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Public sector complaints system confusing and poor value for money

The complaints and redress system for public services is confusing, scattered and poor value for money, the National Audit Office has found.

Over many years, government has established independent ombudsman and complaints bodies in various parts of the public sector, each with different legislative provisions, protocols and powers, resulting in a scattered system that is difficult to understand and not comprehensive.

In a new report the NAO details how consumers often do not know where to turn when wishing to make a complaint due to the vast amount of different bodies that cover different areas.

Making matters more difficult are several areas with no formal route to seek independent redress, such as complaints about academies.

The scattered nature of the system also makes improvement difficult as responsibility for different elements sit with different parts of central and local government, each with different governance and accountability arrangements.

Over 10 million people who used public services (approximately 1 in 5) in the UK last year faced problems when using those services, according to the report. The problems ranged from fairly straightforward issues, such as types of food in care homes, to serious and life-threatening safeguarding issues.

The NAO estimates that, in 2014, 320,000 social care users (some 25%) had service problems in social care, with the most prominent issues being poor quality of service, communications and service management.

Additionally around 10% of childcare users faced problems including poor-quality advice, safety concerns and poor service quality.

The report found that consumers are much less likely to complain about a public service than a private service with almost half of users who experience problems not complaining.

The main reasons identified for people not complaining about public services were that they do not think it will be worth the effort (35%), or they think nothing can be done (35%). Only 31% of public service complainants were satisfied with the outcome of their complaint.

The NAO believe that public service organizations do not make enough use of complaints to improve services and there can be serious impediments to doing so.

It is also critical about a lack of a standard approach to recording or reporting on complaints and, despite some examples of good practice, an irregular and informal approach to data sharing.

Amongst the NAO’s recommendations is that the Cabinet Office, which oversees public service reform working in partnership with other government departments, should nominate an authority within government to manage reforms to the complaints and redress system.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “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.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


Charles Cutting   27/06/2015 at 20:14

There is no proper laid down information,on the vises that foreign spouses,and children can refer too,to prove they have indefinite stay,because the vises do not confirm this,and colleges who have to check them even when the passports say so,ask for another document that costs £240 pounds,colleges and employers are having to do immigration border agencies jobs with out all the official information,because border agency staff will not release it.

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