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Good practice complaints handling: tips for licensees

Following a review of complaints policies, this guide includes recommendations for licensees for good practice complaints handling.

The Commission reviewed 34 licensee complaints policies, from a range of sectors, and found a number of areas where licensees could make improvements. The recommendations should help make the complaints process easier and more accessible for consumers.

These tips are to help licensees effectively deal with consumer complaints. They are not intended to replace our requirements around complaints handling under social responsibility code 6 of the Licence conditions and codes of practice or our complaints and disputes guidance, which includes both legal obligations and recommendations of good practice.

Licensees should:

Our review found that some complaints procedures were difficult to find on licensees' websites, sometimes found within lengthy terms and conditions. Good practice is to have a direct link to your complaints procedure on the homepage of your website.

Use plain English and avoid jargon or legalese

Research from the legal sector on the complaints process (PDF) (opens in new tab) has shown that customers believe using complicated ‘legalese’ language is designed to intimidate them. It also leads to them perceiving the process of making and persevering with a complaint as onerous and confusing.

Our review saw examples of licensees using legal terminology in their complaints policies and having jargon-like team names and processes that could cause confusion for consumers.

You should remember that literacy levels vary significantly across the population and that a consumer reading your policy may not speak English as their first language. There are freely available tools that can assess the reading level needed to understand a piece of text.

Have a short and clear process for complaints

Examples of good practice we saw in our review were policies with 3 stages:

  1. initial complaints
  2. escalation within the organisation, often to a senior team
  3. escalation to an independent alternative dispute resolution (ADR) provider.

When someone has reached the end of each stage of this process, it should be clearly explained how and when to escalate.

Tell people what information you need to investigate their complaint

It helps consumers to articulate their complaint if you explain to them what information you need to process it. It will prevent delay and help you to investigate the complaint quickly if you have all of the information you need at the outset. It will also help you and the ADR provider to investigate if the complaint is escalated. Key information from the examples we saw included: account information, details of the complaint and any key dates, what the consumer would like you to do to resolve the complaint.

Include details of the 8 week time limit for resolving complaints or issuing a final response

We understand many licensees aim to resolve complaints well within the 8-week time limit, with many saying they aim to provide responses within 24 hours or 5 working days. However, as required by Social Responsibility code provision, the overall timeframe to deal with complaints is 8 weeks, and licensees should include this in their complaints procedures so consumers know there is a definitive end point.

Be clear when you have given a final decision or reached ‘deadlock’

We saw few examples of licensees referring to ‘deadlock’. This is when a consumer has reached the end of their complaints process but a resolution has not been reached, after which they can escalate to an ADR provider.

This was also raised by ADR provider IBAS as an area that could require more clarity, so they are clear when they can proceed to investigate. In IBAS’ 2020/21 annual report (opens in new tab) they stated that they have found the introduction of ‘deadlock’ letters and emails largely effective where introduced, but that more can and should be done to explain the escalation process to consumers.

While you do not have to use the term ‘deadlock’ you should be clear when you have provided your full and final response, and signpost to your ADR provider accordingly.

We saw examples of licensees who signposted people to their contact methods for making complaints, or how to escalate to an ADR provider, but did not include the links for them, or the links did not work. We also saw examples of licensees with incorrect or out of date information included in their policies.

Utilise technology to help guide people but always provide alternative contact methods

Many licensees now accept complaints via Live Chat, which we understand is an efficient and quick way for complaints to be resolved early on. Similarly, we saw an example of an operator using ‘decision tree’ technology to filter people through relevant FAQs to help guide them to the most relevant information. While these are helpful features, it is important to still offer alternative ways for people to contact you and not mandate that people complain via one method only.

Be accessible for all, including vulnerable people, and make adjustments where required

We saw very few examples of licensees acknowledging that people may need reasonable adjustments and that they would consider taking these into account when handling a consumer’s complaint. As research for Citizen’s Advice on consumer experiences of complaints handling (PDF) (opens in new tab) found, consumers want a range of methods to raise a complaint and communicate with an organisation. All routes need to be accessible and considerate towards anyone with a physical or cognitive impairment or disability.

The Ombudsman Association’s Principles of good complaint handling (opens in new tab) tells their members that a complainant’s personal situation and background should not be a barrier to bringing a complaint.

Our guidance on complaints and disputes states that licensees should accept customer complaints made in person, spoken or written, over the telephone or via email where facilities exist, or via third party intermediaries or support tools such as Resolver. If a customer informs a licensee that they are having difficulties raising a complaint, or are in a vulnerable situation, the licensee should ask how they can assist.

Keep a 'virtual paper trail'

Our Contact Centre team told us that they have seen examples where there are no records of conversations where people have complained via Live Chat. As required by SR code provision, licensees should keep records of customer complaints and disputes, regardless of how the complaint was raised.

Utilise Resolver and other consumer support tools

We do not endorse Resolver’s service nor require licensees to sign up to it. However, we know many consumers have found its support helpful when making a complaint. It is vital that your complaints procedure is accessible enough so that people do not need to involve a third party, but you should still accept complaints raised this way.

Provide clear signposting to ADR providers

Our guidance on complaints and disputes says that licensees should provide consumers with the contact details for their ADR provider, and, where necessary, details of any limitation on the nature or subject matter they can deal with (for example if the ADR provider only deals with a particular sector of gambling).

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