How we handle contracting complaints
Last published 30 Jul 2019
The process we follow when handling contracting complaints made about us or about a service provider funded by us.
Our complaint handling standards
Our Complaints and Feedback Management Policy identifies the legislation we are required to adhere to when handling complaints, and highlights our commitment to implementing a principle-based approach to complaint handling.
Support and assistance
For questions or assistance with any aspect of our process for managing contracting complaints, please contact your assigned contract manager.
Principles for effective complaint handling
For the purposes of handling contracting complaints, we have adopted the policy’s principles as follows:
We will treat service providers in a fair, objective and unbiased manner. We will ensure that no unfair treatment comes from making a contracting complaint.
Information and accessibility
We will make it easy to make a contracting complaint to us.
We will acknowledge receipt, provide updates of progress, and clearly communicate review outcomes and decisions.
We will notify the complainant of who will be dealing with their complaint.
We will aim to resolve complaints quickly and, where possible, locally with our contract managers.
We will provide reasons for our decisions and let you know how to escalate.
Timeframes for handling complaints
We aim to deal with complaints within 25 business days:
- acknowledge complaints within 5 business days
- resolve or close complaints within 25 business days of receiving the complaint
- if unable to resolve or close a complaint within 25 business days, notify the complainant of the reasons and give them updates of our progress.
These timeframes are based on the NSW Ombudsman’s best-practice guidelines. However, contracting complaints may require longer than 25 business days to resolve.
We accept anonymous complaints. However, we may find it difficult to thoroughly assess and respond to a matter if there is insufficient detail. In this circumstance we:
- will not be able to communicate with the complainant to acknowledge receipt of the complaint or obtain further information
- may not be able to investigate the complaint or may not be able to investigate it as thoroughly
- will not be able to report the outcome to the complainant.
Assessing the complaint to determine who handles it
The first stage of the process is to assess the type of complaint to determine who handles the matter: us or the service provider.
When complaints are referred to the service provider for handling
Generally, any complaints received from the public about a service provider organisation or its staff are to be dealt with by the service provider. This includes complaints:
- about casework practices
- about service delivery
- that relate to a service provider’s internal management practices.
We refer these types of complaints to the service provider using the Contracting Complaint Referral form. (If the complaint involves a child-protection matter, the Enquiry Feedback Complaint Unit will be the first point of contact, using their own referral form.)
The form includes details of the complaint, the complainant’s contact details, our contact person and their contact details, suggested focus areas for handling the complaint, and timeframes for completing the form and returning it.
For more information, refer to resolving contracting complaints — responsibilities of funded service providers.
When complaints are handled by us
We handle complaints about:
- behaviour of our staff
- the handling of a complaint by a service provider
- a service provider denying access or providing insufficient service to clients
- a service provider complaining about another service provider.
Note that allegations of misconduct are handled separately from complaints, although an allegation may be reported to us in the form of a complaint.
For complaints we are handling
We aim to acknowledge receipt of complaints within 5 business days. This will usually be in writing to the complainant, but may be by telephone depending on the nature of the matter.
The acknowledgement enables us to confirm our understanding of the matters raised, as well as providing the complainant with contact details of the person who will be handling the matter and the expected timeframes.
We also notify the service provider, when they are not the complainant, that a complaint has been received.
In this circumstance, we may also request further information from the service provider:
- asking for a response to the complaint and the issues it raises
- providing examples of what is required to be included in the response
- specifying a clear timeframe for the response.
This affords the service provider an opportunity to assure us that proper process was followed.
Responding to our requests for information in relation to complaints about a service provider
When we request information in relation to a complaint, service providers are given 5 business days to respond.
This timeframe is short because:
- under the contract, it is expected or required that they have this information readily available to provide to us on request
- we aim to resolve the complaint within the 25-business-day timeframe.
To ensure service providers are able to respond in time, we will, when possible, call in advance to ensure the right person is sent the request.
Extensions may be granted on a case-by-case basis.
If no response is received, we will contact the service provider for an explanation. Depending on the reason for the delay, and the nature of the complaint, failure to provide the information requested may potentially constitute a breach of contract.
For complaints the service provider is handling
When we refer a matter to a service provider using the Contracting Complaint Referral form, the service provider is required to send an acknowledgement letter to the complainant.
We will notify the complainant that their complaint has been referred to the service provider involved.
Examining the issues raised
We will examine available information to assess the severity of the issues raised in the complaint — their urgency, complexity, health and safety implications, and potential to escalate — and which business areas are required to be involved in resolution of the complaint.
We will contact:
- the complainant if further information is required about the allegations raised in the complaint
- the service provider or internal stakeholders when a response to the allegations is required.
If the matters raised have not been resolved by this stage, we will instigate an investigation.
We will attempt to resolve complaints about a service provider by working in consultation with them to determine the relevant facts and establish common ground. We will be open and impartial throughout the consultation process, and will consider the service provider’s response on its merits.
Depending on the nature of the complaint, and at the request of the complainant, we may not always share details of the complainant, in the interests of confidentiality and anonymity.
Taking action to address the issues and resolve the complaint
At this stage, we may review the available information, request further information and determine that certain actions be undertaken to immediately resolve the complaint.
Apology, explanation or discussion
If the complaint primarily involves a communication problem or misunderstanding, we aim to resolve it with an apology, explanation or discussion.
For contracting complaints about us, we will act in good faith to resolve the issues raised, identify areas for improvement, and initiate change as required.
For contracting complaints about a service provider, if the issues raised require a plan for resolution, we will work with the service provider to develop a formal or informal plan for issue resolution. This may require working with the service provider to develop a Service Development Plan or a Performance Improvement Plan.
Following development of an action plan, our contract manager handling the complaint will follow up and review progress, and will assist with issue resolution, when required.
If there is an alternative and satisfactory means of resolving the complaint or there is a more appropriate mechanism available for dealing with the issues raised, we will notify the complainant that we are unable to review or investigate the complaint and refer them to the more appropriate mechanism.
For example, the complaint may be about broader government policy for which we are not responsible.
If the complaint is not about a contracting matter, and it either can or must be notified to another business area, we will notify the complainant that their complaint has been referred to another area.
- allegations of misconduct of our staff are referred to our Professional Conduct, Ethics and Performance Unit
- complaints related to how personal information was handled are referred to our Legal unit.
- allegations that indicate imminent risk of harm to a child or young person are referred to the Child Protection Helpline.
We will take no action to review or investigate the complaint if:
- the complaint is about alleged events that happened more than one year ago, and which have no bearing on current circumstances
- the matter has been investigated previously and no new information has been provided
- we have determined that a regulator or enforcement agency is currently investigating the matter
- the complaint is about matters that do not relate to the services provided under a funded contract.
Closing the complaint
We aim to resolve matters within 25 business days of receiving the complaint.
We will send a closure letter to the complainant outlining:
- the outcome of the review and/or investigation, and whether underlying issues were identified
- if appropriate for the complainant to know, any actions taken or proposed to be taken by us, and reasons for the actions or proposed actions
- if the complainant is unhappy with the outcome, how to appeal; and if unhappy with the handling of the complaint, how to escalate.
Information we collect and how we use it
All contracting complaints are recorded in a centrally managed contracting complaint register. It identifies which complaints have been referred to service providers for handling. The register is stored in our secure record management system.
Full details and all correspondence for each complaint are stored in a separate folder in the secure record management system.
Referral to other interested parties
Depending on the matters raised in the contracting complaint, we may refer the complaint, and any information collected in relation to it, to relevant state, territory or federal authorities.
Get more information about how and when other parties may become involved.
Information about the number and type of complaints received is used for reporting to the department’s executive team and to regulatory agencies, from time to time.
Complaint statistics may be made public. In this case, only non-identifying information is used; that is, the information does not reveal the identity of the complainant or service provider.
Annual performance assessments
Complaints are one of the criteria used for assessing a service provider’s corporate-level annual performance during the annual accountability process.
Our contract managers consider the number and types of complaints received about a service provider, relative the size and nature of the organisation. This may lead to a formal or informal plan for resolution, depending on the overall risk rating of the corporate-level assessment.
In addition, the results of assessments are used for sector-level risk reporting to the executive team.
We may use information collected about complaints when evaluating service providers’ tenders during re-contracting and other methods of procurement.