12 May 2022
Where the complainant is not directly affected but asserts the complaint is being made as a representative on behalf of someone else, decide whether or not to accept the complaint as a representative complaint. This should be considered in the context of the agency’s policy regarding representative complaints.
It will likely be necessary for the agency to satisfy itself that the person being represented has authorised the complainant to act on their behalf for the purposes of pursuing the complaint.
If the person they are representing is ‘apparently directly affected’, and the other criteria for being a complaint has been satisfied, it can be accepted as a complaint and dealt with through the CMS, even if the complainant themselves is not directly affected.
Depending on the level of information provided it may be necessary to contact the customer for more information to assist your determination.
Other matters to be considered
Just because a ‘complaint’ does not meet the criteria for it to be dealt with under the agency’s CMS, this does not mean the agency can just ignore it. There are other matters to consider, including:
- Is it a PID or does it make a serious allegation?
- Does it raise regulatory compliance concerns?
- What type of response should be provided?
Even if the person is not directly affected there may be reasons for considering the issues further. Where information provided does not meet with the requirements to be dealt with under the CMS we still need to consider what other action may be required.
PIDs and other serious allegations
Information received should be assessed having regard to the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010 and the Crime and Corruption Act 2001.
There may be another policy or process under which the matter should be handled. The complainant should be advised how the matter is to be dealt with.
A complainant may raise an issue regarding compliance with a regulation or law the agency administers.
If they are not ‘apparently directly affected’, it does not need to be dealt with as a complaint under the agency’s CMS.
The agency has, however, become aware of a potential breach and should therefore take appropriate action in accordance with its compliance and enforcement framework.
The complainant should be advised that the matter will be dealt in accordance with agency’s compliance and enforcement framework. There is no requirement for the agency to report back to the complainant about the outcome of any investigation undertaken or any action taken as a result of the information.
Whether it’s a complaint, or not, once a public servant is made aware of something they need to consider what, if any action may be required. Some things just can’t be ignored.
One of the ethical principles in the Public Sector Ethics Act 1994 is ‘accountability and transparency’. It includes a number of values including:
- committed to exercising proper diligence, care and attention; and
- are committed to using public resources in an effective and accountable way; and
- are committed to managing information as openly as practicable within the legal framework.
If a concern or query is received from a member of the public, it may not be appropriate for an agency to just dismiss or ignore it because the person is not ‘apparently directly affected’.
In the interests of transparency, it may be appropriate for an agency to provide a response. It may be of a more general nature than if the matter were accepted as a complaint and dealt with through the CMS.
The need for transparency and to work productively with members of the community should be balanced with agency’s need to effectively manage its resources in responding to concerns raised.
For example, someone may complain to an agency about a breach of laws. The agency could decline to deal with the person on the basis of not being directly affected. But the agency should then, as part of their compliance framework, determine whether further action should be taken.
This is a summary of the Complaint Handler’s Network (CHN) discussion relating to ‘representative complaints’ from March 2022.