Complaints about Professional Conduct of PPO staff

September 2014

This procedure deals with complaints about staff conduct e.g. rudeness, a lack of professionalism, delay, failure to reply to letters etc. It is not intended to relate to disagreements about the outcome of an investigation or about decisions on how the investigation should proceed. The latter complaints should be handled according to the investigation handbook (complaints) or other internal guidance on investigation procedure. Managers will exercise discretion when deciding on the nature of the complaint and how it should be dealt with. This guidance applies to all staff.

A complaint is a verbal or written statement of protest or remonstrance. It is more than an expression or statement which can be handled within the normal channels of communication and therefore requires a formal response.

The aim of this policy is to ensure that a concern or complaint is managed sympathetically, efficiently and at the appropriate level, and that it is resolved as soon as possible. Doing so is good practice, it is fair to those concerned and it helps to promote confidence in the PPO’s ability to safeguard and promote standards. The PPO aims to resolve matters which may not have been treated entirely appropriately and, where necessary, review systems and procedures in the light of the circumstances.

Complaints will typically emanate from those in custody, members of their families, members of the general public or from the Services in remit. This policy does not deal with complaints about the outcomes of Complaint or Fatal Incident Investigations nor complaints from members of PPO staff which would be dealt with under the Ministry of Justice Grievance Policy.

It should be recognised that serious issues may be raised in an informal and friendly way and apparently trivial matters can be raised in an adversarial manner. The manner in which a complaint is made should not determine the level of importance that is attached to the complaint.

The details of all complaints must be recorded in a complaints log, along with details of what action was taken and the outcome.

Policy Aims

The aims of this Policy are:

  • To promote an open culture;
  • To demonstrate to complainants that their opinions are valued;
  • To encourage those in custody, their families or the services in remit to raise any concerns they might have;
  • To enable members of staff to feel comfortable when dealing with complaints;
  • To establish a means of dealing with complaints.

Initial receipt of complaint

  1. A complaint about staff may be made in a variety of ways: in person, by telephone or by fax, letter or email.
    Note: Some people may need particular help to make a complaint about staff.For example, they may have a disability, or their first language may not be English.
  2. If you are the member of staff who initially receives the complaint, you should consider the following:
    • if the complaint relates to you, and you consider you can resolve it on the spot to the complainant’s satisfaction e.g. by apologising, do so. You must also note it in the central register of complaints (held by the Ombudsman’s SPS). If the complainant is not clearly satisfied with what you have done, and wishes to take it further, you must do so
    • If it cannot be resolved on the spot, and once it is clear that the complaint relates to an individual (including you), refer the complainant/correspondence to that individual’s line manager. For telephone calls, where he/she is not available, either take details for the manager to phone back or, if that is impractical, invite the complainant to put it in writing or call back another time.

Informal resolution

  1. The line manager of the individual being complained about should explore the possibility of dealing with the complaint ‘on the spot’ e.g. an explanation is needed or, if clearly justified, an apology given.
  2. If it proves possible to settle the complaint immediately, the line manager should:
    1. check that the complainant is fully satisfied;
    2. make a note of the action taken and place it on the complaint file;
    3. make a brief note of the complaint and resolution on a central register (held by the Ombudsman’s SPS); and
    4. if it seems appropriate, confirm in writing to the complainant any significant action, to avoid any misunderstanding.

Formal investigation and response

  1. If it is not possible to settle the complaint ‘on the spot’ and further investigation is required, the line manager should pass the details immediately to the Ombudsman’s SPS who should:
    1. record receipt of the complaint on the central complaint register;
    2. notify the relevant Deputy Ombudsman.

    The complaint should not be discussed with others.

  2. The Deputy Ombudsman will decide whether the complaint should be investigated by the line manager of the person complained about or an Assistant Ombudsman or another person. That decision will depend on the potential seriousness of the complaint, the need to maintain, and be seen to maintain, fairness and impartiality, and any other factors seen as relevant in the circumstances of the individual complaint.
  3. The person investigating should give a copy of the record of complaint to the member of staff who is the subject of the complaint and ask for their comments. The investigator should also consider any other documents or information that might be relevant. If the complaint alleges discrimination, the investigator should discuss with the Deputy Ombudsman whether to seek advice from the Ministry of Justice equal opportunities adviser.
  4. The investigator should produce a draft reply on the complaint and send it to the Deputy Ombudsman with a copy to the member of staff. The member of staff may, if they wish, send their written comments to the Deputy Ombudsman.
  5. The Deputy Ombudsman may decide that a meeting is needed to discuss the complaint and the investigator’s draft reply with the line manager and/or member of staff concerned. The member of staff may, if they wish, be accompanied to the meeting by a friend or trade union representative.
  6. The Deputy Ombudsman will:
    1. consider whether further enquiries are necessary;
    2. if the complaint is justified, determine what action needs to be taken to put matters right, consulting the Ombudsman as appropriate in exceptional cases. The action could be one or more of the following:
      • an apology
      • an explanation
      • an assurance that the same thing will not happen again
      • other action to put the matter right
    3. settle the terms and sign the reply to the complainant;
    4. decide whether any disciplinary or other action should be initiated. In this instance, the usual Ministry of Justice disciplinary procedures will apply;
    5. decide whether there are general lessons to be learnt from the complaint and, if there are, arrange for appropriate instructions to be given to those concerned;
    6. prepare a brief note about the investigation, interview and outcome of the complaint for the central complaints file. The outcome for the complainant should also be recorded on the complaint file.

Timing

  1. A complaint should be acknowledged immediately or within five working days at the most.
  2. A complaint which is referred to a member of staff, an Assistant or a Deputy should be dealt with within ten working days of the complaint being received.
  3. A complaint which is referred to the Ombudsman should be dealt with within ten working days of being referred.
  4. If a reply cannot be sent to the complainant within 28 working days, a holding letter should be sent.

Complaints about the Ombudsman and Deputies

  1. If the complaint is about a Deputy, the SPS should pass the file to the Ombudsman who will make arrangements for the investigation and decide on the outcome.
  2. If the complaint is about the Ombudsman’s conduct, the file should be passed to Sponsor Unit in the Ministry of Justice (on behalf of the Justice Secretary).