The report, Learning from Mistakes, highlights that complaints not only give providers the chance to make amends for the problem but also offer an opportunity to make sure the poor service is not repeated.
As evidence from the national charity highlights, this valuable feedback is being missed because some people are not complaining.
It finds that in the last two years 19.2 million people in England have had a poor experience with a public service, such as HMRC, the DVLA, their GP or local authority, yet only 4.2 million of those went on to make a formal complaint.
Problems with public services can range from administrative mistakes like being sent the wrong form by the DVLA to more serious errors such as HMRC not giving people the right amount in tax credits.
Of the people who have had a poor experience of a public service but not complained, half (52 per cent) don’t think making a complaint would change anything. Whereas another 1 in 5 (19 per cent) fear that they could be treated differently after making a complaint, and others are daunted by making a formal complaint or see the process as too complicated.
Local Citizens Advice in England helped people with 117,000 problems with public services in 2015, up 6 per cent from 110,000 in 2014.
One in ten (13,000) queries about public services are about making a complaint, a 63 per cent rise from 2012 (8,000).
Chief executive of Citizens Advice, Gillian Guy, said:
“Problems people have with public services too often go unreported.
“People are not making a complaint because they find it daunting, are not convinced it will change anything or are worried about the consequences.
“There needs to be a clear and consistent route to registering complaints formally about public services.
“Public service providers, from the DVLA to local authorities, can learn valuable lessons about how they can improve their service and deal with emerging problems from the complaints people make. They should also look at more informal ways to take on board feedback such as through social media.”
The report finds that some people are using social media to raise a problem, but this feedback is not being used consistently across public services. With one in ten people discussing their poor experience of a public service on social media, rising to one in five 18-24 year olds, providers are missing out on valuable insight from particular groups of people.
The Government has recently outlined its support for the creation of a single Public Service Ombudsman for all public service complaints. To help make this successful, Citizens Advice is recommending the creation of a ‘triage’ system for public service complaints. This would make sure people have just one place to report problems and get guidance on making a complaint at the same time.
The report also highlights that, unlike in some other sectors, the power to make a “super complaint” about public services doesn’t exist. Citizens Advice is calling for it to be made possible for super complaints to be raised on behalf of public service users, as this would help to tackle systemic problems people have with public services.