SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
The purpose of the investigation is to gather the relevant and essential information in order to reach well founded conclusions on the complaint.
1. The Role of the Investigating Officer / Manager
- Make sure you understand what the complaint is and the outcome the complainant is looking for;
- Approach the investigation entirely objectively;
- Make sure that the investigation is sufficiently thorough and you get all the information you need;
- Make sure that you take an even handed approach to all parties involved in the complaint;
- Take account of the needs and circumstances of the people you may have to interview during the investigation;
- Do not jump to conclusions before all the information is gathered;
- Meet required timescales;
- Work closely with the Complaints Manager, independent person and advocate throughout the investigation and report writing;
- Keep the complainant informed;
- Maintain the highest standards of confidentiality;
- Be aware of the requirements of data protection.
2. Process of the Investigation
2.1 Meet with the Complaints Manager
This is to discuss the complaint and make an interim plan of the investigation, based on the complaint resolution plan that has already been drawn up. If necessary this can take place over the phone.
Make arrangements to meet the complainant, preferably by phone.
Make arrangements to see the files, and to hold interviews with people as agreed with the Complaints Manager. These must not take place until after you have seen the complainant and confirmed the complaint with them.
2.2 Meet with the complainant
Even though a detailed resolution plan may have been drawn up and agreed, this meeting must take place to ensure that you completely understand the detail of the complaint, that all the complainants concerns are included and their desired outcome is clear. At this meeting you will:
- Introduce yourself and explain your role. Allow the independent person (if there is one) to introduce themselves and explain their role;
- Clearly agree the complaint and all the individual parts to it;
- Allow the complainant to express how they feel;
- Ask the complainant if there is anyone that they consider has information relevant to the investigation;
- Establish what outcome the complainant is looking for;
- Check whether the complainant requires any support or representation;
- Explain what the process of the investigation will be;
- Consider whether the complaint can be resolved without further investigation or whether alternative resolution (for example mediation) is a more appropriate way of dealing with the complaint;
- Give an estimate of when the complainant should expect a response and agree how and when updates will be given. (The response should be sent within 25 working days of this meeting, if the complaint is agreed). You may need to be clear with the complainant about what possible outcomes may be so that they do not have unrealistic expectations that the investigation cannot meet.
The meeting with the complainant is probably the most important part of the process as it will determine the course of the investigation. It is vital therefore that you are very clear that you are understanding of the complaint is the same as that of the complainant and that the complainant has confidence in the integrity of your investigation.
2.3 Following the meeting with the complainant
Confirm the complaint in writing with the complainant.
Obtain all the documentation you need, for example consulting case file records, copies of timesheets, log books, diary records (remember electronic records), relevant policies and procedure documents.
At this point you may wish to review the list of people you intend to interview and make arrangements with those not already contacted. Interviewees should be advised of what the complaint is (unless to do so would prejudice the investigation) and asked if they would like support in your meeting. (Usually this would not be their line manager nor anyone involved in the complaint – it may be a union representative as long as this does not prolong the process – the Complaints Manager will advise if there is any doubt.) You should also remind interviewees that they should have the files with them to refer to when you meet.
Any professional advice you need in relation to policies, practice or procedures should also be sought.
2.4 The report
Once you have all the information you need you can compile your report. The draft report should be shared with the Complaints Manager and the independent person (where there is one).
Relevant sections of the report should be shared with those interviewed to check for factual accuracy.
A meeting should then take place with the Adjudicating Officer, independent person and Complaints Manager where you will present your report and findings. This is the opportunity for you to share with the Adjudicating Officer what you have found during your enquiries and to make recommendations about resolution. This meeting will inform the Adjudicating Officer’s response to the complainant.
Every effort should be made to conclude the investigation and report to the complainant within 25 working days of the complaint being confirmed. Extensions can be allowed up to 65 working days. All extensions must be agreed with the Complaints Manager and the complainant informed.
2.4.1 Writing the report
Remember there are a number of possible recipients of this report and that whilst it is written to inform the local authority in reaching its decision on the complaint, it is also written for the complainant and will be a principal source of information should the complaint go to Ombudsman. You must therefore ensure that the report contains enough detail and is written in such a way that will be understood by, and will adequately inform, each of those audiences. You should for example:
- Avoid the use of acronyms;
- Avoid the use of jargon;
- Do use plain English;
- The report should follow this outline format;
- Brief introduction to the complaint;
- Background information, enough to set the context of the complaint;
- Chronology of significant events with dates;
- The detail of each part of the complaint;
- The complainants desired outcome;
- Outline of the process of the investigation e.g. list of people interviewed and whether an advocate or independent person was involved;
- The findings in relation to each complaint and a conclusion about whether the complaint is upheld or not;
- Recommendations in relation to the desired outcome or other issues the investigation has found;
- Occasionally an investigation may come across issues that are not directly in relation to the complaint or are for the local authority only. These should be reported in a separate addendum for the local authority.
- Before the interview takes place you should have a clear idea of the information you are seeking and preferably a list of questions you will ask;
- If you expect that an interview is going to be particularly difficult or contentious and there is no Independent Person, you should arrange with the Complaints Manager to have a witness;
- Begin by explaining your role and make sure that the interviewee understands why you are seeing them and what it is that you are seeing them about;
- Conduct interviews in as informal and relaxed a way as possible;
- Ensure that you concentrate on fact and not opinion or hearsay, seek supporting information;
- Ask open not leading questions;
- Try not to express an opinion – or give the impression that you have an opinion;
- You can persist with a question if the answer is not clear;
- Front line staff should not be asked to justify policies or procedures, such questions should be addressed to managers;
- A record should be made of the interview and confirmed with the interviewee. The interviewee should sign the record of the interview.