Contact IPSO To Resolve Complaints About Public Bodies

Complaining to the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman

Complaining to the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman

The Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (NIPSO) investigates unresolved complaints about public bodies. These include government departments, local councils, schools, hospitals, and care homes.

We do not take sides in any dispute, but if we believe someone has been treated unfairly by a public body we will ask them to put things right. This could be by saying sorry, by returning money taken in error, or by changing procedures so that the same mistakes don’t happen again.

We know that complaining about a public body can sometimes be stressful and confusing. Our experience has shown us that when people receive a bad service, there are many reasons why they don’t complain. It may be because:

  • they don’t know how to
  • they don’t think it would make a difference
  • they think it would take up too much time, or;
  • they don’t want to cause a fuss.

We have now started a new piece of work, which has been approved by the Northern Ireland Assembly, to try and change this. Our aim is to transform the way public bodies in Northern Ireland deal with complaints.

We want all public bodies to follow the same complaints handling standards, so that regardless of whether the complaint is about a school, a hospital, or a government department, there is consistency across the public sector. This means that people will know what level of service to expect when they make a complaint.

Public bodies should deal with complaints quickly. Specifically, we believe they should respond to straightforward complaints within five working days. If it is found that something has gone wrong, a complainant should be given an explanation and an apology. They should also, where possible, be told the organisation will prevent similar errors from recurring in the future.

However, we know that not all complaints can be dealt with quickly. More complicated complaints should therefore be passed to a second investigation stage. This stage should take the public body no more than 20 working days to complete, after which they should tell the complainant clearly whether the complaint has been upheld and what action they will be taking.

As well as setting timescales for complaints, we also want to change the culture in organisations so that complaints are taken more seriously. We will work with senior leaders to help them understand why complaints matter, showing that by acting as an early warning system complaints should be welcomed rather than feared.

NIPSO are developing training programmes to support the change in approach, including advice on how complaints should be investigated, and how to improve communication. They will also explain how organisations should resolve complaints early in the complaints procedure while learning and improving from them.

Our work will focus on five different public sectors. These are:

  • Education
  • Health and Social Care
  • Housing
  • Central Government
  • Local Government

We have selected local government as the first sector to introduce the changes. We will therefore work closely with all the 11 councils to help them set up new systems and procedures so they can follow our Principles of Good Complaint Handling. (see graphic below). This sector will be followed shortly after by Health and Social Care.

We will keep everyone updated on our work, which we think has the potential to transform the level of customer service in the public sector.

You can find more information about this, and our other work, at: or by following us @NIPSO_Comms