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Complaint handling policy and process

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Complaint handling policy and process

About this Policy

This policy describes the principles and concepts of the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) complaint management process. It is based on the NSW Ombudsman’s Complaint Handling Model Policy (June 2015). It provides guidance to members of the public who wish to make a complaint about us, and to our staff about how to handle these complaints.

1. Introduction

1.1  Purpose

This policy is intended to ensure that NESA handles complaints in a way that is responsive, consistent, fair and courteous. Our complaint management system is intended to:

  • enable us to respond to issues raised by people making complaints in a timely and cost-effective way
  • respect the privacy of the person making the complaint
  • boost public confidence in our administrative process, and
  • provide information that can be used by us to deliver quality improvements in our products, services, staff and complaint handling.

1.2  Scope

This policy applies to all staff receiving or managing complaints from the public made to or about us, regarding our products, services, staff and complaint handling.

This policy does not replace or override NESA policies and procedures regarding staff performance matters, grievances and public interest disclosures dealt with under separate mechanisms.

1.3  Organisational commitment

NESA expects staff at all levels to be committed to fair, effective and efficient complaint handling. The following table outlines the nature of the commitment expected from staff and the way that commitment should be implemented.




Chief Executive Officer, and Executive Director, Corporate Governance and School Standards

Promote a culture that values complaints and their effective resolution.

Report publicly on NESA complaint handling.

Provide adequate support and direction to key staff responsible for handling complaints.

Regularly review reports about complaint trends and issues arising from complaints.

Encourage all staff to be alert to complaints and assist those responsible for handling complaints resolve them promptly.

Encourage staff to make recommendations for system improvements.

Recognise and reward good complaint handling by staff.

Support recommendations for product service, staff and complaint handling improvements arising from the analysis of complaint data.

Chief Financial Officer (CFO)

Establish and manage our complaint management policy, processes and reporting

Provide regular reports to the CEO on issues arising from complaint handling work.

Ensure recommendations arising out of complaint data analysis are canvassed with the CEO and implemented where appropriate.

Recruit, train and empower staff to resolve complaints promptly and in accordance with our policies and procedures.

Encourage staff managing complaints to provide suggestions on ways to improve the complaint management system.

Encourage all staff to be alert to complaints and assist those responsible for handling complaints resolve them promptly.

Recognise and reward good complaint handling by staff.

Frontline staff

Demonstrate exemplary complaint handling practices.

Treat all people with respect, including people who make complaints.

Assist people make a complaint, if needed.

Comply with this policy and its associated procedures.

Keep informed about best practice in complaint handling.

Provide feedback to management on issues arising from complaints.

Provide suggestions to management on ways to improve complaints management.

Implement changes arising from individual complaints and from the analysis of complaint data as directed by management.

All staff

Understand and comply with NESA complaint handling practices

Treat all people with respect, including people who make complaints.

Be aware of this policy and its associated procedures.

Assist people who wish to make complaints access the NESA complaints process.

Be alert to complaints and assist staff handling complaints resolve matters promptly.

Provide feedback to management on issues arising from complaints.

Implement changes arising from individual complaints and from the analysis and evaluation of complaint data as directed by management.

2. Terms and Definitions


Expression of dissatisfaction made to or about us, our products, services, staff or the handling of a complaint, by a person who is apparently directly affected by the service or action; and where a response or resolution is explicitly or implicitly expected or legally required. A complaint covered by this Policy can be distinguished from:

  • staff grievances
  • public interest disclosures made by our staff
  • code of conduct complaints
  • statutory internal reviews
  • appeals available under a separate policy, including in relation to HSC-related  illness misadventure claims and disability provisions claims
  • complaints about the conduct of organisations we regulate ( non-government schools, teacher accreditation authorities)
  • responses to requests for feedback about the standard of our service provision [see the definition of ‘feedback’ below]
  • reports of problems or wrongdoing merely intended to bring a problem to our notice with no expectation of a response [see definition of ‘feedback’ below]
  • service requests [see definition of ‘service request’ below]
  • requests for information [see our Access to Information Policy]
  • concerns relating to the merit of government policy
  • complaints about not acting in a way that is contrary to law.

Complaint management system

All policies, procedures, practices, staff, hardware and software used by NESA in the management of complaints.


An unresolved complaint escalated either within or outside of NESA.


Opinions, comments and expressions of interest or concern, made directly or indirectly, explicitly or implicitly, to or about us, about our products, services or complaint handling where a response is not expected or legally required.

Service request

Service requests include:

  • requests for approval
  • requests for action
  • routine inquiries about our business
  • requests for the provision of services and assistance
  • reports of failure to comply with laws regulated by the organisation
  • requests for explanation of policies, procedures and decisions.


A clear, formal written statement by an individual staff member about another staff member or a work related problem.


A statement of instruction that sets out how NESA should fulfil its statutory functions.


A statement or instruction that sets out how NESA policies will be implemented and by whom.

Public interest disclosure

A report about wrong doing made by a public official in New South Wales that meets the requirements of the Public Interest Disclosures Act 1994 (PID Act).


3. Guiding principles

Figure 1:

3.1  Facilitate complaints

People focus

We are committed to seeking and receiving feedback and complaints about our services, systems, practices, procedures, products and complaint handling.

Any concerns raised in feedback or complaints will be dealt with within a reasonable time frame.

People making complaints will be:

  • provided with information about our complaint handling process
  • provided with multiple and accessible ways to make complaints
  • listened to, treated with respect by staff and actively involved in the complaint process where possible and appropriate, and
  • provided with reasons for our decision/s and any options for redress or review.

No detriment to people making complaints

We will take all reasonable steps to ensure that people making complaints are not adversely affected because a complaint has been made by them or on their behalf.

Anonymous complaints

We will accept anonymous complaints and will carry out an investigation of the issues raised where there is enough information provided.


NESA will ensure that information about how and where complaints may be made to or about us is well publicised. We will ensure that our systems to manage complaints are easily understood and accessible to everyone, particularly people who may require assistance.

If a person prefers or needs another person or organisation to assist or represent them in the making and/ or resolution of their complaint, we will communicate with them through their representative if this is their wish. Anyone may represent a person wishing to make a complaint with their consent (e.g. advocate, family member, legal or community representative, member of Parliament, another organisation).

If you need an interpreter, please contact the translating and interpreting service on 131 450 and ask to be connected to the phone number we provide you with.

No charge

Complaining to us is free.

3.2  Respond to complaints

Early resolution

Where possible, complaints will be resolved at first contact with NESA.


NESA will promptly acknowledge receipt of complaints. We will assess and prioritise complaints in accordance with the urgency and/or seriousness of the issues raised. If a matter concerns an immediate risk to safety or security the response will be immediate and will be escalated appropriately.

We are committed to managing people’s expectations, and will inform them as soon as possible of the following:

  • the complaints process
  • the expected time frames for our actions, including our response
  • the progress of the complaint and reasons for any delay
  • the complainant’s likely involvement in the process, and
  • the possible or likely outcome of the complaint.

We will advise people as soon as possible when we are unable to deal with any part of their complaint and provide advice about where such issues and/or complaints may be directed (if known and appropriate).

We will also advise people as soon as possible when we are unable to meet our time frames for responding to their complaint and the reason for our delay.

Objectivity and fairness

NESA will address each complaint with integrity and in an equitable, objective and unbiased manner.

We will ensure that the person handling a complaint is different from any staff member whose conduct or service is being complained about.

Conflicts of interests, whether actual or perceived, will be managed responsibly. In particular, internal reviews of how a complaint was managed will be conducted by a person other than the original decision maker.

Responding flexibly

Our staff are empowered to resolve complaints promptly and with as little formality as possible. We will adopt flexible approaches to service delivery and problem solving to enhance accessibility for people making complaints and/or their representatives.

We will assess each complaint on its merits and involve people making complaints and/or their representative in the process as far as possible.


NESA will protect the identity of people making complaints where this is practical and appropriate. Personal information that identifies individuals will only be disclosed or used by NESA as permitted under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA Act), relevant privacy laws, secrecy provisions and any relevant confidentiality obligations.

3.3  Manage the parties to a complaint

Complaints involving multiple agencies

Where a complaint involves multiple organisations, NESA will work with the other organisation/s where possible, to ensure that communication with the person making a complaint and/or their representative is clear and coordinated.

Subject to privacy and confidentiality considerations, communication and information sharing between the parties will also be organised to facilitate a timely response to the complaint.

Where a complaint involves multiple areas within our organisation, responsibility for communicating with the person making the complaint and/or their representative will also be coordinated.

Where our services are contracted out, we expect contracted service providers to have an accessible and comprehensive complaint management system. We take complaints not only about the actions of our staff but also the actions of service providers.

Complaints involving multiple parties

When similar complaints are made by related parties, we will try to arrange to communicate with a single representative of the group.

Empowerment of staff

All staff managing complaints are empowered to implement our complaint management system as relevant to their role and responsibilities. Staff are encouraged to provide feedback on the effectiveness and efficiency of all aspects of our complaint management system.

Managing unreasonable conduct by people making complaints

NESA is committed to being accessible and responsive to all people who approach us with feedback or complaints. At the same time our success depends on:

  • our ability to do our work and perform our functions in the most effective and efficient way possible
  • the health, safety and security of our staff, and
  • our ability to allocate our resources fairly across all the complaints we receive.

When people behave unreasonably in their dealings with us, their conduct can significantly affect the progress and efficiency of our work. As a result, we will take proactive and decisive action to manage any conduct that negatively and unreasonably affects us and will support our staff to do the same in accordance with this policy.

For further information on managing unreasonable conduct by people making complaints please see the Ombudsman’s Managing Unreasonable Complainant Conduct Model Policy 2012, available at

Complaint Management Process


The three levels of complaint handling are shown in Figure 2 below, and highlighted in the NESA Complaint Handling Process: Detailed Flowchart (TAB A).

We aim to resolve complaints at the first level, the frontline. Wherever possible staff will be adequately equipped to respond to complaints, including being given appropriate authority, training and supervision.

Where this is not possible, we may decide to escalate the complaint to a more senior officer in NESA. This second level of complaint handling will provide for the following internal mechanisms:

  • assessment and possible investigation of the complaint and decision/s already made, and/or
  • facilitated resolution (where a person not connected with the complaint reviews the matter and attempts to find an outcome acceptable to the relevant parties).

Where a person making a complaint is dissatisfied with the outcome of NESA’s review of their complaint, they may seek an internal review of the decision from NESA, or and external review of our decision (by the Ombudsman for example).


Figure 3 below outlines the six steps of the complaint management process that NESA will follow

Step 1: Receipt of complaint

Unless the complaint has been resolved at the outset, we will ask the person making the complaint to outline the complaint in writing, along with any supporting information. They can fill out the NESA Complaint Handling Report Form (TAB B), and submit via email or post.


Mail:    print and complete the Complaint Handling Report Form and post it to:

Chief Financial Officer - Complaints
GPO Box 5300, Sydney NSW 2001

The complaint related documents will be registered in our TRIM records management system by the Complaints Manager (the Chief Financial Officer).

Step 2 Acknowledgement of complaint

We will acknowledge receipt of each complaint within five (5) working days. Consideration will be given to the most appropriate medium (e.g. email, letter) for communicating with the person making a complaint.

Step 3 Initial assessment and addressing of complaints

Initial assessment

After acknowledging receipt of the complaint, the Investigating Manager will confirm whether the issue/s raised in the complaint is/are within NESA control. The Investigating Manager will also consider the outcome/s sought by the person making a complaint and, where there is more than one issue raised, determine whether each issue needs to be separately addressed.

When determining how a complaint will be managed, the Investigating Manager will consider:

  • how serious, complicated or urgent the complaint is
  • whether the complaint raises concerns about people’s health and safety
  • how the person making the complaint is being affected
  • the risks involved if resolution of the complaint is delayed, and
  • whether a resolution requires the involvement of other organisations.

Addressing complaints

After assessing the complaint, the Investigating Manager will consider how to manage it. They may:

  • provide the person making a complaint information or an explanation
  • gather information from the product, person or area that the complaint is about, or
  • investigate the claims made in the complaint.

We aim to resolve the complaint within 20 working days. We will keep the person making the complaint up to date on our progress, particularly if there are any delays. We will also communicate the outcome of the complaint using the most appropriate medium. Which actions we decide to take will be tailored to each case and take into account any statutory requirements.

Step 4 Providing reasons for decisions & alternative avenues for dealing with complaints

Following consideration of the complaint and any investigation into the issues raised, the Investigating Manager will contact the person making the complaint and advise them:

  • the outcome of the complaint and any action we took
  • the reason/s for our decision
  • the remedy or resolution/s that we have proposed or put in place, and

If in the course of investigation, we make any adverse findings about a particular individual, we will consider any applicable privacy obligations under the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998 (PPIP Act) and any applicable exemptions in or made pursuant to that Act, before sharing our findings with the person making the complaint.

NESA will inform people who make complaints to or about us about any internal or external review options available to them (including any relevant Ombudsman or oversight bodies).

Step 5 Redress and closing the complaint

The Complaints Manager will keep comprehensive records about:

  • how the complaint was managed
  • the outcome/s of the complaint (including whether it or any aspect of it was substantiated, any recommendations made to address problems identified and any decisions made on those recommendations, and
  • any outstanding actions that need to be followed up.

Step 6 Monitor & Review

The relevant Executive Director will ensure that outcomes are properly implemented, monitored and reported to the Chief Financial Officer.

Accountability and learning

Analysis and evaluation of complaints

 NESA will ensure that complaints are recorded in a systematic way so that information can be easily retrieved for reporting and analysis. Regular reports will be run on:

  • the number of complaints received
  • the outcome of complaints, including matters resolved at the frontline
  • issues arising from complaints
  • systemic issues identified, and
  • the number of requests we receive for internal and/or external review of our complaint handling.

Regular analysis of these reports will be undertaken to monitor trends, measure the quality of our customer service and make improvements. Both reports and their analysis will be provided to the NESA CEO and senior management for review.

Monitoring of the complaint management system

NESA will continually monitor its complaint management system to:

  • ensure its effectiveness in responding to and resolving complaints, and
  • identify and correct deficiencies in the operation of the system.

Monitoring may include the use of audits, complaint satisfaction surveys and online listening tools and alerts.

Continuous improvement

NESA is committed to improving the effectiveness and efficiency of our complaint management system. We will:

  • support the making and appropriate resolution of complaints
  • implement best practices in complaint handling
  • recognise and reward exemplary complaint handling by staff
  • regularly review the complaints management system and complaint data, and
  • implement appropriate system changes arising out of our analysis of complaints data and continual monitoring of the system.

More information

Useful contacts:

NSW Ombudsman’s Office
General enquiries: 9286 1000
Toll free (outside Sydney metro): 1800 451 524
TTY: 9264 8050

Administrative Decisions Tribunal
Phone: 9377 5711
Fax: 9377 5723
TTY: 9377 5859

Anti discrimination Board
General enquiries: 9268 5555

Information & Privacy Commission NSW
Phone: 1800 472 679

Independent Commission Against Corruption
General enquiries: 8281 5999


Other related policies and procedures

Public Service Commission (PSC):

  • Behaving Ethically, A guide for NSW government sector employees – October 2014

Reporting process

TAB A NESA Complaint Handling Process: Detailed Flowchart
TAB B Complaint Handling Report Form

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