Abstracts: April 13th, 2005

This report from the National Audit Office examines what citizens can do if things go wrong with public services. The systems currently in place have developed over time and for a variety of different purposes. This has resulted in complexity and variations in attitude and approach. Against this backdrop the report maps the overall picture. It draws out key themes which can be explored further by the NAO working in conjunction with ombudsmen and other key participants. It also helps identify ways in which the effective handling of redress can, in turn, lead to major improvements in the quality of services the citizen receives.The NAO found that a distinction is made between complaints and appeals. Complaints are viewed as concerns about processes and how issues have been handled. They are considered as part of the internal business arrangements of public bodies. Appeals on the other hand are related to systems and tribunals concerned about the accuracy or correctness of decisions. They form part of the administrative justice sphere and are considered primarily in terms of citizens’ legal rights, natural justice and a range of related quasi-judicial criteria. This approach is very distinctive to the public sector and has no counterpart in private sector firms. Rigidly separating complaints from appeals means that many public service organizations are essentially providing two different basic systems of redress, which are set up and organized on different lines. Citizens also have to grapple with two very different concepts of redress, instead of a more integrated concept of ‘getting things put right’.

‘Citizen Redress: What citizens can do if things go wrong with public services’, is published by the National Audit Office and is available at: http://www.nao.org.uk/publications/nao_reports/04-05/040521es.pdf