Procedure - complaints handling
The complaints handling procedure supports the NSW Trade & Investment Complaints handling policy providing a structured mechanism to allow complaints and concerns about NSW Trade & Investment service delivery to be notified and managed in a professional manner.
This procedure applies to all divisions and authorities within NSW Trade & Investment. It applies to all permanent employees, temporary/seconded employees and private contractors/consultants who may receive, manage or investigate complaints.
The procedure describes how NSW Trade & Investment will manage situations where a service related complaint is made by an external client.
A complaint is an expression of dissatisfaction about the services provided or the performance of staff in providing that service.
The complaint handling procedure relates to the practices, actions and behaviour through which NSW Trade & Investment and its staff members implement policy, not the substance of the policy itself. Where representations are made to a Minister regarding a NSW Trade & Investment service, the Minister may elect to refer the matter to the Director General for investigation and response in accordance with this procedure.
The complaint handing procedure does not cover situations where suitable alternative arrangements are already in place or the substance of the complaint should be, or is being, dealt with under a separate process.
This complaint handling procedure therefore does not include:
- grievances, concerns and issues raised by staff. These are more appropriately progressed through one or more other processes dealing with grievances, bullying & harassment, work health and safety or public interest disclosures
- complaints involving allegations of possible corrupt or criminal behaviour. Instances of possible corruption are required to be notified and investigated in accordance with the provisions of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act 1988. Suspected criminal acts are referred to the Police
- matters where there is a legal remedy or a formal right of appeal or review. This includes matters where there is access to the Administrative Decisions Tribunal or legislated appeal and review rights
- complaints solely about the activities of third parties.
NSW Trade & Investment strives to provide services that are responsive to needs and meet the expectations of clients.
An important strategy for maintaining and improving the quality of these services is to identify, address and resolve complaints promptly and take remedial action where necessary.
For customers, clients and stakeholders of NSW Trade & Investment there is an expectation that complaints will be dealt with as soon as possible. Where a complaint cannot be resolved by frontline staff or local unit management, the issue should be elevated to the head of the branch.
Complaint handling at frontline or unit level
Wherever possible, complaints are best resolved informally by the people involved. It is expected the majority of complaints will be addressed and resolved by frontline staff or unit management providing further information or explanation at the time the original dissatisfaction is raised. This would most commonly occur during a conversation or in writing to documented representations.
In these circumstances no further action is required and it is not necessary for any action to be taken under the complaints handling process as the concern has been resolved.
If it is apparent the client is not satisfied with the service or response and resolution is unlikely at the frontline or unit management level, the client should be advised of the option to progress the matter through the complaints handling process. This process provides the formal structure to review and investigate unresolved complaints.
Complaint Handling Process
- receiving feedback from clients and resolving complaints at the first contact, wherever possible.
Manager Governance and Information Requests
- administering the complaints handling process, acting as a point of contact and information for complainants and staff members, maintaining the complaints register, monitoring actions and reporting progress against designated performance standards.
- ensuring complaints are thoroughly investigated and reported on, suitable recommendations are implemented and the complainant advised of outcomes within one month of receipt
- providing support to staff members dealing with difficult clients.
A schedule of branch heads is attached.
Staff investigating a complaint
- gathering the facts and assessing whether the actions and behaviour of NSW Trade & Investment staff and the processes under which they operate were suitable and appropriate in the circumstances.
Deputy Director General, Finance Strategy & Operations
- overall responsibility for the operation and management of the complaints handling process, including setting standards and monitoring the consistency and effectiveness of how the process is applied and reviewing the outcomes.
- responsibility for the conduct of investigations concerning complaints referred by the Minister, including ensuring all aspects of the complaint are thoroughly examined and reported upon, suitable recommendations are actioned and responses issued to the complainant.
Initiating a complaint
Where a concern has been unable to be resolved by frontline staff and the client wishes to progress the matter under the complaint handling process, details should be referred to the Manager Governance & Information Requests.
This notification may be made directly by the complainant or by a staff member on their behalf to:
Post: Complaints, NSW Trade & Investment, PO Box K220, HAYMARKET NSW 1240
The details required in the notification are:
- Name and contact details of the complainant
- A short summary of the issue and NSW Trade & Investment actions relevant to the complaint
- Staff members involved in the issue
- The action the complainant is seeking to resolve the complaint. It is essential the desired outcome is clearly stated to ensure there are no misunderstandings regarding the expectations of the complainant.
Documenting a complaint
The Manager, Governance & Information Requests will enter details of the complaint in the complaints register and acknowledge receipt to the complainant within two working days.
The complaints register is maintained by the Manager, Governance & Information Requests. Each complaint will be allocated an identifying reference number when entered in the complaints register. The complaints register will also contain:
- the name and contact details of the complainant
- details of the complaint and date received
- date acknowledgement of receipt was issued to the complainant
- the NSW Trade & Investment business unit/s involved
- the responsible branch head and the date referred
- the name of the nominated investigator
- target date for issue of response to complainant
- date the investigation was completed
- actual date the response was issued to the complainant.
Internal reviews (part of the 'Rights of review' procedures in section (i) below) will also be entered and tracked in the complaints register using similar information. These will, however, be flagged to highlight the tighter timeframes for completion.
A summary of current actions and issues in the complaints register will be provided to the Director General and copied to division heads on a fortnightly basis for monitoring and review of progress and outcomes.
Investigating a complaint
Complaints which cannot be resolved at the front line and unit management level will be referred within 2 working days of receipt by the Manager, Governance & Information Requests to the relevant branch head for action. Such action includes nominating an appropriate staff member within 5 working days of receipt of the initial complaint to conduct an investigation and ensuring the investigating officer is provided with full access and cooperation.
An investigation requires access to relevant documentation and files as well as written or verbal reports from the staff members and managers involved. It is important to place the situation giving rise to the complaint in context by reviewing the relevant operational, administrative and legal processes and implications.
During the investigation phase the aim is to impartially gather, assess and report facts rather than act as a prosecutor or advocate. Procedural fairness is an important issue in investigations which could result in an outcome that affects the rights, interests or reputation of an individual. Procedural fairness may require an investigator to:
- inform people of the substance of any allegations against them or grounds for proposed adverse comment in respect of them
- provide a reasonable opportunity for relevant people to put their case, whether in writing, at an interview or otherwise
- make reasonable inquiries and consider any submissions before making a decision
- act fairly and without bias, including not investigating a case in which they have a direct interest
- conduct the investigation without undue delay
Confidentiality can also be a very important issue in an investigation, particularly an evidence-focused investigation into the alleged conduct of an individual. Depending on the circumstances of each case and the particular requirements of procedural fairness that may apply, where this is practical and appropriate there may be a need for confidentiality in relation to some or all of the following:
- the fact that a complaint has been made
- the nature of the allegations
- the identity of the complainant
- the identity of any persons who are the subject of investigation
- the identity of any witnesses
- any evidence gathered by the investigator
The motive of the complainant may be a consideration in cases where the complaint appears to be activated by malice, avoidance of penalties or for other questionable reasons. Good complaint handling practice demands that if a complaint appears to have substance, it should be investigated irrespective of the motives of the complainant (ie a focus on the message, not the messenger). The primary relevance of motive in such circumstances is to increase investigator scepticism of the complainant's veracity.
The investigation will not only review the circumstances giving rise to the complaint but also assess how these would be perceived in the wider community. A significant responsibility of the nominated investigator therefore is to identify opportunities to change and improve systems and processes to ensure best practice is maintained.
The performance target is for the investigation to be completed and the written report and recommendations to be referred to the appropriate branch head within 3 weeks of receipt of the initial complaint.
If at any stage of the investigation it appears a breach of the Code of Conduct may have occurred this should be immediately reported to the Deputy Director General, Finance Strategy & Operations to allow consideration of whether formal disciplinary action should commence.
Although the disciplinary process may take some time to complete, the complaint may still be finalised independently. This is possible where the acceptance that a breach of the Code of Conduct may have occurred tends to validate the nature of the complaint.
The actual outcome of any disciplinary action is independent of the complaint handling process - any relationship ceases once the decision is made to commence disciplinary action. The disciplinary process is managed separately with decisions made on the facts and merits of the case, not the personal preferences of an aggrieved client.
An investigator may make one or more recommendations to address the current complaint and mitigate against possible recurrences. The investigator may suggest:
- reviewing systems and procedures relating to the specific concerns
- improving information provided to clients on transaction processes and timeframes
- developing client service standards to benchmark performance
- closer supervision and monitoring of workflows and turnaround rates
- staff training
- simply acknowledging on this occasion the complaint was justified and an apology is appropriate with managers and staff to be reminded of their client service obligations
- dismissing the complaint where it is determined to be spurious or without substance.
At the conclusion of the investigation a written report is to be provided by the investigator to the responsible branch head for endorsement and action. This action will include acting upon recommendations where appropriate and advising the complainant and affected staff of the outcomes of the investigation.
Finalising a complaint
The complainant is to be advised of the results as soon as possible, with the performance target being within one month of the complaint handling process being invoked.
Where this target cannot be met the complainant should receive an interim notification and an expected timeframe for completion.
Regardless of the outcome, the response to the complainant should thank them for raising their concerns and allowing NSW Trade & Investment the opportunity to investigate and review the issues involved.
Where the complaint is:
- upheld, an outline of the resultant remedial action should be provided
- not upheld, an outline of the investigation process undertaken and a statement confirming the actions and behaviour in question were considered appropriate with supporting reasons is to be included.
In these circumstances the complainant is also to be advised of their rights of review if they consider their concerns have not been properly investigated or managed.
Rights of review
Where a complaint is not upheld the complainant may request an internal review or refer their concerns for external review.
In the case of complaints referred by the Minister any subsequent request for internal review should be forwarded to the Minister's Office for attention. This is necessary to maintain transparency as the Director General had responsibility for investigating and responding to the original complaint.
For other complaints the internal review will be undertaken by a senior NSW Trade & Investment staff member from a separate division/branch nominated by the Director General and who has not previously been involved with the complaint.
The internal review process includes reviewing all relevant documentation, reassessing the information gathered, conclusions drawn and recommendations made to determine if the original decision was appropriate or whether an alternative outcome should be preferred.
A request for internal review is to be made in writing by the complainant to the Manager, Governance & Information Requests within one month of being advised of the result of the NSW Trade & Investment investigation of their original complaint.
Any request submitted should provide an explanation of the grounds they are relying upon to have the original decision overturned. To be successful it is preferable a request for internal review be based on more than the complainant simply stating they are unhappy with an outcome. Where possible, additional information such as critical details not previously made known or canvassed during the original investigation and alternative comments or objections to the assessments and conclusions drawn should be specified in the request.
Requests for internal review will be acknowledged, entered into the complaints register and referred within two working days of receipt to the Director General for action. Such action includes nominating an appropriate staff member within five working days of receipt to review the management of the complaint and veracity of the outcomes.
This will involve an assessment of the investigation process, recommendations and actions in terms of comprehensively and appropriately addressing or responding to the complaint.
The performance target is for the written report and recommendations to be referred to the Director General in time to allow the complainant to be advised of the outcomes within three weeks from the date the request for internal review was received.
External reviews may be undertaken by the NSW Ombudsman at any time before, during or after completion of the NSW Trade & Investment complaints handling process.
For further information contact the NSW Ombudsman's Office (www.ombo.nsw.gov.au) on 9286 1000 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Anonymous complaints will be investigated where sufficient detail is provided to substantiate a valid complaint.
In these circumstances, however, any investigation may be affected by the inability to seek further information and details and no advice can be issued on outcomes to the complainant.
Actions and Performance Standards
|Time from Receipt (by MGIR) of initial complaint / request for internal review||Action||Responsible Officer|
|2 working days||Issue acknowledgement of receipt to complainant and enter details in complaint register||Manager, Governance and Information Requests|
|2 working days||Refer to responsible branch head||Manager, Governance and Information Requests|
|5 working days||Nominate investigator||Branch head|
|3 weeks||Complete investigation and submit report||Nominated investigator|
|Endorse report and action recommendations||Branch head|
|One month||Advise complainant of outcomes and rights of review||Branch head|
|2 working days||Issue acknowledgement of receipt to complainant and enter details in complaint register||Manager, Governance and Information Requests|
|2 working days||Refer to DG or Minister's Office||Manager, Governance and Information Requests|
|5 working days||Nominate investigator||Director General|
|10 working days||Complete investigation and submit report||Nominated investigator|
|3 weeks||Endorse report and action recommendations l||Director General|
|3 weeks||Advise complainant of outcomes||Director General|
|Each Fortnight||Refer summary of complaints register to Director General||Manager, Governance and Information Requests|
|Each 6 months||Report to the Director General on trends, effectiveness and outcomes||Deputy Director General, Finance Strategy & Operations|
|1.0||May 2012||New policy developed to rationalise duplicate complaint procedures within NSW Trade & Investment||Manager Governance and Information Requests/ Manager Corporate Governance|
Manager, Governance and Information Requests
PO Box K220 HAYMARKET NSW 1240
(02) 8289 3947