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Complaints management in disability services

Two people in conversation in bright coloured clothing
Key benefits
  • We need to do all we can in the disability services sector to encourage and be open to feedback and complaints
  • Creating a speak up culture, which welcomes complaints, is good business and keeps people safe
  • NDS has complaints management resources available to guide policy development, staff training and to track complaints

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For some people, it can be hard to complain when things are not right.  

Only one in twenty-six people express their dissatisfaction when they are unhappy with a business (Kolsky) or health service (Bismark, M.M. and Studdert, D. M. (2010). Realising the research power of complaints data. The New Zealand Medical Journal, Vol 123).  

Research undertaken by the Disability Royal Commission identified that when people are not heard in a repeated way they stop speaking up. 

When people feel unheard, they become increasingly reluctant to make serious complaints, they may continue to face harmful or abusive situations. 

Encouraging complaints, and dealing with them well, is an essential part of good business practice for providers to ensure people are safe and providing quality services.  

Providers of disability services understand the importance of: 

  • Creating an environment to ensure participants and their support people feel confident to make a complaint 
  • Tracking and managing complaints well
  • Learning from complaints raised as part of continuous quality improvement 

Being open to feedback and complaints contributes to the safeguards you provide

Creating a positive culture that welcomes complaints

A culture that welcomes complaints starts with ensuring everyone knows it’s okay to complain.  

To support this message, it may take more than sending your complaints policy to participants. Create clear guidance for the conversation staff will have when providing participants with the policy. Sharing supporting information can also reinforce your openness. For example sharing to your social media or other participant communication channels. It's ok to complain and sharing examples of continuous improvement that have been achieved may be a time efficient way to reinforce that speaking up is welcomed.  

A person’s direct experience is going to have the greatest impact on how they perceive the culture of the organisation. Really listening and creating opportunities to be heard on a day-to-day basis is crucial.  

When people do raise concerns, providers rely on their whole team to respond in a helpful and respectful manner.  

“This is one of those occasions where the process really is as important as the outcome, and you send a strong message that speaking up is worthwhile.”

Risk, Incidents and Complaints Management: The 4 A's of Complaints Animation 

Training in complaints management is standard.  

Regular reminders and training to keep skills fresh can help staff to feel confident when a complaint is shared and support their response, in keeping with organisational processes.  

Reminders to staff about a respectful complaints process can be in any number of formats.  

In the NDS National Organisational Policy Community of Practice disability service providers have been clear on the need for teaching tools that are engaging and straightforward. Sharing an animation, such as The 4 A’s of Complaints can be one way to revisit good complaints management. A companion information sheet Complain Handling for Staff training [PDF | Accessible] is also available.

Other resources for complaints management, including tracking registers (developed for sole, small, medium providers) can be found on the NDS Quality and Safeguards Resource Library. The Risk, Incidents and Complaints Management Interactive PDF is really helpful in linking out to each resource.  

The Commission offers a plain English Complaints Handling Guide for NDIS providers.

How can you encourage more feedback? 

Complaints can come from several sources.  

Complaints raised directly with the NDIS Quality and Safeguard Commission are from: 

  • People with a disability 
  • Family members or friends of the person with a disability 
  • Supports workers or service providers
  • Others – including guardians and advocates 
  • Government bodies

As front-line staff, support workers are often the first to notice changes in a participant or to hear of concerns.  

Many of the NDS Zero Tolerance resources are focused on developing the skill set of support workers to identify abuse and neglect and to raise this with team leaders and managers.  

It is important that organisation’s recognise complaint handling as an integral part of the staff role and workload. When staff feel confident and supported to report up this creates a safer environment for everyone.  

Like any business, staff will also be observant of how policy looks in practice. Following through when complaints are raised, with an appropriate and considered response, can keep lines of communication open sends a strong message that complaints are important.

What else can providers do to support people to come forward? 

We know for a range of reasons that not everyone will report complaints.  

In the Zero Tolerance report – Speaking up about Safety [PDF], people with a disability shared that they would feel safer if providers ‘show people how to complain or speak up when they feel unsafe’. Awareness-raising resources from the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission encourage participants to ‘Speak up’ and ‘Make it known to make it make it better’.  These resources, alongside organisational discussions, can be shared with participants to show people how to make a complaint. To help build confidence and trust, look for opportunities to provide training for participants and staff together using examples and role plays.

How can good complaints management help providers?  

We are all working to ensure the safety of participants and the quality of services.  

Demonstrated continuous improvement in complaints and feedback management is a NDIS Quality Indicator that needs to be meet.  Resources to support continuous quality improvement can be found in our NDIS Quality and Safeguarding resources.

Record complaints well to ensure you have all the information needed to support a resolution and to inform any systems improvement. The Incident, Complaint, Feedback and Continuous Quality Improvement Record Form [PDF] is available for free to download and share with staff to guide recording.

A Complaints register provides a central record and helps highlight common themes that show where improvement is needed. You can download the Excel Complaints register developed by NDS from the NDS Quality and Safeguard Hub.

Themes may spotlight an issue that is occurring often. However, this is not always the case. Bismark and Studdert identified that sometimes common complaints can also highlight the type of issues that participants and families feel impacted by the most. Either way, the common issues highlighted, point to policy and or procedures that require review. 

All providers, registered and unregistered, must be able manage any complaints about the safety and quality of services in an effective way. Using the information gained via complaints helps providers to pinpoint areas for improvement.  

For more information, further resources and workshops when available, see our NDIS Quality and Safeguards Resource Hub.

Related Resources

Contact information

For any enquiries, please contact Sarah Nicoll, Head of Quality and Safeguards, submit enquiry/feedback, show phone number