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Compliments, concerns or complaints about Big Local in areas

July 2015

This document is to support Big Local partnerships to think about how to respond to external compliments, concerns and complaints. Feedback can be upsetting and sometimes difficult to manage, while strong differences of opinion can result in conflict. So having an agreed way to respond can help avoid these problems. And a clear, open process is more likely to result in a solution and resolution.

In a Big Local area, external compliments, concerns and complaints are likely to fall into one of the following categories:

About Big Local from outside the partnership
The subject might be community involvement, the plan, the proposed use of money, who is delivering aspects of the plan, or the choice of locally trusted organisation, or membership of the partnership. In these cases, it is best to respond through your partnership’s own locally agreed procedures.

About performance of the locally trusted organisation, or staff or organisations funded by the locally trusted organisation
Your locally trusted organisation will pick these up through its procedures for managing and supporting staff, or through the relevant grant or service agreement or contract.

What are you dealing with

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Take some time so that you are clear about what you are actually dealing with. It might be:

  • A compliment: "'You've really helped us make a difference to this area."
  • A nudge: “You said you were going to do this, but I see no evidence of it having been done.”
  • A point of information: “Can you explain how the money is being managed, so we know it is being put to good use?”
  • A query: “I thought this programme was meant to be about the residents, so why are you funding the council to do things they should be doing anyway?”
  • A concern: “We applied for a grant and were turned down but we can’t understand why.”
  • A grudge: “I can’t stand that person on your partnership. You should get rid of them.”

Each of these might come by email, during a phone call, in conversation, or sometimes at second hand through another person.

What are the steps to follow when compliments are received?

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  • Thank the person who gave you the compliment and share it with other members of the partnership, the wider community, the Big Local rep and Local Trust.
  • If possible, feature their thoughts in a blog, on your website or Facebook page. This will encourage more people to share their views - you might receive other compliments too.

What are the steps to follow when concerns are received?

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  • It is well worth listening to concerns and discussing them, both with the person raising the concern, and with the partnership and with your Big Local rep. This may change the way you deal with the concern, or enable you to explain something more clearly.
  • Responding to concerns can reduce formal complaints, because you engage with the person raising the concern before the issue becomes more serious.
  • If their concern does become a complaint and they expect a formal response, explain that you will treat their concern as a complaint and use the steps below.

What are the steps to follow when a formal complaint is received?

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Big Local partnerships can reduce the risk of misunderstanding or aggravation by having a process to manage the complaint that includes timescales and specific responsibilities. This means that members of the partnership know what to do, who is responsible for doing what, and by when. As a starting point, we ask people try to resolve differences locally, involving those most directly affected. 

For example:

  • Clarify the complaint. Is this something that can be responded to immediately and simply?
  • Find out what a successful resolution would look like. What does the complainant want to see happen?
  • Get support and advice to get a sense of how best to respond. For example, is this for the chair or the locally trusted organisation to lead?
  • Even if it will take time to respond in full, send a short holding email or letter, or leave a phone message acknowledging the complaint.
  • Take a view on who should be involved and when, but be careful about emailing others, copying people into emails or chatting on social media. Who really needs to know? Can the matter be resolved directly between the person who raised the issue and the person who received it?
  • Consider if the complaint should be put in writing by the complainant to avoid misunderstanding, and whether you should respond in writing to show you have responded appropriately?
  • Contain the situation by responding calmly.
  • If the complaint is anonymous or second hand, you may need to point out that this makes it hard to resolve. Encourage the actual complainant to come forward.

If the complaint is about something criminal, such as fraud, corruption or abuse, then the police should be informed, as should your Big Local rep and Local Trust.

Creating a compliments, concerns and complaints procedure

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As a Big Local partnership, you should discuss and agree what kind of procedure you need. Your Big Local rep can help with examples, but it is your discussion and local agreement which is vital to ensure a shared understanding and common, workable approach. (You might even try out the procedure on each other to see if it works.) 

Purpose

The purpose of a procedure is to guide the Big Local partnership, and to be open with the wider community about how the partnership reviews and responds to compliments, concerns and complaints. The procedure will include the name and contact details of the person responsible for responding to them. 

Responding to compliments, concerns and complaints

Your procedure should set out clearly how you will respond to each of these. In relation to complaints, this is so you can reduce any tension or conflict, and achieve speedy resolution. So you should be clear about whom to contact, whether you need something in writing, how quickly you will respond and what happens if things are not resolved satisfactorily at the start. 

As residents who are members of the partnership and visible local volunteers, you might decide that your first point of contact should be a paid worker or the locally trusted organisation. Whoever it is, their details, as well as your procedure, should be publicly available, on a website or in other sources of information.

Points to consider for a complaints procedure 

  • Refer to your code of conduct and to the expectations you have of each other as a partnership, and explain what you will do if someone behaves outside this.
  • Individual partnership members do not have to deal with a complaint on their own, but they do need to know the named contact to whom to refer the complaint. This ensures that the individual member is not left acting as a go-between, or managing a complaint that no one else is aware of.
  • It is useful to have a form asking for the name of the complainant, their contact details, details of the complaint, any evidence, and the preferred solution or resolution.
  • The named contact will make an initial response to a complaint within five days of receiving it.
  • In all cases, the chair and locally trusted organisation will be informed within five days.
  • A fuller reply might be made within a month of the complaint first being raised. This gives the named contact time to seek further information from the person complaining and from those best placed to respond.
  • If the complaint is about the locally trusted organisation, the Big Local rep or the paid worker, then it is unlikely that the partnership will need to respond. Complaints about the rep should be sent to Renaisi or Local Trust, while locally trusted organisations will have their own complaints procedures.
  • All complaints will be raised at the followiong partnership meeting, and correspondence will be kept on file by the locally trusted organisation. Where a point of general interest has been made, a summary or clarification can be posted on the website or other public source of information.
  • You will also need a process for responding when the person making a complaint is not content with your response. This may include:
    • a face-to-face meeting to which the complainant may bring a friend or advocate
    • agreement to take no further action
    • a request for support from Local Trust.

Preventing complaints

In our experience, the reason most people complain is because they can't get the information they want. This leads to their speculating about how Big Local funding is being used and making uninformed judgements. So the best way to prevent complaints being made is to communicate openly, transparently and consistently about what you are doing.

Putting your compliments, concerns and complaints procedure into practice

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Once you have agreed your procedure, make sure both it and the details of your point of contact are readily available on your website or Facebook page and in other sources of information.

Review and refresh

Build in a review date for your partnership to check that the procedure is working. Reflect on and learn from anything that arises, and refresh the procedure if needed. If training would be helpful to build the partnership's confidence in handling this locally, you can use your Big Local funding.

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