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Department of Human Services

Receive complaints without retribution - principle 7

Ensure people are able to complain without fear of retribution — that's Dignity in Care Principle 7

People receiving services must both feel free and actually be free to complain without fear of retribution.

When people are able to complain without fear, their complaints are almost more like reports or observations. Complaints delivered in an atmosphere of safety are easier made and better received, and that helps the information make a positive contribution to the services being provided. Complaints are an opportunity to review how we are supporting people and to make improvements.

Retribution against someone who is making a complaint can include:

  • ridicule
  • verbal abuse
  • physical attack
  • threats of punishment of some kind against the person or their friends or family
  • unwarranted restraint or confinement of the person
  • revenge activities, such as damaging the person's possessions
  • withholding medications, food, entertainment, bathing, dressing or any other items, activities or services to which the person is entitled.

If you need help

If you are in danger now, phone 000 (triple zero) to get help from the fire service, ambulance service or police.

If you need to report abuse or neglect, phone 1800 880 052 to speak to the National Disability Abuse and Neglect Hotline.

Practical measures so feedback is received with good grace, free of retribution

A fair, open and honest culture around complaints means:

  • staff and managers see complaints as an opportunity to improve things, not as a threat
  • problems are picked up at an early stage and lessons are learned
  • poor practice is highlighted and put right
  • complaints to external bodies are less likely
  • people can feel confident about complaining
  • those who find it difficult to make their views heard, are protected and have access to adequate support including advocacy
  • staff who are the subject of complaints are supported
  • resources spent on dealing with formal complaints are kept to a minimum
  • people using the service can feel they have a voice and are able to influence change.

(Source: United Kingdom Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE))

Complaint resolution

A man looks relaxed as he explains his complaint to a staff member.Successful resolution of a complaint often involves four key things people seek when they make a complaint:

  • acknowledgement - their views are heard and the service recognises their concerns and how the issue has affected them
  • answers - an explanation of what happened or information that may be needed to address the person's concerns
  • action - agreement on steps to address the concern and improve services
  • apology - for some people, a genuine apology may be all that is sought.

Resolving complaints almost always involves finding ways to improve communication. If someone making the complaint does not feel comfortable raising their issue directly with you or your staff as the service provider, or the outcome is not satisfactory, that person can lodge a complaint through our feedback page.

Read more about complaints management by NDIS providers and on the disability-related complaints and feedback page.

Alternatives to complaining directly to the 'problem' organisation

Some people and some organisations might not welcome complaints. In that case, other agencies can help.

People can also use the Disability Discrimination Act if they are harassed because of disability.

The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission can be used for people residing in aged care services.

Practical services are available to help with principle 7

The Department of Human Services (DHS) provides for people to give us feedback of all kinds – including complaints. People can provide feedback:

Visit our feedback page to see more information.

Checklist for principle 7 – complaining without retribution

Ask yourself while you read this checklist as Dignity in Care Champions: can my workplace answer 'Yes' to all the questions below?

  1. Do we have a policy and procedures around receiving feedback and complaints?
  2. Do we review our conduct and practices regularly? Do we involve our clients in those reviews so they can identify problem areas?
  3. Are practices in place to allow people to provide feedback anonymously?
  4. Is close attention paid to people communicating with us, so that subtle cues about possible distress are picked up?
  5. Are all staff clear that no one is to be 'punished' in any way for making a report, providing feedback or complaining about their treatment, care or the organisation?
  6. Do we have a clear and well-understood process to handle complaints, with reasonable timeframes for each step? Have we made that process public to our clients?
  7. If we do all these things and more, we are supporting people to make complaints without fear of retribution, both as their legal right and as they should expect in our conduct.

Accepting complaints (and acting on them in good faith) – it's about recognising and acting to serve the humanity and individuality of the people with and for whom we work.

Email if you would like to become a Dignity in Care champion or need further information.

Page last updated : 13 Feb 2020

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