This section will explain how to implement a complaint or feedback mechanism for your office. Please read the following information. At the end of this section, you should know what forms to use for this mechanism, how to structure the process, and how to address complaints.
In an effort to gain client feedback and to allow for an outlet for clients to safely issue complaints against our services, basic client feedback mechanisms are needed in all our client services locations. Furthermore, refugee legal aid providers are ethically obligated under The Nairobi Code to provide effective complaint mechanisms as part of office operating procedures (‘Complaint Mechanisms as a Feature in a Professional Accountability Structure for Legal Aid Providers,’ The Nairobi Code, Annex 2, p. 9). To accomplish these goals, the following mechanisms should be adapted to all offices:
The form can be called a “feedback” or “complaint” form. We suggest using the term “feedback” to invite a broader range of client assessment of our work. The feedback form should be structured to invite feedback from clients who receive our services.
- The form should provide clear instructions and sufficient space for the client to include the date and place of the action complained against and a narrative of the incident (Ibid., para. 1.3).
- Clients should be given the option to issue anonymous feedback. Complainants’ identification information should be clearly marked as optional.
- The form should make clear that if the complainant decides to give their name, their information will be kept confidential and will be used to contact the complainant to help address the complaint.
- Preprinted complaint forms should be available in all major languages spoken by the client community (Ibid.).
Each office should have clear operating procedures to review and respond to client complaints.
- A receptionist or the first point of contact in the office should announce to clients of their right to issue complaints in their language and manner of communicating.
- As part of this explanation, the client should be provided the following information to understand the complaint procedures, including the following:
- The client has the option to complain or give feedback about the services received.
- The names of staff members responsible for reviewing the complaints and steps taken to address the complaints.
- The assistance available for individuals who cannot fill out the complaint form on their own.
- A complaint box should be placed in a conspicuous public place or reception area in the office (Ibid., para. 3). The box should be clearly marked in all major client languages for clients to see and to identify its purpose.
- If grievances arise during our interaction with a client, the client should be advised to fill out a complaint form.
Complaints should be addressed and resolved in a timely fashion by a disinterested person (Ibid., para. 4).
- A pre-determined leadership staff member should review the complaint box on a weekly basis at minimum. To avoid any conflicts of interest that may be raised in the complaint forms, the person who reviews the complaints would ideally not also provide individual legal services.
- Any complaints received should be investigated and resolved in a timely fashion by a leadership staff member who is disinterested (i.e. not directly involved in the complaint).
- Where the complainant identifies him or herself in the complaint,
- The identity of the complaint should be kept confidential from the subject of the complaint to protect the identity of the complainant issuing the complaint save for exceptions of confidentiality raised in The Nairobi Code (section 6, p.4).
- The complainant should be contacted when reachable/ possible to gather additional information if needed and to communicate the results of complaint (‘Complaint Mechanisms as a Feature in a Professional Accountability Structure for Legal Aid Providers,’ The Nairobi Code, Annex 2, p.9).
- Where the complainant remains anonymous,
- The anonymous complaint should never be the source of a negative action against an employee (Ibid., para. 2).
- A presumption of innocence shall be applied to the employee complained against (Ibid., para. 6).
- The employee complained against should be notified of the complaint and evidence used against him or her in a manner that keeps the client’s confidentiality. The employee should be given an opportunity to reply to the complaint and all evidence (Ibid., para. 7).
- A disinterested leadership staff member should act as the independent investigator to review the complaint and the employee’s response to the complaint.
- The complaint should not have a negative impact on the representation of the client
- Exception: Where the client violates his or her responsibilities as explained in the beginning of a client-adviser relationship or according to The Nairobi Code, proper action may be taken (i.e. disclosure of criminal behavior or threats against another individual).
- Sanctions for ethical violations should be reviewed for Nairobi Code and Human Resources policy violations. Appropriate course of action should be taken to respond to the complaints according to these policies.
Records of all complaints, the investigations findings and resolutions shall be stored securely.
- Physical copies of the complaints should be kept in a secure confidential location.
- Each office shall keep records of complaints in their internal database system that includes the following data:
- Date of the complaint
- Name of the complainant if available
- Source of the complaint or individual who complaint is against
- Description of the course of action taken (Ibid., para. 8).
- Copies of notes and information included in the complaint that is relevant to the legal services rendered to the complaint should also be kept in the client file.