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Complaints services that are accessible to all

by Ken Naismith | Posted in Complaints management solutions | 28 May 2014

As a supplier of complaint management software to several UK and Irish Ombudsman and Commissioner schemes, I had the opportunity to attend the Ombudsman Association’s  annual conference earlier this month (15-16 May, 2014). I was struck by the Ombudsman community’s concern to ensure they are visible and accessible to the people who need them, and how important it is for suppliers like ourselves to ensure our software supports them in that goal.

"When complaints are freely heard, deeply considered and speedily reformed then is the utmost bound of civil liberty attained that wise men look for." John Milton (1608-1674)

Accessibility for complainants

Despite the proliferation of Ombudsman schemes in recent years, not everyone knows that these organisations exist as an accessible authority with whom to "escalate" a grievance. Indeed that very proliferation may have added confusion about who to go to.

In addition, an Ombudsman made an excellent point to me at the conference; many people who need to use the Ombudsman service will not have access to the latest, greatest tablet, or indeed the internet at all.

If the community you serve, whose rights you uphold, cannot access your service, then civil liberty (or justice) will not be attained. And any complaint handling statistics will be skewed as they will be minus the case of that person who needed you.

That’s the main point – that person who needed you.

But it also struck me that no sooner is accessibility improved than the Ombudsman is suddenly the new helpline for every beef under the sun. It’s a bit like 999 – there for emergencies but if everyone starts to clog up the line with trivia, the service can’t respond so well when it should.

Signposting Complaints

Just as the emergency services have to educate citizens about when and when not to call them as a first resort, the Ombudsman world takes pains to signpost complainants to the correct ports of call.

Technology must be an aid, not a barrier.

An example of a complaint handling system working to increase accessibility is the Complaints Wales Service  (CSW). CSW directs people to the correct organisation with whom to lodge their complaint. In addition the online CSW portal includes an automatic link to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales’ complaints management system (a Workpro  solution). This means that queries that come through to PSOW case handlers have already been screened, with initial case data already recorded, saving both time and money.

Comment by Ken Naismith, CAS CEO.

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