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4.1.2 Complaints management

Last Modified: 07-Apr-2022 Review Date: 01-Jul-2019

 ‭(Hidden)‬ Legislation


The Children and Community Services Act 2004 s.21(1)(d) (the Act) requires the Department of Communities (the Department) to establish procedures for dealing with complaints about services provided under the Act.

The External Complaints Management Policy outlines the process for responding to and managing complaints across the Department.  These procedures guide the response and management of complaints about services provided under the Act. There are separate complaint procedures for responding to complaints in relation to Housing and Disability Services provided by the Department.

The Complaints Management Unit (CMU) has responsibility for managing and coordinating the response to all complaints about services provided by the Department.

The Complaints Handling and Resolution Module (CHARM) is the Department's system for recording complaints in relation services provided under the Act.


The following principles guide the Department's response to complaints:

  • Complainants have the right to make complaints and to have their complaints responded to fairly and in a timely manner, without fear of adverse consequences.

  • The principles of procedural fairness apply when responding to complaints, providing opportunity for the views of all parties to be considered in determining the outcome.

  • Complainants can make complaints themselves or with a support person or have an advocate make the complaint on their behalf. 

  • Information in relation to making complaints and the complaints process should be culturally aware and accessible.

  • All staff should understand their role and responsibilities in responding to complaints and have access to information and training on the complaints process.

  • The Department adopts a culture of continuous service improvement and uses complaint information to plan, deliver and review services.

Information and Instructions

  • Definition of a complaint
  • Making a complaint
  • What can be complained about?
  • Receiving complaints
  • Early resolution
  • Tier One Complaint Investigation
  • Tier Two Complaint Investigation
  • External complaint avenue: Ombudsman Western Australia
  • Withdrawal of a complaint
  • Staff misconduct allegations
  • Complaints from and about agencies and funded services
  • Complaints from Carers
  • Complaints from Children and Young People
  • Culturally aware practice
  • Advocates and Support Persons
  • Unreasonable Complaint Conduct
  • Staff Training
  • Employee responsibilities
  • What if the complaint is about me?
  • CHARM and record keeping
  • Reporting
  • Definition of a complaint

    The External Complaints Management Policy defines a complaint as an expression of dissatisfaction made to or about an organisation, related to its products, services, staff or the handling of a complaint, where a response or resolution is explicitly or implicitly expected or legally required.


    Making a complaint

    Complaints in relation to children in care and child protection services can be made to CMU by:

    • Phone: 1800 333 325 (1800FEEDBK) and select option 1. Child Protection.

    • Online: Department of Communities - Child Protection, Children in care complaints and feedback or Children and young people Complaints and feedback.

    • In writing: Department of Communities, Locked Bag 5000 Fremantle WA 6959.

    • Submitting a Resolving your Complaints Kit  in person or by mail.

    • Speaking to a staff member who will consult with and/or refer the complaint to CMU.


    What can be complained about?

    Complaints can be made about:

    • Any service provided by the Department.
    • A lack of service that could reasonably be expected.

    Responding to and resolving dissatisfaction is part of day to day work and not all dissatisfaction enters the formal complaints process. Many matters can be resolved through listening, discussion and responding to the issue. When dissatisfaction cannot be resolved, or the matter is persistent, serious or contentious it should be referred to CMU for assessment.

    CMU assess all complaints to determine if the matter meets the criteria to enter the Department's formal complaints process.  CMU are also available for consultation in relation to responding to and managing dissatisfaction and complaints.

    Some matters are excluded from the complaints process and the complainant will be advised of the alternate avenues for making a complaint or seeking a review or appeal.

    Complaint subject

    Alternative ways to address the complaint

    Any complaint that is subject to current legal action in a court or tribunal.   

    Seek legal advice

    ​Decisions made a Court including the Children's Court and the Family Court.

    ​Seek legal advice

    ​Care plan decisions.

    ​Care Plan Review Panel

    ​Recommendations of the Care Plan Review Panel

    ​State Administrative Tribunal

    ​Child Safety Investigation decisions including Assessing a person as Actual Harm Continuing Risk (AHCR)

    ​Child Safety Investigation Review

    ​Child Safety Investigation Review decision

    ​Ombudsman Western Australia

    ​The death of a child or adult

    ​Coroner's Court of Western Australia

    ​Decisions made by the Adoptions Application Committee

    ​State Administration Tribunal

    ​Decisions made about funding and purchasing of community services as part of a tendering process

    Seek legal advice.

    ​Working with Children Check and NDIS Screening decisions

    ​Internal review Process

    ​Decisions to refer a person to Centrelink for Income Management

    ​Reviewed by District Director

    ​Complaints and/or grievances from Department employees

    ​Line manager, Integrity Operations, Employee Relations

    ​Decision to revoke a foster carer's approval

    ​State Administration Tribunal

    ​Potential staff misconduct

    ​Integrity Operations

    ​Anonymous complaints​

    ​Complaints over 12 months old without appropriate reason for delay in making the complaint



    Receiving complaints

    When a complaint is received, CMU will contact the complainant and/or their advocate within two working days to discuss their complaints and assess if the matter should be:

    1. Declined as it does not meet the complaints criteria. The complainant will be advised of any alternate complaint, review or appeal avenues.

    2. Referred back to the District Office or Business Service Area (BSA) as an opportunity for Early Resolution.

    3. Lodge a Tier One Complaint Investigation for response by the relevant District Office or BSA.

    4. Lodge a Tier Two Complaint Investigation for response by CMU.

    CMU send a Complaint Declined, Early Resolution or Complaint Confirmation letter to the complainant within seven working days. (template)

    The complaint is recorded on CHARM and all documentation is saved to the complainants Objective complaint file. 


    Early resolution

    In some circumstances CMU will offer complainants the option for Early Resolution and refer the complaint back to the relevant District office or Business Service Area (BSA), without entering the formal complaints process. Matters suitable for early resolution can include issues not yet discussed with the District or BSA, relatively simple or minor matters that can be easily resolved or urgent matters where the timeframes of a formal complaint response are too long.

    The complaint details  will be emailed to the District Director or BSA Manager for delegation and follow up.  If the matter cannot be resolved at Early Resolution, the complainant should be referred back to CMU for a Tier One or Tier Two complaint. 


    Tier One Complaint Investigation

    Tier One Complaint Investigations are assessed and lodged by CMU and undertaken by the District or BSA.

    CMU email the Tier One Complaint Intake form to the District Director or BSA Manager  for delegation to a CHARM trained Designated Officer for investigation. 

    The Designated Officer contacts the complainant and/or their advocate, within seven working days, to discuss the complaints. They review the information relating to the complaint and consider relevant documentation, policy and procedures and discuss with relevant staff and specialist workers.

    The Designated Officer will complete an Outcome Letter (template) for approval by the District Director or their delegate. The Outcome Letter should be finalised within twenty one working days and include any recommendations for resolving the matter.

    The Designated Officer can request extension of the timeframe from the CMU Manager or their delegate.

    The  complainant is advised in the Outcome Letter that they can contact CMU and request a Tier Two complaint investigation by CMU, if they remain dissatisfied.

    The Designated Officer updates CHARM and saves a copy of the Outcome Letter to the complainants Objective complaints file, case file and or carer file.

    Any case related recommendations should be recorded on Assist in Case Plan Supervision. 


    Tier Two Complaint Investigation

    If the complainant remains dissatisfied with outcome of the Tier One complaint, they can contact CMU and request a Tier Two Complaint Investigation. Tier Two Complaint Investigations are undertaken by CMU.

    Some matters are elevated directly to a Tier Two response including complex and contentious matters or where there is a potential conflict of interest for the District or BSA to undertake the investigation. 

    CMU will provide a letter to the complainant confirming the Tier Two complaint has been lodged and allocated, or placed on hold pending allocation, to a CMU Senior Complaints Investigator.

    CMU will discuss the complaints with the complainant and/or their advocate and other relevant parties, review documentation and relevant policy and procedures. 

    CMU will prepare an Outcome Letter  and Investigation Report within 21 working days. Extensions are approved by the CMU Manager or their delegate.

    The  District Director or BSA  Manager and/or their delegates will be provided an opportunity for input during the investigation and prior to finalisation of the findings and Required Actions and Opportunities for Service Improvement.

    Any case related Required Actions and Opportunities for Service Improvement  should be recorded in Assist in Case Plan Supervision.

    CMU will review any Required Actions to ensure that the actions have been undertaken.

    CMU update CHARM and saves all documents on the complainants Objective complaints management file. A copy of the Tier Two Outcome Letter is saved on the Objective case file and/or carer file by the District. The Tier Two Investigation Report is an internal document and should not be saved to the case file. 


    External complaint avenue: Ombudsman Western Australia

    If the complainant remains dissatisfied with the outcome of their Tier Two Complaint Investigation they can contact the Ombudsman Western Australia (OWA) for an external review of their complaints.

    A complainant can contact the OWA at any point in the complaints process for an external review of their complaints. The OWA will generally encourage the complainant to go through the Department's internal complaint process (Tier One and Tier Two) before commencing enquiries or an investigation.

    CMU coordinate the response to any enquiries or investigations undertaken by OWA.


    Withdrawal of a complaint

    A complainant may withdraw their complaint by contacting CMU at any time. CMU may continue to undertake the investigation of a withdrawn complaint if considered warranted.


    Staff misconduct allegations

    Any allegations of potential staff misconduct are referred to the Department's Integrity Unit by contacting the Misconduct Reporting Hotline on 0466 511 957.


    Complaints from and about agencies and funded services

    Complaints received from employees, carers and volunteers of an external agency or service funded by the Department require careful assessment by CMU. This includes consideration of the nature of the complaint, whether the complaint is about the funded services or the Department and whether or not the Manager of the funded service supports the complaint. Where an investigation into matters is warranted, it can be pursued without the agreement or active involvement of the funded service.

    As these matters can be complex and/or contentious CMU may elevate the complaint for a Tier Two complaint investigation if warranted.

    If the complaint is about the agency, the complainant should, in the first instance,  be advised to make a complaint directly to the funded services for a response in accordance with the agency's internal complaints process. If the complainant  remains  dissatisfied with this response, they can contact CMU for further assessment. 


    Complaints from Carers

    ​Complaints from approved carers require special consideration. CMU will prioritise allocation of Tier Two Complaint Investigations from carers. Carers will also be provided with an opportunity to discuss the complaint findings prior to sending them the Tier Two Outcome Letter. 


    Complaints from Children and Young People

    ​The Department wants to hear from children and young people and has a version of the External Complaints Management Policy in a child friendly format. The child friendly version explains the complaints process using plain English, but the content and process is consistent with the External Complaints Management Policy and these procedures. However, CMU will elevate all complaints from Children and Young People for a Tier Two complaint investigation and prioritise allocation to a Senior Complaint Investigator.

    Children and young people in the care of the CEO can contact  the Advocate for Children in Care if they require assistance to make a complaint. The Advocate can be contacted on 1800 460 696.


    Culturally aware practice

    ​When working with Aboriginal and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) families, consult with specialist staff and/or access resources and cultural/religious information to plan for how best to engage in a culturally safe and competent way.

    Translating and/or interpreting service should be used with people who have English as a second language or who do not speak English.


    Advocates and Support Persons

    ​Some people have difficulty speaking up for themselves and may require a support person or advocate to assist them to make a complaint and/or during the complaints process. It is important to be mindful of issues of confidentiality and have signed permission for an advocate or support person to act on the persons behalf and share information.  Refer to Information for the Advocate or Support Person Information and Permission to Act (page 4).


    Unreasonable Complaint Conduct

    ​Every effort should be made to resolve complaints however some complainants may not be seeking resolution. The External Complaints Management Policy outlines circumstances where a complainant's behaviour can be determined to be unreasonable including:

    • Continued, incessant, or unrelenting conduct by a complainant.

    • Demands (expressed or implied) that have a disproportionate and unreasonable impact on the Department's time and/or resources.

    • Unwilling or unable to cooperate with reasonable requests.

    • Presenting arguments that are not based on reason or logic.

    • Behaviours that compromise the psychological and/or physical health, safety and security of staff.

    CMU will assess if a complainant meets the criteria to be declared unreasonable and prepares a briefing note, and draft letter to the complainant, for the approval of the Director General.  The complainant is advised in writing of the decision and informed of the strategies to be implemented to manage their complaint conduct. If the complainant disagrees with the decision, they can progress the matter to the OWA.


    Staff Training

    ​Regular staff training is provided to:

    • Raise awareness of the complaints process.
    • Promote the importance of feedback to continuous service improvement.
    • Share complaints related documentation and resources.
    • Encourage support to individuals to make complaints.
    • Raise awareness of the external complaints process to the OWA.
    • Ensure complaint investigators are CHARM trained and have an opportunity for Investigator training.


    Employee responsibilities

    • ​Be aware of the complaints process and understand your role and responsibilities.

    • Be open and responsive to receiving complaints and view complaints as an opportunity to improve service delivery.

    • Promote awareness of the complaints process and provide support  to service users to make a complaint if and as appropriate.

    • Listen and respond to dissatisfaction in a way that is appropriate for that person and situation. 

    • When an expression of dissatisfaction cannot be resolved through discussion, or if a matter is serious or contentious, it should be referred to CMU for assessment to determine if it should enter the formal complaints process. 


    What if the complaint is about me?

    ​It can be distressing when a complaint is made about your work. Be assured that the focus of the complaint process is on resolution and:

    • Seek support from your line manager, colleagues and/or Employee Assistance Program if required.

    • Provide information, as requested, to inform the complaint investigation.

    • Ensure any records or documentation are up to date.

    • Continue with your day to day work.


    CHARM and record keeping

    ​CHARM is the Department's computer software program for recording complaint details and key correspondence.

    • It is compulsory to have successfully completed CHARM training to access CHARM and undertake Tier One and Tier Two Complaint Investigations.  

    • The online CHARM training module is accessed through Compass.

    • A CHARM User Guide is available to support CHARM trained staff. 

    • Contact the CMU Administrator for any CHARM related enquiries or support.

    • Each District Office or BSA should maintain a current pool of senior staff who are CHARM trained and advise CMU of CHARM trained staff movements.

    CMU maintain an Objective Complaints file for each complainant. CMU also create a local Objective file for each complainant that is accessible to CHARM trained staff in the District or BSA. 



    ​CMU is responsible for preparing quarterly and annual reports and to contribute to service improvement through the identification of systemic issues and themes raised through the complaints process.