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Investigation Manual

16. Contact and the management of expectations

16.1. Contact with complainants 

The early stages of dealing with a complaint set the scene. This is where we can gather and provide useful information, manage expectations and help build a constructive professional relationship with the complainant. 

Always check whether initial contact has been made by Assessment. This should be recorded in Notes & Analysis on ECHO. However, the Investigator should try to speak to the complainant themselves at an early stage. If this is unsuccessful, the Investigator must agree to a subsequent request from the complainant to talk by phone. 

If we do not have a phone number, the Investigator should send a message via the Online Complaints System (OCS) or write a letter to the complainant, asking them to make contact or to provide a phone number and convenient time for us to call them back. However, if a voicemail message is left or an OCS message or letter sent and no response is received relatively promptly, the Investigator may then move the case forward. Any or letter sent and no response is received relatively promptly, the Investigator may then move the case forward. Any contact details should be checked before first use, to ensure we are not misdirecting our communications. 

If no telephone contact is made at an early stage, the reasons for this must be recorded in Notes & Analysis.

In contact with the complainant the Investigator needs to:

  • find out whether there are any language or other difficulties which might prevent the complainant from taking a meaningful part in the discussion (see Reasonable adjustments: help for complainants with different needs)
  • check address, email and phone number if these are not clear from existing correspondence the complainant has provided. Do not use details from a past complaint without checking they are still valid
  • explain that where a complaint has been recorded via the OCS, that is the method we will use to communicate with them about their case from then on (unless we have agreed an alternative method of contact as a reasonable adjustment). Where a complaint has not been recorded via the OCS, we should agree a preferred method of contact with the complainant instead
  • explain our role
  • test our understanding of the complaint and the alleged injustice
  • explore any jurisdictional issues
  • find out what the complainant wants to achieve
  • explore possible approaches to dealing with the complaint, including any issues that may require joint working
  • discuss any evidence the complainant may have and whether we need them to send it to us
  • manage the complainant's expectations, and
  • explain our investigation process and what will happen next.

An autotext called Contact list is available which Investigators can use as a reminder of this when writing Notes & Analysis. 

Investigators should record the substance of the call (and subsequent calls) in Notes & Analysis, including the time the call was made and the approximate duration. 

Exceptionally, and to avoid duplication of work, if there has already been substantive contact at Assessment and it is clear the complainant or investigation will not be disadvantaged, further telephone contact may not be necessary. There may be other rare circumstances where no initial contact by telephone is needed, or it is inappropriate. This will be left to the Investigator’s discretion, but some examples are where:

  • there are a number of linked complaints and there is clearly one lead complainant to whom they have already spoken
  • the complainant has specified they do not want to discuss the complaint by telephone
  • the complainant has recently been abusive to our staff.

Where an Investigator decides not to telephone a complainant, a note should be made in Notes & Analysis explaining why.

Following a recommendation from our external reviewer and based on the Highway Code which makes clear it is not acceptable, we should ensure telephone discussions with complainants do not take place while they are driving vehicles. Even using hands-free equipment is likely to distract attention and it is far safer not to use any type of telephone when driving or riding. So, we should not be party to telephone discussions in those conditions, regardless of our personal view on the matter. Most telephone conversations we are likely to have (both casework and non-casework) require concentration by both parties. We should therefore end calls where we believe the person is driving or riding, and politely ask the caller to call back when convenient and safe to do so. Where a caller persists, we should feel confident to bring the call to an end as this is our decision to make.

16.2. Referring complaints upwards

See the sections on Complaints about us and Dealing with requests to speak to a line manager.

16.3. Contact from MPs

Information about how we consider consent issues where an MP submits a complaint on behalf of someone can be found in the Casework Policy Forum guidance note on consent. 

When an MP makes substantive contact, a task should be set as soon as possible for the Assistant Ombudsman, along with the draft response proposed by the Investigator. The Assistant Ombudsman will decide whether the matter should be escalated/from whom letters should be sent. If an MP has referred the complaint or otherwise makes contact and it is unclear that they wish to be actively involved, they should be sent an acknowledgement, invited to let us know if they want to be kept informed of progress and told they will be sent a copy of the decision. It is important that we do as we say. The MP’s details should be added to ECHO and the banner will show MP involvement.

16.4. Keeping in touch

Investigators must keep the complainant and BinJ informed of progress. Unless the Investigator has explained good reasons to adopt a different date or frequency (such as action is awaiting a decision by a BinJ which will occur on a specific date), this must be at least every 20 working days measured from the last substantive contact. Investigators must send a KIT letter to the complainant on receipt of the enquiry response from the Council. A second KIT should be sent 20 working days later if required. Beyond this, further KITs without substantive action, such as making further enquiries or issuing a draft decision, are unlikely to be acceptable unless there are exceptional reasons (for example the extended ill-health of the Investigator).