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Annual Report 2016 - 2017

Complaint handling

We are accountable to the public through an open and efficient complaints process.

Improvements in finalising matters within 21 days

We received 380 complaints in 2016–2017 and 260 inquiries from third parties querying another person’s grant of aid. See Table 3 below for details.

We encourage all types of feedback and recorded 31 compliments and nine suggestions. This allows us to know when we are doing well and encourages people to tell us how we might improve.

The data in Table 3 shows an improvement in finalising matters within 21 days and in the 12+ weeks period compared with the previous year.

Table 3: Number of complaints and inquiries—three-year comparison

Grants—eligibility inquiries* 184 283* 260
Grants—refusals 31 44 40
Inhouse—customer service 44 59 45
Inhouse lawyer 67 68 101
Staff (other than inhouse lawyer) 3 1 5
Policy and/or administrative processes 56 32 15
Private lawyer—conduct 43 68* 78
Private lawyer—fees 16 15 18
Independent Children’s Lawyer—conduct 20 26 29
Mediator—conduct 14 20 13
Funding allocations 51 24 7
Other 15 21 29
Total complaints 360 378 380
Outcome of complaints
Upheld 18 19 23
Partially upheld 22 28 28
Not upheld 170 194 220
Referred to other body 16 17 1
Response to Minister’s office or Community Relations Unit 91 84 45
Professional Practices Branch 1 0 0
Complaint—unknown outcome (eg s25/26) 25 24 40
To be determined 17 12 23
Total 360 378 380
Time taken to close complaints
Within 21 days 65% 65% 74%
4–6 weeks 22% 18% 16%
7–12 weeks 9% 6% 9%
12+ weeks 4% 11% 1%

* Increase in numbers due to better recording.
The data shows an improvement in finalising matters within 21 days and in the 12+ weeks period compared with the previous year.

Client Service Unit—complaints and feedback

The complaints function was moved into the newly formed Client Service Unit in November 2016 to ensure that feedback is used effectively to inform service improvement.

Aiming for best practice complaint handling

The creation of an internal Complaints Working Group in June 2017 will embed best practice complaint handling and train staff from across all areas of our organisation. Group members will focus on:

  • standardising and improving the quality of complaint handling
  • being a source of expertise for their areas
  • monitoring systemic issues raised by complaints
  • compiling a complaints toolkit for staff.

Who complains to us?

We conducted a trial from January to May 2017 of collecting data about whether complainants have a disability or special need as part of the Legal Aid NSW Diversity Action Plan 2015–2017.

We will explore improving our data collection about complainants to identify if we need to do more work to reduce barriers for some clients who may experience particular difficulty in making a complaint.

Responding to Government initiatives for higher quality

The NSW Customer Service Commissioner and the NSW Ombudsman are working to improve the quality of complaint handling across all New South Wales government agencies. One initiative is the introduction of a standard entry point (or widget) for all New South Wales state agencies for feedback on their websites.

We began working with the Department of Finance, Services and Innovation to explore the introduction of this new online feedback system by the end of 2017.

We also identified and reported on areas for improvement with our complaint handling as part of the Complaint Handling Implementation Plan for all agencies within the Justice cluster.

The year ahead

  • Continue to ensure all appellants to Legal Aid Review Committees are afforded procedural fairness.
  • Conduct an external audit of our complaints function and improve our demographic data.
  • Improve our online feedback function and produce a complaints toolkit for staff.
  • Raise awareness amongst all staff of our obligations under privacy laws and the GIPA Act.