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Citizen Redress: What citizens can do if things go wrong with public services

Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, reported today that it could be made easier for citizens to seek redress for potential mistakes made by government organisations; and that greater efficiency in how those government organisations deal with complaints and appeals could bring significant savings.

In 2003-04, citizens made over 1.4 million complaints or appeals against perceived poor treatment, mistakes, faults or injustices in dealings with central government. These were processed by 9,300 staff and cost £510 million to deal with.

Complaints cost on average £155 each to deal with; appeals cost on average £455. The biggest areas of complaints involve issues around health, social security and taxation. Reductions in cost could be significant: even a 5% reduction would save £25m a year.

Most people have a reasonably clear idea of how they would set about taking action to seek remedy for faults or mistakes, but the main problem is finding whom to talk to in the first place.

Government organisations do not have enough information about the complaints or appeals made to them. Around half cannot effectively answer how many complaints they received last year. And information on appeals needs improving. The report recommends that information on complaints and appeals should be systematically collected by all organisations to enable them to identify areas for savings and also to improve their own service, to avoid those complaints and appeals in the first place.

"Too many members of the public see the way government bodies handle complaints and appeals as being complex, slow-moving, expensive and time-consuming. Whitehall should convince the public that it is putting their needs and expectations first. Better information and greater clarity will not only make it easier for citizens to get any errors or injustices put right but also should make it less likely that such errors are made in the first place. A better service for the public that brings significant efficiency savings."

Sir John Bourn

Notes for Editors

  1. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website, which is at Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.
  2. The Comptroller and Auditor General, Sir John Bourn, is the head of the National Audit Office which employs some 800 staff. He and the NAO are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of all Government departments and a wide range of other public sector bodies; and he has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and other bodies have used their resources.

PN: 21/05