Complaint handling policy


As the Department of Customer Service (DCS), we aim to deliver excellence in customer service, digital leadership, and innovation in government services. This policy underpins our commitment to acknowledge, investigate and respond to customer complaints and feedback, and to be open to opportunities to improve our systems and service.

Our customers need to have their complaints and feedback about us, our services, our staff, or the handling of a complaint resolved appropriately.

Who are our customers? 

  • anyone who lives, works, or invests in NSW, including businesses, are customers of DCS
  • customers who interact with DCS under different circumstances: because they want to, or if they have to for business or personal reasons.

We expect staff at all levels and in all areas of DCS to be committed to fair, effective and efficient complaint handling for all our customers. 

This policy allows our staff to take responsibility for helping customers make a complaint, provide feedback, or offer suggestions about service improvements through fair, accessible, and transparent processes. 

We also expect that the services we provide will be conducted in an ethical and transparent manner and that our staff comply with the values and obligations of both the DCS Code of Ethics and Conduct and our Conflict of Interest Policy. 

What is covered by this policy?

This policy applies to all complaints received by DCS or our agencies about our services and the handling of a complaint. 

It also applies to all our activities that involve receiving or managing complaints from the public made to or about us, regarding our services, staff, and complaint handling.

This policy also applies to all complaints about DCS, all staff, consultants, contractors, and outsourced service providers performing work for DCS.

The Greyhound Welfare and Integrity Commission, the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal, and the Information and Privacy Commission are exempt from this policy. 

Guidance for staff related to staff grievances and public interest disclosures is set out in separate policies. Procurement-related complaints also have a separate process. 

Any procurement complaints need to be referred to the DCS Chief Procurement Officer and the NSW Procurement Board Complaint Management Guidelines should be followed.
 

Definitions 

Term  Definition 
Complaint  Expression of dissatisfaction made to or about us, related to our services, staff, or the handling of a complaint where a response or resolution is explicitly or implicitly expected or legally required. A complaint covered by this policy can be distinguished from: 
  • staff grievances
  • public interest disclosures made by our staff 
  • Code of Ethics and Conduct complaints 
  • responses to requests for feedback about the standard of our service provision 
  • reports of problems or wrongdoing merely intended to bring a problem to our notice with no expectation of a response 
  • service requests 
  • requests for information
  • an expression of concern or opinion, where a response or resolution is not explicitly or implicitly expected
  • a merits review request, made in pursuit of a statutory right 
  • complaints about entities we regulate.
Complaint management system All policies, procedures, practices, staff, hardware, and software used by us in the management of complaints.
Dispute An unresolved complaint escalated either within or outside of our organisation. 
Feedback Opinions, comments and expressions of interest or concern, made directly or indirectly, explicitly, or implicitly, to or about us, about our services or complaint handling where a response is not necessarily expected or required.
Grievance A clear, formal, written statement by an individual staff member about another staff member or a work-related problem.
 
Internal review

Internal review is a process that examines the decision made by the business unit. It is a basic principle of administrative law that the decisions we make in our work must be lawful and well-founded. Members of the public who are aggrieved by a decision we make can seek an internal review of that decision. To demonstrate impartiality, another officer (usually more senior) within the same agency, who was not involved in the original decision, undertakes the review.

In some cases, customers have a statutory right to seek an internal review, for example, under section 55 of the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act. This policy is not meant to apply to statutory internal reviews.

Public interest disclosure A report about wrongdoing made by a public official in New South Wales that meets the requirements of the Public Interest Disclosures Act 1994.
Service request  The definition of a service request will vary depending on core functions being delivered by DCS or the relevant divisional agency. However, it is likely to include: 
  • transactions and requests for action 
  • requests for approval of applications 
  • routine enquiries about our business 
  • requests for the provision of services and assistance 
  • reports of failure to comply with laws 
  • requests for explanation of policies, procedures, and decisions.

 

Our complaint handling process

We aim to resolve complaints as soon as possible and when the complaint is first made. 

If our staff member is unable to find a resolution, the customer can request a review of the issue and this review must be independent. 

To be an independent review, the staff member reviewing the complaint must not have been involved in the initial investigation of the complaint. 

Where a person making a complaint is dissatisfied with the outcome of this further review of their complaint, they may seek an external review of our decision with, for example, the NSW Ombudsman. 
 

Our key principles 

There are six key principles that underpin our complaints handling processes. They are that we:

  • enable complaints and make it easy for customers to register a complaint or feedback
  • respond to complaints quickly and keep the customer informed
  • resolve complaints quickly and flexibly
  • are objective and fair, and no customer is disadvantaged by lodging a complaint
  • ensure confidentiality where this is practical and appropriate
  • coordinate all parties included in a complaint, whether internal to DCS or separate organisations (except independent bodies within the DCS cluster), ensuring one source of truth and building trust in our services and processes.

This policy and the accompanying Complaints Handling Procedure provide details on the processes, timeframes, and expectations that these principles drive.

What do our key principles mean for staff?

We enable complaints

Complaining to or about DCS is free.  Our focus is always on the customer, including when dealing with feedback and complaints about our services, systems, practices, procedures, products, our staff and our complaint handling process.

This means that when anyone raises concerns via feedback or through a complaint we will:

  • deal with their complaint in a reasonable timeframe
  • provide them with information about our complaint handling process
  • provide them with multiple and accessible ways to make complaints
  • listen to them, treat them with respect and actively involve them in the complaint process where possible and appropriate
  • communicate with them through their preferred method and, where required, through their preferred representative. 

We must also take all reasonable steps to ensure that people making complaints are not adversely affected because a complaint has been made by them or on their behalf.

We actively support customers to register their complaint. This means we promote our complaints channels and information and ensure they are easily understood and accessible, particularly for people who require assistance. 

Anyone may represent a person, with their consent (e.g. advocate, family member, legal or community representative, member of Parliament, another organisation), who wants to make a complaint. 

We take anonymous complaints as seriously as any other complaint and we will investigate them, where possible. An anonymous complaint may mean that we won’t be able to communicate the resolution to the specific customer making the complaint, but it can still help us improve our processes. 

Staff are also encouraged to provide feedback on the effectiveness and efficiency of all aspects of our complaints management system. 

We respond to complaints

We expect staff to respond to complaints quickly and where possible, resolve a customer’s complaint at the first contact with DCS or any of our agencies.

This means that, regardless of the channel the customer has used to register their complaint, we always need to acknowledge a complaint once it has been made and refer it to the appropriate agency or DCS team in a timely manner.

We are committed to managing customer expectations and assisting them to an outcome for their complaint. This means we:

  • promptly acknowledge complaints
  • inform the complainant as soon as possible of: 
    • our complaints process, including possibilities for internal and external reviews
    • the expected timeframes for our actions
    • the progress of their complaint and reasons for any delay
    • their likely involvement in the complaint resolution process.
  • assess and prioritise the complaint in accordance with the urgency and/or seriousness of the issues raised. 

If a matter concerns an immediate risk to safety or security the response will be immediate and will be escalated appropriately. Refer to the guidelines or procedures relevant to your work area for the appropriate escalation procedure.

Our commitment is that we will acknowledge a complaint within four (4) working days of receipt and will communicate the resolution to the person making the complaint within 20 working days of receipt of their complaint.

We are objective and fair

We address each complaint with integrity and in an equitable, objective, and unbiased manner.

The staff member handling a complaint must not be the staff member whose conduct or service is being complained about.

Conflicts of interest, whether actual or perceived, will be managed responsibly and professionally. 

We also ensure that if the customer is not happy with the outcome of our internal review, we inform the customer of the steps they need to take to make a complaint to the NSW Ombudsman or to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) where the complaint relates to a decision that NCAT has jurisdiction to review.

We resolve complaints quickly and flexibly

Our approach to resolving complaints is flexible and resourceful and engages senior leaders with delegation to resolve the complaint, as required. We enhance accessibility for people making complaints and/or their representatives.

We can’t always provide the solution the customer would like. No matter the outcome, we will always explain our decisions and ensure the customer understands the options they may have for a review of our decisions. 

Where staff consider improvements could be made to our services to prevent future similar complaints, our staff will provide this feedback to the appropriate division or team within DCS. As a general guide, we assess each complaint on its merits and involve the appropriate DCS or agency staff, alongside the people making complaints and/or their representative, as far as possible.

Confidentiality

We protect the identity of people making complaints where it is practical and appropriate to do so.

The identity of the complainant may be revealed (or become apparent) where we need to provide information about the complaint to investigate and resolve it. 

Personal information that identifies individuals will only be disclosed or used by the agency within DCS as permitted under the relevant privacy laws, secrecy provisions and any relevant confidentiality obligations.

Complaints involving multiple agencies

Where a complaint involves a number of government agencies and/or other parties (for example, if it relates to a service or transaction performed by a service provider), we will work with the other parties where possible, to ensure communication with the person making a complaint and/or their representative is clear and coordinated.

Subject to privacy and confidentiality considerations, communication and information sharing between the parties will be organised to facilitate a timely response to the complaint.

Where a complaint involves multiple areas within DCS, responsibility for communicating with the person making the complaint and/or their representative will also be coordinated.

When similar complaints are made by people who are related, for example, family members or business associates, we will try to arrange to communicate with a single representative of the group.

Our principles direct us to have clear processes and procedures. The DCS Complaints Handling Procedure provides step-by-step actions for you to take whenever you receive a complaint at DCS. 

Our professional responsibilities

At DCS, all staff need to commit to our six Customer Service Commitments:

  • easy to engage
  • act with empathy
  • respect my time
  • explain what to expect
  • resolve the situation
  • engage the community.

Anyone doing work for DCS must also commit to understand and comply with our complaint handling practices by:

  • treating everyone with respect, including people who make complaints
  • understanding and complying with this policy, our complaint handling procedures and any local rules or guidelines that apply to their work or legislative requirements
  • following DCS’s complaint management system after a complaint is received:
    •  acknowledging the complaint
    •  assessing and investigating the complaint
    • escalating the complaint as required and appropriate
    • providing reasons for the decision to the customer, including options for redress, where appropriate
    • closing the complaint
  • assisting people who wish to make complaints to access our complaints process
  •  being alert to complaints and assist staff handling complaints to resolve matters promptly
  • providing feedback to management on issues arising from complaints through our complaint handling reporting processes
  • implementing changes arising from individual complaints and from the analysis and evaluation of complaint data as directed by management.

Our staff whose principal duties involve complaints handling must further commit to demonstrating exemplary complaint handling practices by:

  • assisting people make a complaint, as required
  • keeping informed about best practice in complaint handling
  • providing feedback to management on issues arising from complaints through our complaint handling reporting processes
  • providing suggestions to management on ways to improve the organisation’s complaints management system
  • implementing changes arising from individual complaints and from the analysis of complaint data as directed by management.

Alongside these responsibilities, our managers and executives must also commit to establishing and managing our complaint management system by:

  • providing regular reports to the Secretary on issues arising from complaint handling work
  • ensuring recommendations arising out of complaint data analysis are canvassed with the Secretary and implemented where appropriate
  • recruiting, training and empowering staff to resolve complaints promptly and in accordance with our policies and procedures
  • encouraging staff managing complaints to provide suggestions on ways to improve the organisation’s complaint management system
  • encouraging all staff to be alert to complaints and assist those responsible for handling complaints to resolve them promptly
  • recognising good complaint handling by staff. 

The Secretary also has the responsibility to promote a culture that values complaints and their effective resolution by:

  • reporting publicly on our complaint handling
  • providing adequate support and direction to key staff responsible for handling complaints
  • regularly reviewing reports about complaint trends and issues arising from complaints
  • encouraging all staff to be alert to complaints and assist those responsible for handling complaints to resolve them promptly
  • encouraging staff to make recommendations for system improvements
  • recognising good complaint handling by staff
  • supporting recommendations for service, staff and complaint handling improvements arising from the analysis of complaint data.
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