3. The Complaint Handling Procedure
The CHP is intended to provide a streamlined procedure with a focus on early resolution. When the Solicitor of the Church is made aware of a complaint, the complaint will be recorded and the complaint procedure followed. The procedure involves two stages, details of which are explained below.
Stage 1 - Direct Resolution seeks to resolve straightforward complaints swiftly and effectively at the point at which the complaint is made, or as close to that point as possible.
Stage 2 - Complaint Investigation is appropriate where a complainant is dissatisfied with the outcome of direct resolution, or where direct resolution is not possible or appropriate due to the complexity or seriousness of the complaint.
3.2 Mediation and other dispute resolution options
Some complex complaints (where, for example, the complainant and/or other involved parties have become entrenched in their positions) may benefit from a different approach to resolving the complaint. Using mediation can help both parties to understand what is driving the complaint, and may be more likely to result in a mutually satisfactory conclusion being reached. Parties wishing to consider alternatives to complaint investigation should enquire about this with the Solicitor of the Church.
Where other means of dispute resolution are attempted the complaint investigation will be suspended pending the outcome. If the complaint is not resolved by alternative resolution techniques the complaint investigation will be resumed.
3.3 Stage 1: Direct Resolution Procedure
The purpose of direct resolution is to endeavour to respond to straightforward complaints as swiftly and comprehensively as possible. Ideally the direct resolution complaint procedure should be completed within seven working days although it is recognised that it may not always be possible to complete the procedure within that time. The complainant should be updated in the event that the complaint takes longer than seven working days to resolve.
Individuals who have a complaint are encouraged to raise it initially at the point of, or as close as possible to the point of, becoming aware of it and to raise it with the Department or service area in which the issue arose. Should that not be possible or appropriate, or should this not result in an outcome satisfactory to the complainant, the complaint should be referred to the Solicitor of the Church. When a complaint is received the Solicitor of the Church should be informed promptly, even where the complaint has been resolved, in order to ensure that all complaints are appropriately recorded. Complaints may be made face-to- face, by telephone, in writing or by email.
In the event that a complaint cannot be summarily addressed or is of a serious nature it should be referred to the Solicitor of the Church, who will respond to the complaint in accordance with Stage 2 of this CHP.
3.4 Closing the complaint at the direct resolution stage
The outcome will be communicated to the complainant by the relevant member of Church staff who dealt with the complaint. This may be face-to-face, by telephone, in writing or by email. There is no requirement to send out a written communication to the complainant, although a written response may be issued where it seems helpful to do so.
Once a resolution has been reached the record of the complaint held by the Solicitor of the Church should be updated including details of this resolution. A straightforward complaint should be closed at this stage.
3.5 Stage 2: Complaint Investigation
Complaints may already have been considered at the direct resolution stage or they may be complaints identified upon receipt as appropriate for immediate investigation. Where a complaint is handled under Stage 2 the Solicitor of the Church will appoint an investigating officer. The identity of the investigating officer will be made known to the complainant. Should the complainant object to a particular investigating officer then if it is deemed appropriate to do so a different investigating officer will be appointed.
A complaint will be assigned to Stage 2 investigation when:
- Direct resolution has been attempted, but the complainant intimates within one month after the case has been closed following the direct resolution stage that they remain dissatisfied
- The complainant refuses to recognise or engage with the direct resolution process and is insistent that the issue be addressed by a more senior member of staff
- The issues raised involve a Forum, Council, Committee or Department, or a combination of any of those
- The issues raised are complex and will require detailed investigation
- The complaint relates to issues that have been identified as high risk or high profile.
A complaint can be made in writing, in person, by telephone, or by email. Where it is clear that Stage 2 investigation is appropriate, the complainant will be asked to provide full details of the complaint and any relevant documentation. If a complainant would prefer to complain in person, a letter to confirm the scope of the complaint will subsequently be issued to them for agreement.
3.6 Stage 2: Complaint Investigation Initial Procedure
The purpose of conducting an investigation is to establish all of the facts relevant to the points made in the complaint and to provide a full, objective and proportionate response to the complainant.
On receipt of a complaint within the parameters set out in paragraph 3.5 above, the Solicitor of the Church will allocate the complaint to an investigating officer (see paragraph 3.8 of this CHP). It is important to be clear from the start of the investigation stage exactly what is being investigated and to ensure that both the complainant and the investigator understand the scope of the investigation. If the investigating officer does not have full details of the complaint they should be obtained from the complainant. In discussion with the complainant, three key questions should be considered:
- What specifically is the complaint (or complaints)?
- What does the complainant hope to achieve by complaining?
- Do the complainant's expectations appear to be reasonable and achievable?
If the complainant's expectations appear to exceed what can reasonably be provided or are not within the Church's power to provide, the complainant will be advised of this as soon as possible in order to manage expectations about possible outcomes.
3.7 Timelines for Stage 2 Complaint Investigation
Every effort should be taken to expedite the resolution of Stage 2 complaints. However, it must be recognised that such investigations will take time to complete and rushing the complaints procedure may disadvantage the complainant. The Church is committed to taking as much time as is required in order to investigate complaints properly.
3.8 The Investigating Officer
Without unreasonable delay, the investigating officer will investigate the circumstances of the complaint including discussing the complaint with the complainant and with any relevant members of Church staff. Depending on the nature and complexity of the investigation they may be assisted by a member of the Human Resources team. The investigating officer will normally be accompanied by a note taker at meetings.
The investigating officer will report their findings back to the Solicitor of the Church, who will
(a) Make a determination on those findings and will communicate that determination to the complainant in writing;
(b) Record the outcome of the complaint investigation; and
(c) Arrange for any additional steps, including disciplinary proceedings where appropriate, to be taken.