26 September 2023

Ombudsman takes complaints to Councils

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The Victorian Ombudsman has released a new guide for Councils to help them deal with complaints and reminded them to look through a human rights lens when managing complaints.

Ombudsman, Deborah Glass (pictured) said her Councils and Complaints – A Good Practice Guide 2nd edition provided advice on implementing new legislative requirements related to complaints and using good practice complaint handling.

“Councils are an integral part of Victorians’ lives and it is no surprise my office deals with many thousands of complaints about them every year,” Ms Glass said.

“But we encourage Councils to recognise complaints as free feedback and to ensure they are dealt with properly and fairly,” she said.

“Good complaints handling carries its own rewards: More satisfied customers and the opportunity to learn and improve services.”

Ms Glass said the reverse was also true, that poor complaints handling could carry significant costs, not only in reduced transparency and accountability, but also in public confidence.

The Ombudsman said the key to a good complaint handling system was leadership; organisational culture; case management and training; and support for staff.

Ms Glass said complaints were a valuable source of information about how Councils and other Government Agencies were performing against the public’s expectations.

“(The) Guide offers guidance on developing key performance indicators and recording complaint data and complaint handling processes,” she said.

“The Guide also provides advice about building a positive culture around complaints, practical tools, including templates, real examples and a self-assessment tool for councils.”

Ms Glass urged Councils to stop using the term ‘internal Ombudsman’ to deal with internal reviews of complaints as she said it only confused people and was problematic because the Council officer was not, and could not be, independent of the Council.

She said the Guide incorporated the new provisions of the Local Government Act 2020 which followed her recommendations from sector-wide inquiries into councils’ complaints practices and procedures.

The Ombudsman’s 48-page Guide can be accessed at this PS News link.

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