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Tips for resolving a complaint with a government agency

Give yourself the best chance of directly resolving your complaint with these tips.

Focus on the main problem

Take some time to identify the issue that you want to complain about and what should be done to fix it.

When to write and when to phone

It’s best to put your complaint in writing, especially if your complaint is complicated or you are dealing with a large agency.

You can phone the agency first to clarify issues, learn more about their complaint procedures or identify the correct person to write to. It might be possible to resolve your complaint over the phone.

If you decide to phone first, ask to speak to the person who deals with your type of complaint. Tell them your complaint, and ask them if they can help and what they intend to do. Make a note of who you spoke to, when you spoke to them, and what was said.

If you're unsure whether they understood your complaint or you’re not satisfied with the response you received, put your complaint in writing. Even if you are satisfied, you should confirm what was said in writing. Keep copies of your correspondence.

If you find it difficult to put your concerns in writing, ask a friend, relative or volunteer at your local Citizens Advice Bureau to help you.

What to include in your complaint

Address your email or letter to the person who is responsible for dealing with your type of complaint, if there is one. If you don’t know who that is, write to the head of the agency, such as the chief executive or chairperson.

Set out your complaint as clearly and briefly as possible. Stick to the main points and don't go into too much detail. Include:

  • your name and contact details
  • relevant dates, places and times
  • a description of the problem, incident or decision at issue
  • details of any phone conversations, meetings or other steps you’ve taken to try and sort out the problem
  • any other information you think is important
  • any relevant documents.

Tell them what you want to happen

Having explained the problem, tell the agency what action you think should be taken to resolve it and explain that you are giving them a chance to fix it. Make sure what you’re asking for is reasonable. If your request is realistic, you are more likely to get what you ask for.

Ask for your complaint to be acknowledged in writing and for the agency to give you an estimate of how long it will take to deal with your complaint. If there is any urgency, let the agency know and explain why.

Keep records

Keep copies of all correspondence you send and receive, and any other important documents or notes, such as details of phone calls. This will be helpful if you need to make a complaint to the Ombudsman or another external complaints body.

Be persistent

If nothing happens, phone the agency to check on the progress of your complaint. If there has been no progress, write to the agency again. If you are unable to sort the problem out after making a reasonable effort to do so, contact the Ombudsman.

How the Ombudsman looks at complaints

How to make a complaint

What happens when you make your complaint to the Ombudsman?

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