Making Complaints Count
Consumer group Which? recently launched a campaign designed to make sure that public service organisations take action when people complain about the services they have received.
It’s just the latest in a series of moves to empower the consumers of both public and private services – and in our view it is a positive move. Why? Because at the end of the day effective complaints systems not only benefit the people complaining but also the organisations complained against.
They improve services as a whole.
According to Which?, a third (34%) of people who experienced a problem with public services in the past year didn’t complain, often because, given the number of different public services ombudsmen available, they didn’t know who to complain to (35%).
Taking the NHS as an example, Which? reveals that 43% of those who did not make a complaint over the last year wrongly thought they would go to the Department of Health if a problem with a GP wasn’t resolved, instead of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO). Less than a quarter (23%) got this right.
In fact only 52% had actually heard of the PHSO, compared to 94% who had heard of Trading Standards and 86% who had heard of the Financial Services Ombudsman.
Not worth the effort
Another problem highlighted by respondents to the Which? survey is the fact that people did not think that complaining would be worth the effort (39%).
Looking at the NHS again, 32% said they did not make an NHS complaint because they didn’t think anything would come of it, while three-quarters (75%) said they would be more likely to make a complaint if they knew it would result in direct action and 79% would if they knew it would make a difference to other people’s experience.
Making a difference
Which?’s campaign therefore calls on the Government to:
• Give people a role in triggering inspections by regulators through their complaints;
• Give people a voice by allowing representative groups to make super-complaints about public services, as they do in private markets; and
• Give people a unified public services ombudsman which can swiftly deal with their unresolved complaints.
The question of a unified ombudsman or a single complaints portal is something we considered before, and it is interesting to see the idea not only being pushed by Which? in this new campaign – but also in the recently launched Government consultation on dispute resolution for consumers.
The consultation forms part of the work being carried out by the Government in order to implement new measures on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and Online Dispute Resolution (ODR). The rules, which take the form of an EU Directive and EU Regulation, must be in force by July 2015.
The aim is to give consumers greater access to redress if something goes wrong with their purchase of goods or services, and includes the creation of an ADR scheme to help them resolve complaints without the cost and hassle of going to court.
But the Government has identified the same problem faced by ombudsman schemes – public confusion as to which ADR scheme will be relevant for which complaint. It is therefore considering the creation of a single consumer facing complaints website and a phone line, to tackle this issue.
Focus on complaints
The initiatives contained in both the Which? campaign and the consultation are further signs of a change in approach to complaints – from a reactive process, regarded as a necessary business evil, to a proactive process that uses technology to bring consumer rights and business needs together.
In the context of both public and private services, allowing people to complain effectively, at the right time and to the right people, makes sure that problems with those services are identified early and resolved quickly.
And that can only be good news for everyone.
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