it to a senior officer immediately.

If we pursue an anonymous complaint further, we will record the issues as an anonymous complaint on the complaints system.  This will help to ensure the completeness of the complaints data we record and allow us to take corrective action where appropriate.

What if the customer does not want to complain?

If a customer has expressed dissatisfaction in line with our definition of a complaint but does not want to complain, tell them that we do consider all expressions of dissatisfaction, and that complaints offer us the opportunity to improve services where things have gone wrong.  Encourage the customer to submit their complaint and allow us to deal with it through the complaints handling procedure.  This will ensure that the customer is updated on the action taken and gets a response to their complaint.

If, however, the customer insists they do not wish to complain, record the issue as an anonymous complaint.  This will ensure that the customer's details are not recorded on the complaints database and that they receive no further contact about the matter.  It will also help to ensure the completeness of the complaints data recorded and will still allow us to fully consider the matter and take corrective action where appropriate.

Please refer to the example in Appendix 1 for further guidance.

Who can make a complaint?

Anyone who receives, requests or is affected by our services can make a complaint.  Sometimes a customer may be unable or reluctant to make a complaint on their own.  We will accept complaints brought by third parties as long as the customer has given their personal consent.

Complaints involving more than one service or organisation

If a complaint relates to the actions of two or more of the Scottish Government’s services, you must tell the customer who will take the lead in dealing with the complaint, and explain that they will get only one response covering all issues raised.

If a customer complains to the Scottish Government about the service of another agency or public service provider, but the Scottish Government has no involvement in the issue, the customer should be advised to contact the appropriate organisation directly.  However, where, a complaint relates to a service provided by the Scottish Government and the service of another agency or public service provider, (for example a regulator, commissioner or a government department), and the Scottish Government has a direct interest in the issue, you must handle the complaint about the Scottish Government through the CHP.  If you need to make enquiries to an outside agency in relation to the complaint always take account of data protection legislation and our guidance on handling our customer’s personal information.  The Information Commissioner has detailed guidance on data sharing and has issued a data sharing code of practice.  

Such complaints may include:

unexpected additional costs to householder to allow the installation of a heating system under the Scottish Government’s Central Heating Programme dissatisfaction with a service provided by an NDPB/Agency or the handling of a complaint under the organisations own complaint process. Example: road safety issues; staff terms and conditions; delays in processing applications; non provision of information. The complaints handling process

Our complaints handling procedure aims to provide a quick, simple and streamlined process for resolving complaints early and locally by capable, well-trained staff.

Our complaints process provides two opportunities to resolve complaints internally:

frontline resolution, and investigation.

For clarity, the term 'frontline resolution' refers to the first stage of the complaints process.  It does not reflect any job description within the Scottish Government but means seeking to resolve complaints at the initial point of contact where possible.

Stage one:  frontline resolution

Frontline resolution aims to quickly resolve straightforward customer complaints that require little or no investigation.  Any member of staff may deal with complaints at this stage.

The main principle is to seek early resolution, resolving complaints at the earliest opportunity and as close to the point of service delivery as possible.  This may mean a face-to-face discussion with the customer, or asking an appropriate member of staff to deal directly with the complaint.

Appendix 1 gives examples of the types of complaint we may consider at this stage, with suggestions on how to resolve them.

In practice, frontline resolution means resolving the complaint at the first point of contact with the customer, either by the member of staff receiving the complaint or other identified staff.

In either case, you may settle the complaint by providing an on-the-spot apology where appropriate, or explaining why the issue occurred and, where possible, what will be done to stop this happening again.  You may also explain that, as an organisation that values complaints, we may use the information given when we review service standards in the future.

A customer can make a complaint in writing, in person, by telephone, by email or online, or by having someone complain on their behalf.  You must always consider frontline resolution, regardless of how you have received the customer's complaint.  This may arrive via the Central Enquiry Unit, Ministerial Correspondence Unit or Ministerial Private Office.

What to do when you receive a complaint

1        On receiving a complaint, you must first decide whether the issue can indeed be defined as a complaint.  The customer may express dissatisfaction about more than one issue.  This may mean you treat one element as a complaint, while directing the customer to pursue another element through an alternative route (see Appendix 2 ).

2        If you have received and identified a complaint, contact the internal mailbox SGComplaints to arrange for the details to be on our complaints system.

3        Next, decide whether or not the complaint is suitable for frontline resolution.  Some complaints will need to be fully investigated before you can give the customer a suitable response.  You must escalate these complaints immediately to the investigation stage.

4        Where you think frontline resolution is appropriate, you must consider four key questions:

What exactly is the customer's complaint (or complaints)? What does the customer want to achieve by complaining? Can I achieve this, or explain why not? If I cannot resolve this, who can help with frontline resolution?

What exactly is the customer's complaint (or complaints)?

It is important to be clea hkilujrn. us digital millennium copyright act yahoor about exactly what the customer is complaining of.  You may need to ask the customer for more information and probe further to get a full picture.

What does the customer want to achieve by complaining?

At the outset, clarify the outcome the customer wants.  Of course, the customer may not be clear about this, and you may need to probe further to find out what they expect, and whether they can be satisfied.

Can I achieve this, or explain why not?

If you can achieve the expected outcome by providing an on-the-spot apology or explain why you cannot achieve it, you should do so.  If you consider an apology is appropriate, you may wish to follow the SPSO's guidance on the subject: SPSO guidance on apology

The customer may expect more than we can provide.  If so, you must tell them as soon as possible.  An example would be where the customer is so dissatisfied with insulation services provided under a Scottish Government initiative or programme that they demand a new heating system, but we are only willing to replace the cavity wall insulation in accordance with the contract.

You may have to have to convey the decision face to face or on the telephone.  If you do so face to face or by telephone, it is recommended that you confirm the position in writing.  It is important that you keep a full and accurate record of the decision reached and this is passed to the customer.

If I can’t resolve this, who can help with frontline resolution?

If you cannot deal with the complaint because, for example, you are unfamiliar with the issues or area of service involved, pass details of the complaint to someone who can attempt to resolve it.


Frontline resolution must be completed within five working days, although in practice we would often expect to resolve the complaint much sooner.

You may need to get more information from other services to resolve the complaint at this stage.  However, it is important to respond to the customer within five working days, either resolving the matter or explaining that their complaint is to be investigated. 

Extension to the timeline

In exceptional circumstances, where there are clear and justifiable reasons for doing so, you may agree an extension of no more than five working days with the customer.  This must only happen when an extension will make it more likely that the complaint will be resolved at the frontline resolution stage.

When you ask for an extension, you must get authorisation from the team leader or branch head, who will decide whether you need an extension to effectively resolve the complaint.  Examples of when this may be appropriate include staff or contractors being temporarily unavailable.  If, however, the issues are so complex that they cannot be resolved in five days, it may be more appropriate to escalate the complaint straight to the investigation stage.  You must tell the customer about the reasons for the delay, and when they can expect your response.

If the customer does not agree to an extension but it is unavoidable and reasonable, a senior manager must decide on the extension.  You must then tell the customer about the delay and explain the reason for the decision to grant the extension.

It is important that such extensions do not become the norm.  Rather, the timeline at the frontline resolution stage should be extended only rarely.  All attempts to resolve the complaint at this stage must take no longer than ten working days from the date you receive the complaint.

The proportion of complaints that exceed the five-day limit will be evident from reported statistics.  These statistics must go to the Improvement Board on a quarterly basis.

Appendix 3 provides further information on timelines.

Closing the complaint at the frontline resolution stage

It is recommended that you inform the customer of the outcome in writing.  You must ensure that our response to the complaint addresses all areas that we are responsible for and explains the reasons for our decision.  It is also important to keep a full and accurate record of the decision reached and given to the customer.  The complaint should then be closed and the complaints system updated accordingly.

When to escalate to the investigation stage

A complaint must be escalated to the investigation stage when:

frontline resolution was tried but the customer remains dissatisfied and requests an investigation into the complaint.  This may be immediately on communicating the decision at the frontline stage or could be some time later the customer refuses to take part in the frontline resolution process the issues raised are complex and require detailed investigation the complaint relates to serious, high-risk or high-profile issues.

When a previously closed complaint is escalated from the frontline resolution stage, the complaint should be reopened on the complaints system.

Take particular care to identify complaints that might be considered serious, high risk or high profile, as these may require particular action or raise critical issues that need senior management's direct input.  The SPSO defines potential high-risk or high-profile complaints as those that may:

involve a death or terminal illness involve serious service failure, for example major delays in providing, or repeated failures to provide, a service generate significant and ongoing press interest pose a serious risk to the Scottish Government’s operations present issues of a highly sensitive nature, for example concerning: immediate homelessness a particularly vulnerable person child protection. Stage two:  investigation

Not all complaints are suitable for frontline resolution and not all complaints will be satisfactorily resolved at that stage.  Complaints handled at the investigation stage of the complaints handling procedure are typically complex or require a detailed examination before we can state our position.  These complaints may already have been considered at the frontline resolution stage, or they may have been identified from the start as needing immediate investigation.

An investigation aims to establish all the facts relevant to the points made in the complaint and to give the customer a full, objective and proportionate response that represents our final position.

What to do when you receive a complaint for investigation

It is important to be clear from the start of the investigation stage exactly what you are investigating, and to ensure that both the customer and the service understand the investigation's scope.

It may be helpful to discuss and confirm these points with the customer at the outset, to establish why they are dissatisfied and whether the outcome they are looking for sounds realistic.  In discussing the complaint with the customer, consider three key questions:

What specifically is the customer's complaint or complaints? What does the customer want to achieve by complaining? Are the customer's expectations realistic and achievable?

It may be that the customer expects more than we can provide.  If so, you must make this clear to the customer as soon as possible.

Where possible you should also clarify what additional information you will need to investigate the compliant.  The customer may need to provide more evidence to help us reach a decision.

Contact the SGComplaints internal mailbox to to arrange for the details of the investigation to be recorded on the system for recording complaints.  Where appropriate, this will be done as a continuation of frontline resolution.  The details must be updated when the investigation ends.

If the investigation stage follows attempted frontline resolution, you must hand over all case notes and associated information to the officer responsible for the investigation, and record that you have done so.


The following deadlines are appropriate to cases at the investigation stage:

complaints must be acknowledged within three working days you should provide a full response to the complaint as soon as possible but not later than 20 working days from the time you received the complaint for investigation. Extension to the timeline

Not all investigations will be able to meet this deadline.  For example, some complaints are so complex that they require careful consideration and detailed investigation beyond the 20-day limit.  However, these would be the exception and you must always try to deliver a final response to a complaint within 20 working days.

If there are clear and justifiable reasons for extending the timescale, senior management will set time limits on any extended investigation, as long as the customer agrees.  You must keep the customer updated on the reason for the delay and give them a revised timescale for completion.  If the customer does not agree to an extension but it is unavoidable and reasonable, then senior management must consider and confirm the extension.  The reasons for an extension might include the following:

Essential accounts or statements, crucial to establishing the circumstances of the case, are needed from staff, customers or others but they cannot help because of long-term sickness or leave. You cannot obtain further essential information within normal timescales. Operations are disrupted by unforeseen or unavoidable operational circumstances, for example industrial action or severe weather conditions. The customer has agreed to mediation as a potential route for resolution.

These are only a few examples, and you must judge the matter in relation to each complaint.  However, an extension would be the exception and you must always try to deliver a final response to the complaint within 20 working days.

As with complaints considered at the frontline stage, the proportion of complaints that exceed the 20-day limit will be evident from reported statistics.  These statistics must go to our Improvement Board on a quarterly basis.

Appendix 3 provides further information on timelines.


Some complex complaints, or complaints where customers and other interested parties have become entrenched in their position, may require a different approach to resolving the complaint.  Where appropriate, you may consider using services such as mediation or conciliation using suitably trained and qualified mediators to try to resolve the matter and to reduce the risk of the complaint escalating further. 

Mediation will help both parties to understand what has caused the complaint, and so is more likely to lead to mutually satisfactory solutions.

If you and the customer agree to mediation, revised timescales will need to be agreed.

It is not anticipated that the Scottish Government will require to refer many complaints for mediation and decisions to do so must be agreed by the appropriate Director.

Closing the complaint at the investigation stage

You must let the customer know the outcome of the investigation, in writing or by their preferred method of contact.  Our response to the complaint must address all areas that we are responsible for and explain the reasons for our decision.  Contact the SGComplaints internal mailbox to arrange for the decision, and details of how it was communicated to the customer, to be recorded on the system for registering complaints.  You must also make clear to the customer:

their right to ask SPSO to consider the complaint the time limit for doing so how to contact the SPSO Independent external review

Once the investigation stage has been completed, the customer has the right to approach the SPSO if they remain dissatisfied.

The SPSO considers complaints from people who remain dissatisfied at the conclusion of our complaints procedure.  The SPSO looks at issues such as service failures and maladministration (administrative fault), as well as the way we have handled the complaint.

The SPSO recommends that you use the wording below to inform customers of their right to ask SPSO to consider the complaint.  The SPSO also provides a leaflet, The Ombudsman and your organisation , which you may find helpful in deciding how and when to refer someone to the SPSO.

Information about the SPSO

The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) is the final stage for complaints about public services in Scotland.  This includes complaints about the Scottish Government, NDPBs, Agencies and other government sponsored organisations.  If you remain dissatisfied with an organisation after its complaints process, you can ask the SPSO to look at your complaint.  The SPSO cannot normally look at complaints:

where you have not gone all the way through the Scottish Government's complaints handling procedure more than 12 months after you became aware of the matter you want to complain about, or that have been or are being considered in court

The SPSO's contact details are:

SPSO 4 Melville Street Edinburgh EH3 7NS   SPSO Freepost EH641 Edinburgh EH3 0BR  

Freephone:  0800 377 7330

Online contact


Mobile site:

Governance of the Complaints Handling Procedure (CHP) Roles and responsibilities

Overall responsibility and accountability for the management of complaints lies with the Permanent Secretary.

Our final position on the complaint must be signed off by the Investigating Officer in agreement with an appropriate senior officer (Deputy Director or above) and we will confirm that this is our final response.  This ensures that our senior management own and are accountable for the decision.  It also reassures the customer that their concerns have been taken seriously.

The Permanent Secretary and Directors General:  The Permanent Secretary and Directors General provide leadership and direction in ways that guide and enable us to perform effectively across all services.  This includes ensuring that there is an effective complaints handling procedure, with a robust investigation process that demonstrates how we learn from the complaints we receive.  The Permanent Secretary and Directors General may take a personal interest in all or some complaints, or may delegate responsibility for the complaint handling procedure to senior staff.  Regular management reports assure the Permanent Secretary of the quality of complaints performance. 

Directors/Deputy Directors:  On the Permanent Secretary’s behalf, they may be responsible for overseeing the Complaints Handling Procedures (CHP).  This includes:

the management of complaints and the way we learn from them overseeing the implementation of actions required as a result of a complaint supporting investigating officers and ensuring that adequate resource is available   

They will usually delegate elements of complaints handling (such as investigations and the drafting of response letters) to Investigating Officers.  Where this happens, they should retain ownership and accountability for the management and reporting of complaints. 

Complaints investigator:  The complaints investigator is responsible and accountable for the management of the investigation.  They may work in a service delivery team or as part of a centralised customer service team, and will be involved in the investigation and in co-ordinating all aspects of the response to the customer.  This may include preparing a comprehensive written report, including details of any procedural changes in service delivery that could result in wider opportunities for learning across the Scottish Government.

All staff:  A complaint may be made to any member of staff in the Scottish Government.  So all staff must be aware of the complaints handling procedure and how to handle and record complaints at the frontline stage.  They should also be aware of who to refer a complaint to, in case they are not able to personally handle the matter.  We encourage all staff to try to resolve complaints early, as close to the point of service delivery as possible, and quickly to prevent escalation.

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Meaning of “complaint” in the English Dictionary English English American Business Contents Contents noun (2) complaint (REPORT OF A PROBLEM) complaint (ILLNESS) Contents noun (3) complaint (1) complaint (2) complaint (3) English American Business "complaint" in English   See all translations complaint noun uk ​ / kəmˈpleɪnt / us ​ / kəmˈpleɪnt / complaint noun ( REPORT OF A PROBLEM ) B1 [ C or U ] a statement that something is wrong or not satisfactory :

We've received a complaint from one of our listeners about offensive language . I've made a complaint (= formally complained ) to the police about the noise . [ + that ] We've had complaints that you've been playing your radio too loud . Do you have any grounds for complaint (= reason to formally complain ) ? More examples

The manufacturers are reported to have received a long list of complaints from dissatisfied customers . The company has new procedures for dealing with complaints. We've received lots of complaints about the changes from regular listeners to the programme . My lawyer is going to compose a letter of complaint. I wish to make a complaint - these chips are cold . Thesaurus: synonyms and related words


beef bewail bugger, sod, etc. this for a lark! idiom cavil chunter complainant groan grouse harp harp on (about sth) huff and puff idiom kick lodge make a noise about sth idiom nark protest quibble squeal start on at sb whinger

See more results »

complaint noun ( ILLNESS ) › [ C ] an illness :

a heart / stomach complaint Thesaurus: synonyms and related words

Disease & illness - general words

abnormality autoimmune disease bilharzia bluetongue bout CFS CGD dose dreaded lurgy endemic lay life-threatening lurgy morbidity pandemic pinkeye strangulated syndrome viral wasting disease

See more results »

(Definition of “complaint” from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)

"complaint" in American English   See all translations complaint noun [ C/U ] us ​ / kəmˈpleɪnt / › a statement that something is wrong or not good enough, the act of complaining , or the thing you are complaining about:

[ U ] a letter of complaint [ C ] Her only complaint is that she sometimes didn’t get enough heat in her apartment . › law A complaint is also a formal statement to a government authority that you have a legal cause to complain about the way you have been treated :

[ C ] He filed a complaint with the commission , charging discrimination based on his disability .

(Definition of “complaint” from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)

"complaint" in Business English   See all translations complaint noun uk ​ / kəmˈpleɪnt / us ​ › [ C ] a written or spoken statement in which someone says that somebody has done something wrong or that something is not satisfactory :

lodge/make/receive a complaint The council has said that it received complaints but that it cannot disclose details. deal with/handle complaints They have an efficient system in place for dealing with customer complaints. complaint about sb/sth The gas company has promised to investigate the man's complaint about a quarterly bill for £1,500. complaint against sb/sth Complaints against an employment agency should be made to the Employment Agencies Standards office . › [ C or U ] the act of complaining , or a reason for someone to complain :

The biggest complaint about the new proposal is that it could increase costs . cause/grounds for complaint On this occasion, shareholders have little cause for complaint. We have received several letters of complaint . › [ C ] LAW a formal statement that someone has harmed somebody else or done something illegal , which must be proved in a court of law :

file/lodge a complaint A complaint alleging financial wrongdoing was lodged with the district attorney's office .

(Definition of “complaint” from the Cambridge Business English Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)

Translations of “complaint”   in Arabic in Korean in Portuguese in Catalan in Japanese in Chinese (Simplified) in Turkish in Russian in Chinese (Traditional) in Italian in Polish شَكوى, تَذَمُّر…


queixa, reclamação…

queixa, reclamació…


投诉, 抱怨,牢骚, 不满…

şikayet, itiraz, yakınma…

жалоба, причина недовольства, болезнь…

投訴, 抱怨,牢騷, 不滿…

reclamo, protesta…

skarga, zarzut, reklamacja…

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