Complaints must count in public services

Which? launches a new campaign to make complaints count in public services as we find many people don’t complain when they experience problems, and those who do aren’t always satisfied with the result. 

New Which? research reveals a third (34%) of people who have experienced a problem with public services in the past year didn’t complain, with reasons being not knowing who to complain to (35%) and thinking that it would not be worth the effort (39%).

And even those who do complain aren’t always happy with the response. Four in ten (39%) weren’t satisfied with the outcome of their complaint and half (49%) felt like their complaint was ignored. Yet nearly nine in ten (86%) of those who were dissatisfied with the outcome of their complaint didn’t take it any further.

There are a number of different public services ombudsmen to escalate an unresolved complaint to depending on the service, and our research shows consumers are confused about where to go. Around four in ten (43%) who have not made a complaint about a public service in the past 12 months wrongly thought they would go to the Department of Health if a problem with a GP wasn’t resolved, instead of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO). Less than a quarter (23%) got this right.

And many aren’t even aware the PHSO exists – only half (52%) have heard of it, compared to 94% who have heard of Trading Standards and 86% who’ve heard of the Financial Services Ombudsman.

While the Government has announced new measures to strengthen patient feedback in the NHS in the last year we think there is still work to be done across all of public services, including in care homes and schools, to encourage people to share their experiences and help improve services. Currently a third (32%) don’t complain because they don’t think anything will be done but three-quarters (75%) say they’d be more likely to if they knew it would result in direct action and 79% if they knew it would make a difference to other people’s experience.

The ‘Make complaints count’ campaign is calling on the Government to pledge to be the champion of patients, parents and all users of public services by committing to:

  • Giving people a role in triggering inspections by regulators through their complaints
  • Giving people a unified public services ombudsman which can swiftly deal with their unresolved complaints
  • Giving people a voice by allowing representative groups to make super-complaints in our public services, as they do in private markets

An individual complaint could be an isolated incident, but it also could be part of a wider problem affecting many more people, so it’s important that anyone with a valid complaint feels that it would be worthwhile to speak up.

Richard Lloyd, Which? executive director, said:

“Public services are vital to everyone and if something goes wrong it’s crucial that people feel it’s worth speaking up to help stop the same thing happening again. Barriers to giving feedback must be removed if public services are to deliver the high standards that we all expect.

“We want to see a shake up of the way complaints are handled, to give people the confidence that their complaints count and will trigger action.”

Notes to editors:

  1. Methodology: Populus, on behalf of Which?, conducted an online survey of 4,132 UK adults between 19thand 23rd February 2014. Data were weighted to be representative of all UK adults. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by their rules.  
  2. People can support the campaign at  
  3. Other key findings include:

–      One in five (19%) have experienced a problem with a public service in the past 12 months.

–      Of those who did complain, 36% felt that their complaint was taken on board.

–      Men were more likely to take their complaint further than women (30% compared to 10%).

–      Three-quarters (76%) think it should be easier to give positive feedback in public services.

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