Response sent: January 2011


What are the general guidelines and procedures for an internal review?




Policy for Handling Comments and Complaints

1. Introduction

This document sets out The National Archives' policy for for internal review, i.e. the handling comments and complaints that we receive about our services and facilities.

Listening to what our users have to say is essential to improving the quality of our services. Where comments are positive, clearly we want to continue with those aspects of the service that our users appreciate; but we can also learn a great deal from things that go wrong.  Provided that our users are prepared to tell us when something is not right, we have a chance to alter what we do so that they (and many others) are satisfied next time.

We therefore value both comments and complaints so that we can:

  • put things right for the individual
  • learn the lessons, and improve our services
  • give credit to staff where praise is due

2. Scope

2.1 The policy applies to all our external relationships, for example, with the public, commercial organisations, other government bodies.

2.2 The term User is employed in its widest sense to encompass users of any of The National Archives services, whether visiting, writing, emailing, telephoning or accessing The National Archives online services; members of the public; staff of other government departments and agencies; contractors and suppliers and any other individual or organisation that has business with The National Archives.

3. Definition of a complaint

We define a complaint as: dissatisfaction expressed by the user, which the user wishes to be treated as a complaint.

4. Principles

We aim to follow the principles of good practice described in the Citizen's Charter Complaints Task Force Good Practice Guide (HMSO, June 1995) and the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman's Principles of Good Complaint Handling (10 February 2010).

We try to make our system:

  • easily accessible and well publicised
  • simple to understand and use
  • speedy, with established time limits for action, and keeping people informed of progress
  • fair, with a full and impartial investigation and review
  • confidential, to maintain the confidentiality of both staff and complainants
  • effective, addressing all the points at issue, and providing appropriate redress
  • informative, providing information to management so that services can be improved.

5. Access

  • We welcome comments on our performance.
  • We will respond to comments and complaints presented by our users in any form, e.g. in person, in writing, by telephone, email and by fax.
  • We provide comments and complaints leaflets, which can be returned through our suggestion boxes, through the post, by email or handed to any member of staff.
  • We provide a comments and complaints facility on our website which does not require email facilities.
  • We make available information leaflets explaining how to comment or complain about our services, and the steps available to a complainant who remains dissatisfied.
    Public Services Development (PSD) will advise on and explain all aspects of our complaints procedure.

6. Handling

6.1. Organisational structure

Initial responsibility for investigating and responding to complaints lies with the department which is the subject of the complaint.  PSD monitors complaints handling across The National Archives to ensure consistency and maintains a central record of complaints. PSD is responsible for taking an overview of all complaints across The National Archives and for ensuring that the Chief Executive and Executive Team are kept informed.
The Chief Executive's Office considers complaints that require independent review.

6.2. Procedures

Our aim is to resolve complaints at the first point of contact, but we recognise that this will not always be possible because of the nature of some complaints.
The member of staff who first deals with a complaint is responsible for either:

  • resolving the problem personally if it is within their area of responsibility or
  • ensuring that the complaint is accepted by someone else within The National Archives who is able to deal with it. Once a complaint has been accepted by a second member of staff it may not be passed on again, although advice and information might have to be sought elsewhere. It becomes the responsibility of that person to ensure that the complaint is dealt with to the satisfaction of the person who made the complaint.
6.3. Stages of the complaints procedure
  • The staff of the department where the problem has occurred will investigate and provide a response to the complaint.
  • If the user remains dissatisfied, a senior manager responsible for the service, normally the Divisional Director, will carry out a review of all aspects of the complaint.
  • If the user is not satisfied with the outcome of the review, they may request a final independent internal review, which will be conducted by the Chief Executive's Office on behalf of the Chief Executive.
  • An independent internal review may be requested at any stage if the user wishes to complain through an independent channel.
  • If the user remains dissatisfied having followed all the stages of the internal complaints review system, they may apply to the Independent Complaints Reviewer (ICR), Mrs Jodi Berg. The ICR is entirely independent of The National Archives and will ensure fairness and impartiality in the investigation of your complaint. The ICR can be contacted at: Independent Complaints Reviewer, New Premier House, 150 Southampton Row, London WC1B 5AL Telephone 020 7278 6251; Fax 020 7278 9675; E-mail;

Note that the ICR cannot review cases involving FOI and Data Protection Act requests. If a user complains about a request under FOI and is still dissatisfied having requested an internal review, they can contact The Information Commissioner, Wycliff House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF; Telephone 01625 545745;

Should the user remain dissatisfied with the outcome of the ICR's review, they can ask their Member of Parliament to raise their case with the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman for external review. 

6.4. Targets

We aim to send an initial acknowledgement of receipt of a complaint within three working days and a full response to complaints within 10 working days of receipt, or 20 working days in the case of complaints about access decisions under Freedom Of Information.

We aim to complete an independent internal review within 20 working days of a Case Reviewer being appointed by the Chief Executive's Office.

We will keep people informed and updated on progress with the investigation where we need to explain why a full response is not possible within these timescales - for example, because a key member of staff is absent, or we are considering a major change in response to the complaint.

6.5. Continual and vexatious complainants

We recognise that we might occasionally have dealings with individuals who, despite the fullest investigation of their complaint will not stop contacting us and will never accept the response they are given. In such circumstances it might prove necessary for us to refuse to have further dealings with the person concerned. The point at which this decision is taken must be left to the discretion of a senior manager, normally the Divisional Director, and each case judged individually.

6.6. Methods of response

All our responses to complaints should:

  • answer all the points of concern
  • be factually correct
  • avoid jargon
  • give the name of the member of staff responsible for dealing with the complaint
  • contain contact telephone, e-mail and fax numbers
We will usually respond in writing; sometimes to confirm information given in a telephone call. If a meeting is likely to be the most effective means of resolving a complaint, we will offer that option to the complainant.
6.7. Fairness

Our complaints procedure aims to be:

  • open
  • impartial, avoiding any bias in favour of any party to the complaint
  • thorough, finding out the relevant facts, taking views from people involved on both sides of the complaint and verifying explanations where possible
  • equitable, treating people in similar circumstances in similar ways

We will give the reasons for the decision reached on a complaint to all parties concerned.

6.8. Fairness for staff

We also have a responsibility to ensure that our own staff are treated fairly if a complaint is made against them. They are entitled to:

  • be informed immediately and fully of any complaint about them and asked for their comments
  • be kept informed of progress in investigating the complaint, and of the outcome
    and, where appropriate, to:
  • be given help to improve their performance through The National Archives disciplinary procedures
  • have their conduct managed through The National Archives disciplinary procedures
  • take up a grievance through The National Archives grievance procedures

When favourable comments are received we will pass on the comments to the staff in the department concerned.

6.9. Confidentiality

We respect the need for confidentiality when a complaint is made, both for the complainant and for members of staff who may have a complaint made against them.  We aim to investigate complaints with sensitivity, preserving confidentiality as far as that is compatible with proper investigation. Users who make a complaint will not be subjected to discrimination or retaliation as a result of complaining.

6.10. Monitoring

We will monitor the fairness and effectiveness of replies to complaints through quarterly random sampling of complaints cases. We will conduct surveys of people who have made a complaint to see whether they are satisfied with the way their complaint was handled.

6.11. Training

We recognise that handling comments and complaints about our service is an integral part of providing the service. All our staff will be given training so that they have knowledge of the complaints procedures and are able to carry out their roles and responsibilities within them.

6.12. Redress

When our services do not meet our standards we aim to offer redress that is appropriate to the failure in the service.  The form of redress will always include:

  • an apology
  • an explanation

    and where possible, one or both of the following:

    • an assurance that the same thing will not happen again
    • action taken to put things right and to ensure that the same thing does not happen again

    Since most services at The National Archives are provided without charge, redress will not normally take the form of a financial payment. We accept that there might be occasions when mistakes in dealing with our users will cause them additional expense or financial loss. In these cases we will consider the question of reimbursement, but because we are dealing with public funds we must make certain that we meet only those claims that can be fully justified.

    6.13. Recording and publishing information

    In accordance with The National Archives Publication Scheme we will regularly publish information about the complaints we have received, which will include:

    • numbers and types of complaints
    • speed of response against targets
    • levels of satisfaction with the response
    • action to improve services, taken as a result of complaints

    6.14. Review of policy and procedures

    We will review the complaints policy and procedures regularly.

    Public Services Development
    April 2010