What should I do before I make a complaint?
The first step is it to contact the agency / department / council you have a complaint about, and lodge a formal complaint.
You should also check to see if they are within the Ombudsman SA’s jurisdiction to investigate. We would also expect that you have followed up your initial complaint and given the agency an opportunity to respond. If the issue is not resolved, and you have exhausted all avenues of complaint with the agency, then we will need to have documentation of your complaint, and an outline of the action you have taken in an attempt to obtain a resolution.
What happens after I lodge a complaint?
Every investigation will be conducted in private. If it appears that an agency has made an administrative error, the Ombudsman will undertake a preliminary investigation to determine whether to proceed with a full investigation. If deciding to proceed with a full investigation, the steps will be similar to those outlined below.
- Clarify the complaint When the Ombudsman receives a complaint, normally the first step is to clarify the complaint and identify the issues with you.
- Convey the complaint to the agency Once the complaint is clarified, we will then convey the complaint to the agency, inviting the agency to respond. If the matter is complex, this will be done in writing to the principal officer of the agency, but otherwise telephone contact will be made with an appropriate person. As far as possible the Ombudsman will attempt to establish the facts of what has happened and then to assess the fairness of the agency’s action.
- Review the agency’s response If the Ombudsman is initially satisfied with the agency’s response or if it is necessary to clarify information, the complainant will be contacted and invited to respond to the information received from the agency.
- Conciliation Instead of an investigation, the Ombudsman may refer the matter for conciliation. This is when all parties are brought together to attempt to find a resolution. This option may be preferred if the Ombudsman considers that an outcome acceptable to both the complainant and the agency may be achieved. If this option occurs, an officer from Ombudsman SA will convene and chair a conference with the parties. The aim of such a conference is initially to clarify issues with the parties, and then to attempt to identify possible solutions. Conciliation is a voluntary process and if either party declines to cooperate then the Ombudsman will not proceed with this approach.
- Investigate An Ombudsman SA officer may visit the agency to examine documents and agency records in detail. We may also consider it necessary to interview relevant witnesses. The form of the investigation and the manner in which it is conducted is at the discretion of the Ombudsman and will vary according to the circumstances of the case.
- Decision Once all relevant information is obtained, the Ombudsman will form a provisional view about the agency’s actions. Both you and the agency may be informed of this view, and invited to provide comment in response.
- Resolution If the Ombudsman believes that the agency has acted unfairly or contrary to law, the Ombudsman will make a recommendation to remedy the error. The Ombudsman will also notfiy the relevant Minister of the agency’s error and his recommendations. Alternatively, if the Ombudsman believes that the agency has acted fairly he will express this view to you and explain his reasoning. Sometimes, the Ombudsman will table a report of the investigation in Parliament and/or publish it on the Ombudsman SA website.