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Report - ACC: How it deals with complaints

Auditor-General's overview

Accident Compensation Corporation: How it deals with complaints.

How an organisation manages complaints is a useful barometer of its commitment to service delivery that meets people's needs. The Office of the Ombudsman states that "effective complaint handling is fundamental to the provision of a quality service".

Across the world, new technologies and increasing consumer expectations are leading to more people making complaints about the services they receive. This situation is the same in New Zealand.

Public entities that welcome complaints signal to citizens that someone is listening to them and that they can influence public services. For the entities, complaints are a free source of advice. Complaints can provide valuable insight into poor service, systemic errors, or problems with specific processes. Complaints also give public entities an opportunity to understand the motives, feelings, and expectations of the people using their services.

As part of my Office's service delivery theme, we have looked at how effectively and efficiently the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) handles complaints. This work has included seeking feedback from people who have gone through ACC's complaints processes, and people who have contacted my Office about ACC.

ACC aims to provide a high standard of customer service through complying with a statutory regulation known as the Code of ACC Claimants' Rights (the Code). My staff saw that many ACC staff showed a commitment to customer service and the principles underlying the Code. Recently, ACC has signalled its commitment to be a more client-focused organisation in the future.

However, some people do not receive the standard of service they expect from ACC and make complaints. The four most common complaints made under the Code are a result of ineffective communication or people feeling they have not been kept fully informed, treated fairly, or treated with dignity and respect.

There are two added complexities in ACC's approach to managing complaints. One is that ACC does not count matters raised and quickly resolved by frontline staff in local offices as complaints. The other is that ACC tries to make a distinction between service delivery matters and disagreements about cover and entitlements.

In reality, service delivery and cover or entitlement matters can be tightly bound. ACC's frontline staff told us that the main cause of unhappiness was about both service matters and entitlement decisions. We asked complainants (by surveying them) what their complaint was about. The four most common responses in our survey were claim or entitlement issues, staff service, payment issues, and policy, process, or legislation. These themes were generally repeated in our interviews with complainants.

Overall, 22% of complainants who we surveyed were satisfied with how ACC handled their complaint.

In my view, there is room for improvement in ACC's complaints system. Positive aspects of ACC's current complaints system include:

• good practice in dealing with problems early and at the lowest organisational level;

• the provision of free advocacy services to help ACC claimants; and

• ACC staff acting professionally and informing people of the next steps in the complaints process.

However, there are significant issues that need to be addressed. These include:

• relatively low levels of satisfaction from complainants on how ACC handles their complaints;

• limited organisational learning from complaints because of disconnected parts of the complaints system and disconnected recording of complaints;

• a lack of consistency throughout ACC's complaints system;

• a need to better equip staff with the skills, knowledge, and tools to handle complaints (including better awareness of the Code); and

• a need to do more to understand people's experiences of the complaints system and why some people do not complain.

The limited organisational learning from complaints is contrary to Part 5 of the Code. This requires ACC to address situations arising from breaches of the Code.

ACC is aware of some of the problems that my audit identified and told my staff that work is under way to address weaknesses. Despite positive signs, ACC has much to improve because the current complaints system is not effective.

ACC's work on privacy shows what the organisation can do when it is committed to addressing an issue. That work also provides an approach that could be adapted to the complaints system. ACC's "Shaping our Future" initiative also offers an opportunity to simplify and embed lasting improvements in the complaints system. I trust that ACC will take that opportunity to make the complaints system more effective.

ACC has agreed with our audit findings and the chief executive told me that he intends to act on the recommendations made in this report. I thank him for this commitment.

I thank ACC's staff for their time and help during our audit. I also thank those people from other organisations who shared their views with us, and acknowledge the work done by Colmar Brunton on our behalf. I am very grateful to those people who shared their experiences of ACC's complaints system.

Lyn Provost
Controller and Auditor-General

6 August 2014

Report: acccomplaints.pdf

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