Published in January 2024
Complaints, comments and compliments
Introduction to our Complaints Handling Procedure
What is a complaint?
What can I complain about?
What can’t I complain about?
Who can complain?
Responsibilities of complainants
How do I complain?
How long do I have to make a complaint?
What happens when I have complained?
Stage 1: Frontline response
Stage 2: Investigation
What if I’m still dissatisfied?
Getting help to make my complaint
Our contact details
Summary of our Complaints Procedure
Equality and Good Relations
General Date Protection Regulation
Freedom of Information Act
Communicating the Complaints, Comments and Compliments Policy
There are several ways to make a complaint, comment or give a compliment.
Fill in our complaints, comments and compliments form (link opens in a new window).
Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
Belfast City Council
- call us on 028 9032 0202 and ask to speak to the relevant department, or
- call our Complaints office on 028 9027 0270.
Belfast City Council is committed to providing high-quality customer services. We value complaints and use information from them to help us improve our services.
If something goes wrong or you are dissatisfied with our services, please tell us. This page describes our complaints procedure and how to make a complaint. It also tells you about how we will handle your complaint and what you can expect from us.
We regard a complaint as “an expression of dissatisfaction by one or more members of the public about our action or lack of action, or about the standard of service provided by us or on our behalf”.
You can complain about things like:
- failure or refusal to provide a service
- inadequate quality or standard of service, or an unreasonable delay in providing a service
- dissatisfaction with one of our policies or its impact on the individual
- failure to properly apply law, procedure or guidance when delivering services
- failure to follow the appropriate administrative process
- conduct, treatment by or attitude of a member of staff or contractor (except where there are arrangements in place for the contractor to handle the complaint themselves)
- a concern about the actions or service of an organisation who is delivering services on our behalf
- disagreement with a decision, (except where there is a statutory procedure for challenging that decision, or an established appeals process followed throughout the sector) or;
- dissatisfaction with how an element of a planning decision was administrated.
Your complaint may involve more than one of the council’s services or be about someone working on our behalf.
There are some things we can’t deal with through our complaints handling procedure.These include:
- a routine first-time request for a service
- a first-time report of a fault
- a request for compensation only
- issues that are in court or have already been heard by a court or a tribunal (if you decide to take legal action, you should let us know as the complaint cannot then be considered under this process)
- disagreement with a decision where there is a statutory procedure for challenging that decision (such as for freedom of information and subject access requests), or an established appeals process followed throughout the sector – such as planning or a parking ticket appeal
- a request for information under the Data Protection or Freedom of Information (Northern Ireland) Acts
- a grievance by a staff member or a grievance relating to employment or staff recruitment
- a concern raised internally by a member of staff (which was not about a service they received, such as raising a concern)
- a concern about a child or an adult’s safety
- an attempt to reopen a previously concluded complaint or to have a complaint reconsidered where we have already given our final decision
- a concern about the actions or service of a different organisation, where we have no involvement in the issue (except where the other organisation is delivering services on our behalf); or
- challenges to decisions made via formal decision-making channels. For example a customer is dissatisfied with a planning decision but not with any element of the process that led to the decision.
If other procedures or rights of appeal can help you resolve your concerns, we will give information and advice to help you.
Anyone who receives, requests or is directly affected by our services, or a service contracted or commissioned by us, can make a complaint to us. This includes the representative of someone who is dissatisfied with our service (for example, a relative, friend, advocate or adviser). If you are making a complaint on someone else’s behalf, you will normally need their written consent. Please read the section Getting help to make your complaint.
Sometimes customers make vexatious complaints. This means they perist unreasonably with their complaints or make complaints to make life difficult for the council rather than resolving a grievance.
For example, this could involve making serial complaints about different matters or continuing to raise the same or similar matters. The frequency of their contact with the council can hamper the consideration of their complaints and officers' ability to provide a quality service.
The council believes it is important to distinguish between people who make different complaints because they genuinely believe things have gone wrong and people who are simply being difficult. Each complaint must be considered and a decision made as to whether it is genuine or vexatious.
As a customer of Belfast City Council, you have the right to expect the best possible services. If we fall short, you have the right to complain. When you complain, we ask you to follow these guiding principles:
- provide adequate details of your complaint
- set out clearly the cause for dissatisfaction
- provide accurate details and supporting correspondence or other relevant supporting evidence
- if there has been a delay in submitting your complaint explain the cause of that delay
- explain what you believe to be a satisfactory outcome
- treat our staff with good manners, politeness and civility at all times
- accept that we will act fairly and promptly in dealing with your complaint
- be reasonable and open minded and listen to reasonable explanations
- be realistic. It may not always be possible to achieve the outcome you want.
You can complain in person at any of our offices or venues by phone, in writing or by email.
When complaining, please tell us:
- your full name and contact details
- as much as you can about the complaint
- what has gone wrong; and
- what outcome you are seeking.
For contact methods, go to Our contact details.
Normally, you must make your complaint within six months of:
- the event you want to complain about; or
- finding out that you have a reason to complain.
In exceptional circumstances, we may be able to accept a complaint after the time limit. If you feel that the time limit should not apply to your complaint, please tell us why.
We aim to respond to complaints quickly (where possible, when you first tell us about the issue). This could mean an on-the-spot apology and explanation if something has clearly gone wrong, or immediate action to resolve the problem.
We will give you our decision at stage 1 in five working days or less, unless there are exceptional circumstances.
If you are not satisfied with the response, we give at stage 1, we will tell you what you can do next. If you choose to, you can take your complaint to stage 2. You must normally ask us to consider your complaint at stage 2 either:
- within six months of the event you want to complain about or finding out that you have a reason to complain; or
- within 30 days of receiving your stage 1 response from us (if this is later).
In exceptional circumstances, we may be able to accept a stage 2 complaint after the time limit. If you feel that the time limit should not apply to your complaint, please tell us why.
Stage 2 deals with two types of complaint: those that have not been resolved at stage 1 and those that clearly require in-depth investigation, and so are handled at this stage following discussion and agreement with you. If you do not wish your complaint to be handled at stage 1, you can ask us to handle it at stage 2 instead.
When using stage 2:
- we will acknowledge receipt of your complaint within three working days
- we will confirm our understanding of the complaint we will investigate and what outcome you are looking for
- we will try to resolve your complaint where we can (in some cases we may suggest using an alternative complaint resolution approach, such as mediation); and
- where we cannot resolve your complaint, we will give you a full response as soon as possible, normally within 20 working days.
If our investigation will take longer than 20 working days, we will tell you. We will tell you our revised time limits and keep you updated on progress.
After we have given you our final decision, if you are still dissatisfied with our decision or the way we dealt with your complaint, you can ask the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (NIPSO) to look at it.
NIPSO is the final stage for complaints about the majority of public services in Northern Ireland. This includes complaints about us. NIPSO is an independent organisation that investigates complaints. The service provided by NIPSO is free. It is not an advocacy or support service (but there are other organisations who can help you with advocacy or support).
If you remain dissatisfied when you have a final response from us, you can ask NIPSO to look at your complaint. NIPSO generally expect complaints to be brought to them within six months since you received correspondence from us informing you that the complaints handling procedure is complete and of your right to refer your complaint to NIPSO.
NIPSO will generally ask you to provide details of your complaint and a copy of our final response to your complaint. You contact NIPSO (link opens in new window) online or call them on Freephone 0800 34 34 24.
You may wish to get independent support or advocacy to help you progress your complaint. See ‘Getting help to make my complaint’.
NIPSO’s contact details are:
The Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman
33 Wellington Place
If you would like to visit NIPSO in person, you must make an appointment.
Their freepost address is: FREEPOST NIPSO
If NIPSO cannot investigate your complaint and your complaint requires an alternative route for independent review, NIPSO will tell you and provide you with the relevant contact details.
We understand that you may be unable or reluctant to make a complaint yourself.We accept complaints from the representative of a person who is dissatisfied with our service. We can take complaints from a friend, relative, or an advocate, if you have given them your consent to complain for you.
You can find out about advisers in your area through Advice NI (link opens in new window).
We are committed to making our service easy to use for all members of the community. In line with our statutory equality duties, we will always ensure that reasonable adjustments are made to help you access and use our services. If you have trouble putting your complaint in writing, or want this information in another language or format, such as large font, or Braille, please tell us in person, telephone or email.
You can contact our complaints office by:
- using our complaints, comments and compliments online form (link opens in new window)
- email email@example.com
- telephone 028 9027 0270
Our address is:
Belfast City Council
We can also provide our complaints handling procedure in other languages and formats (such as large print, audio and Braille).
You can make your complaint in person, by phone, by email or in writing. We have a two-stage complaints procedure. We will always try to deal with your complaint quickly. But if it is clear that the matter will need in-depth investigation, we will talk to you about this and keep you updated on our progress.
Stage 1: Frontline response
We will always try to respond to your complaint quickly, within five working days if we can.
If you are dissatisfied with our response, you can ask us to consider your complaint at Stage 2.
Stage 2: Investigation
We will look at your complaint at this stage if you are dissatisfied with our response at Stage 1. We also look at some complaints at this stage, if following discussion and agreement with you, it is clear that an in-depth investigation is needed.
We will acknowledge your complaint within three working days.
We will confirm the issues of complaint to be investigated and what you want to achieve.
We will investigate the complaint and give you our decision as soon as possible. This will be after no more than 20 working days unless there is clearly a good reason for needing more time.
Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (NIPSO)
If, after receiving our final decision on your complaint, you remain dissatisfied with our decision or the way we have handled your complaint, you can ask NIPSO to consider it. NIPSO will assess whether there is evidence of service failure or maladministration not identified by us which requires further investigation. NIPSO will signpost you to alternative independent reviewers and provide contact details (where relevant).
Belfast City Council is committed to ensuring that all services promote equality of opportunity and good relations. All complaints, comments and compliments received, by whatever means are taken seriously and will be recorded and acted upon according to the corporate complaints procedure.
Belfast City Council is the Data Controller under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for the personal data it gathers for the purposes of managing complaints, comments and compliments. You are consensually providing your personal data to the council, whose lawful basis for processing is for the performance of a task carried out in the public interest.
The council is a public service provider under the Northern Ireland Ombudsman’s Jurisdiction (Public Services Ombudsman Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 (the 2016 Act), and values your involvement in seeking continuous service improvement. We use your feedback, whether positive or negative to monitor and improve our service for the benefit of all our customers. Your personal data may be shared internally within the council with staff who are involved in providing this service and where necessary, between internal departments with the purpose of supporting an effective delivery of service. It may also be shared with the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (NIPSO) if you decide to escalate your complaint to the Ombudsman’s office for further investigation.
Your personal data will not be shared or disclosed to any other organisation without your consent, unless the law permits or places an obligation on the council to do so. Personal data is held and stored by the council in a safe and secure manner in compliance with Data Protection legislation and in line with the council’s Records Retention and Disposal Schedule.
If you have any queries regarding the processing of your personal data, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. If you wish to contact the council’s Data Protection Officer, write to Belfast City Council, City Hall Belfast, BT1 5GS or email email@example.com.
Belfast City Council (BCC) is committed to implementing the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA).
The Act requires:
- the council to make information routinely available through a publication scheme, and
- to respond to written request for information.
It gives the public a right of access to information, unless it is subject to an exemption to disclosure. As a transparent and accountable public authority, the council is committed to openness.
The Complaints, Comments and Compliments Policy will be clearly communicated and accessible to all our customers and stakeholders. Leaflets will be available at council facilities, offices and venues. Copies of information about the procedure will be made available in alternative formats when requested including Braille, text phone, other languages and interpretation services such as Big Word. It will be made clear in all communications who the complainant can complain to and who will be responsible, at each stage.