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Ombudsperson calling on public sector organizations to strengthen complaint handling systems during pandemic

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Victoria – As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the BC Ombudsperson is releasing a new best practice report today aimed at helping public sector organizations deal with complaints fairly, efficiently and effectively.

“We have seen first-hand that unprecedented disruptions in public services arising from the pandemic are generating a number of new complaints,” said Ombudsperson Jay Chalke, noting his office has received more than 600 COVID-related complaints and enquiries about provincial and local governments and other public bodies since March, 2020. “These pandemic-induced changes in public services have, in many cases, left people confused and frustrated,” said Chalke.

To ensure public complaints are thoroughly and professionally dealt with by public sector organizations, the Ombudsperson’s new Complaint Handling Guide provides key information including how to foster a workplace culture that values and learns from complaints, how to recruit and train staff skilled in complaint handling and dispute resolution and how to fairly and thoroughly investigate complaints.

To complement today’s report, Ombudsperson staff are delivering online training and supplying additional resources such as checklists and a model complaint handling policy to help public bodies establish complaints handling systems during the pandemic. The Ombudsperson is calling for public authorities to establish internal complaint handling policies including:

  • Providing clear and accessible information about complaints processes on websites
  • Ensuring an opportunity for complainants to comment before a complaint review is finalized
  • Providing clear reasons for decisions when communicating with complainants after the review or investigation of a complaint
  • Establishing adequate systems for documenting, tracking and reporting out on complaint outcomes
  • Regular management reviews of complaint trends as a way to identify and resolve systemic issues that precipitate complaints

“These elements are important to have in place all of the time when dealing with complaints but are even more critical during the pandemic,” said Chalke. “With the extra pressures people are experiencing, the public needs to know that their concerns will be carefully considered and addressed.”

The Ombudsperson has been investigating complaints from members of the public for over 40 years. The office is independent from government and its services are free, impartial and confidential. The Ombudsperson has oversight over more than 1,000 public bodies in the province and accepts a wide range of complaints, both related to COVID-19 and other administrative fairness matters.

View the full complaint handling guide here.

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