Go to content

Annual Report 2017 - 2018

Complaint handling

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

We received 401 complaints in 2017–2018 and 238 inquiries from third parties querying another person’s grant of aid. See Table 3 on page 94 for more details.

In addition to our standard 21 day timeframe a new 30 day timeframe was introduced in September 2017 to reflect the additional time needed to respond to complaints about panel lawyers or other external parties.

We encourage all types of feedback and recorded 39 compliments and five suggestions. This allows us to know when we are doing well and encourages people to tell us how we might improve.

Aiming for best practice complaint handling

Deloitte, as part of our internal audit schedule, and the NSW Ombudsman undertook audits of our complaint handling processes which were finalised at the end of 2017.

The audits reviewed randomly selected complaints, surveyed staff with complaint handling responsibilities and compared Legal Aid NSW’s complaint handling with other agencies across the Department of Justice cluster and against the NSW Complaint Handling Commitments.

The audits noted current good practice and also made recommendations for improvement.

A six month Complaints Handling Project started in June 2018 to implement the recommendations of the audits.


The need for staff training in complaint handling was identified in both audits.

The Deputy NSW Ombudsman gave a presentation to the Executive on complaint handling in June 2018.

A training plan for other staff and offices was developed and will be rolled out from July to October 2018.

Service improvement

Our Complaints Working Group identifies opportunities for service improvement arising from complaints. We use this feedback to bring the ‘voice of the client’ to a range of client service initiatives, given the important insights they give us about the client experience.

This year for example, we received a number of complaints from prison inmates regarding their grant of legal aid applications. Once the issues were identified, Legal Aid NSW and Corrective Services NSW, worked collaboratively to design a solution.

A workshop with representatives of both agencies designed a new process which was trialled at three correctional facilities. In July 2018 the trial will be reviewed to determine whether to roll it out to other correctional centres across NSW.

Better reporting to Executive and Board

Our Executive started receiving monthly complaints reports from March 2018 which identify serious complaints and complaints that are outside their respective 21 or 30 day timeframe.

The Board started receiving quarterly reports from April 2018.

With the introduction of weekly reports to Directors regarding open complaints and monthly reporting to the Executive highlighting complaints outside their timeframes (21 or 30 days) we saw a significant reduction in the number of overdue complaints.

The weekly reports have also helped to improve our performance in giving progress updates to complainants.

In May 2018 the Executive report showed that there were no overdue complaints.

Table 3: Number of Complaints and inquiries- three year comparison

Grants—eligibility inquiries 283 260 238*
Grants—refusals 44 40 -
In-house—customer service 59 45 -
In-house lawyer 68 101 -
Staff (other than in-house lawyer) 1 5 -
Policy and/or administrative processes 32 15 -
Private lawyer—conduct 68* 78 -
Private lawyer—fees 15 18 -
Independent Children’s Lawyer—conduct 26 29 -
Mediator—conduct 20 13 -
Funding allocations 24 7 -
Other 21 29 -
Total complaints 378 380 401*
Outcome of complaints
Upheld 19 23 -
Partially upheld 28 28 -
Not upheld 194 220 -
Referred to other body 17 1 -
Response to Minister’s office or Community Relations Unit 84 45 -
Professional Practices Branch 0 0 -
Complaint—unknown outcome (eg s25/26) 24 40 -
To be determined 12 23 7*
Total 378 380 401*
Time taken to close complaints
Within 21 days 65% 74% -
4–6 weeks 18% 16% -
7–12 weeks 6% 9% -
12+ weeks 11% 1% -

* Due to the limitations of a new complaints management system introduced in November 2018 it is not possible to give a detailed breakdown of complaints data.

Recording complaints

An across government complaints management system was trialled from 1 November 2017.

As this system does not meet our business reporting needs and cannot be customised other options are being scoped.

A new Complaint Management System is being designed to capture meaningful complaints data which is accessible for analysis purposes. The intention is to use complaints data to identify trends, identify opportunities for service improvement and manage risk.

As the complaints data for 2017-2018 was collected from two separate systems we were not able to provide a detailed breakdown for comparison with previous years.

calendar iconThe year ahead

  • Introduce a new Complaints Management System.
  • Develop a toolkit for staff to improve complaint handling skills.