It is important to plan the investigation before beginning. The staff member investigating the complaint should consider what information they have and what they need about:
- what happened? (this could include, for example, records of phone calls or meetings, work requests, recollections of staff members or internal emails)
- what should have happened? (this should include any relevant policies or procedures that apply); and
- is there a difference between what happened and what should have happened, and is EIJB responsible?
In some cases, information may not be readily available. We will balance the need for the information against the resources required to obtain it, considering the seriousness of the issue (for example, it may be appropriate to contact a former employee, if possible, where they hold key information about a serious complaint).
If we need to share information within or out with the organisation, we will be mindful of our obligations under data protection legislation (see maintaining confidentiality and data protection).
The SPSO has resources for conducting investigations, including:
- investigation plan template
- decision-making tool for complaint investigators
- alternative complaint resolution approaches.
Alternative complaint resolution approaches
Some complex complaints, or complaints where customers and other interested parties have become entrenched in their position, may require a different approach to resolving the matter. Where we think it is appropriate, we may use alternative complaint resolution approaches such as complaint resolution discussions, mediation, or conciliation to try to resolve the matter and to reduce the risk of the complaint escalating further. If mediation is attempted, a suitably trained and qualified mediator should be used. Alternative complaint resolution approaches may help both parties to understand what has caused the complaint, and so are more likely to lead to mutually satisfactory solutions.
Alternative complaint resolution approaches may be used to resolve the complaint entirely, or to support one part of the process, such as understanding the complaint, or exploring the customer’s desired outcome. The SPSO has guidance on alternative complaint resolution approaches.
If the EIJB and the customer (and any staff members involved) agree to using alternative complaint resolution approaches, it is likely that an extension to the timeline will need to be agreed. This should not discourage the use of these approaches.
Meeting with the customer during the investigation
To effectively investigate the complaint, it may be necessary to arrange a meeting with the customer. Where a meeting takes place, we will always be mindful of the requirement to investigate complaints (including holding any meetings) within 20 working days wherever possible. Where there are difficulties arranging a meeting, this may provide grounds for extending the timeframe.
As a matter of good practice, a written record of the meeting should be completed and provided to the customer. Alternatively, and by agreement with the person making the complaint, we may provide a record of the meeting in another format. We will notify the person making the complaint of the timescale within which we expect to provide the record of the meeting.
The following deadlines are appropriate to cases at the investigation stage (counting day one as the day of receipt, or the next working day if the complaint was received on a weekend or public holiday):
- complaints must be acknowledged within three working days
- a full response to the complaint should be provided as soon as possible but not later than 20 working days from the time the complaint was received for investigation.
Extension to the timeline
Not all investigations will be able to meet this deadline. For example, some complaints are so complex that they require careful consideration and detailed investigation beyond the 20-working day timeline. It is important to be realistic and clear with the customer about timeframes, and to advise them early if we think it will not be possible to meet the 20-day timeframe, and why. We should bear in mind that extended delays may have a detrimental effect on the customer.
Any extension must be approved by an appropriate manager. We will keep the customer and any member/s of staff complained about updated on the reason for the delay and give them a revised timescale for completion. We will contact the customer and any member/s of staff complained about at least once every 20 working days to update them on the progress of the investigation.
The reasons for an extension might include the following:
- essential accounts or statements, crucial to establishing the circumstances of the case, are needed from staff, customers, or others but the person is not available because of long-term sickness or leave
- we cannot obtain further essential information within normal timescales; or
- the customer has agreed to alternative complaint resolution approaches as a potential route for resolution.
These are only a few examples, and we will judge the matter in relation to each complaint. However, an extension would be the exception. Appendix 1 provides further information on timelines.
Closing the complaint at the investigation stage
The response to the complaint should be in writing (or by the customer’s preferred method of contact) and must be signed off by a manager or officer who is empowered to provide the final response on behalf of EIJB.
We will tell the customer the outcome of the complaint (whether it is resolved, upheld, partially upheld, or not upheld). The quality of the complaint response is particularly important and in terms of good practice should:
- be clear and easy to understand, written in a way that is person-centred and non-confrontational
- avoid technical terms, but where these must be used, an explanation of the term should be provided
- address all the issues raised and demonstrate that each element has been fully and fairly investigated
- include an apology where things have gone wrong (this is different to an expression of empathy.
- highlight any area of disagreement and explain why no further action can be taken
- indicate that a named member of staff is available to clarify any aspect of the letter, and
- indicate that if they are not satisfied with the outcome of the local process, they may seek a review by the SPSO.
Where a complaint has been resolved, the response does not need to provide a decision on all points of complaint but should instead confirm the resolution agreed.
If the complaint is about the actions of a particular staff member/s, we will share with them any part of the complaint response which relates to them, (unless there are compelling reasons not to).
We will record the decision, and details of how it was communicated to the customer, on the complaints system.
The SPSO has guidance on responding to a complaint:
- Template decision letter
- Apology guidance
At the earliest opportunity after the closure of the complaint, the staff member handling the complaint should consider whether any learning has been identified.
Signposting to the SPSO
Once the investigation stage has been completed, the customer has the right to approach the SPSO if they remain dissatisfied. We must make clear to the customer:
- their right to ask the SPSO to consider the complaint
- the time limit for doing so; and
- how to contact the SPSO.
The SPSO considers complaints from people who remain dissatisfied at the conclusion of our complaint’s procedure. The SPSO looks at issues such as service failure and maladministration (administrative fault), and the way we have handled the complaint.
There are some subject areas that are out with the SPSO’s jurisdiction, but it is the SPSO’s role to determine whether an individual complaint is one that they can consider (and to what extent). All investigation responses must signpost to the SPSO.
The SPSO recommends that we use the wording below to inform customers of their right to ask the SPSO to consider the complaint. This information should only be included on EIJB’s organisation’s final response to the complaint.
Information about the SPSO
The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) is the final stage for complaints about public services in Scotland and this includes complaints about the EIJB.
The SPSO is an independent organisation that investigates complaints. It is not an advocacy or support service (but there are other organisations who can help you with advocacy or support).
If you remain dissatisfied when you have had a final response from EIJB, you can ask the SPSO to look at your complaint. You can ask the SPSO to look at your complaint if:
- you have gone all the way through the EIJB’s CHP
- it is less than 12 months after you became aware of the matter you want to complain about, and
- the matter has not been (and is not being) considered in court.
The SPSO will ask you to complete a complaint form and provide a copy of this letter (our final response to your complaint). You can do this online at www.spso.org.uk/complain or call them on Freephone 0800 377 7330.
You may wish to get independent support or advocacy to help you progress your complaint. Organisations who may be able to assist you are:
- Citizens Advice Bureau
- Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance
The SPSO’s contact details are:
- SPSO, Bridgeside House, 99 McDonald Road, Edinburgh, EH7 4NS (if you would like to visit in person, you must make an appointment first)
- Their freepost address is: FREEPOST SPSO
- Freephone: 0800 377 7330
- Online contact: www.spso.org.uk/contact-us
- Website: www.spso.org.uk
If a customer contacts us for clarification when they have received our final response, we may have further discussion with the customer to clarify our response and answer their questions. However, if the customer is dissatisfied with our response or does not accept our findings, we will explain that we have already given them our final response on the matter and signpost them to the SPSO.