Complaints Procedure cover image

Complaints Procedure

Complaints Procedure Policy

1. Opening Statement

South West London Vineyard (SWLV) recognises that from time to time the ministry of the church may not meet with individual’s expectations. SWLV takes all complaints very seriously and views them as opportunities for learning and improvement, as well as a chance to put things right for the person or organisation that has made the complaint.

2. What is the purpose of this policy?

  • To provide a fair complaints procedure which is clear and easy to follow for anyone wishing to make a complaint
  • To make sure everyone at SWLV knows what to do if a complaint is received
  • To make sure all complaints are investigated fairly and in a timely manner
  • To make sure that complaints are, wherever possible, resolved and that relationships are repaired
  • To gather information which helps us to improve what we do

We believe that it is best to follow the Scriptural principles of reconciling differences (Matt 18:15-17/ Eph 4:31-32/ Col 3:13/ Heb 12: 14-15. Rom 12:18/ Prov 18:7) wherever possible before resorting to this formal complaint process. However, we recognise that, from time to time, there may be occasions when there will be no alternative but to resort to a formal complaint. This formal procedure should only be instigated when attempts to resolve the issue informally have failed or where, due to the nature of the complaint, it is not appropriate to address it with the person concerned.

3. Complaint Focus

A complaint is an expression of dissatisfaction by one or more members of the public about an organisation’s action or lack of action, or about the standard of service provided by or on behalf of the organisation.

The types of complaint that will fall under this policy will include:

  • Conduct of our staff, volunteers and/or licensed senior leaders
  • A complaint relating to the ministry of the church
  • Discrimination
  • Provision of inaccurate information
  • Poor administration including persistent delays in responding to enquiries
  • Financial mismanagement

4. Safeguarding Concerns

This policy is not intended to be used for raising safeguarding concerns in regard to allegations of abuse against children and/or vulnerable adults at VCUKI events or by staff, volunteers or licensed Senior Leaders, Neil and Kate Woodward.

All safeguarding concerns about the welfare of children young people or vulnerable adults should be directed to the SWLV Safeguarding Co-Ordinator, Manny Garcia at manny@swlv.or.uk or by post at South West London Vineyard, Heston Court, 19 Camp Road, London, SW19 4UW Tel: 020 8785 9530

5. The complaint

A complaint may be made in a number of ways - including face to face, telephone or by email or post. We would prefer that serious complaints are made in writing (or by email), marked “Private & Confidential”, and sent to the Senior Leaders who will acknowledge it in writing (normally within 7 days).

Complaints should be sent to the Senior Leaders, Neil and Kate Woodward:

Email: neil@swlv.org.uk or kate@swlv.org.uk

Post: Heston Court, 19 Camp Rd, London, SW19 4UW

Complaints regarding the Senior Leaders should be sent to the SWLV Trustees, as their employers:

Email: mail@swlv.org.uk

Post: Heston Court, 19 Camp Rd, London, SW19 4UW

The Church will then arrange for the complaint to be investigated.

The complaints procedure has three possible levels: -

LEVEL ONE: STRAIGHTFORWARD RESOLUTION

We will take every opportunity to resolve complaints at the first point of contact if at all possible. We will attempt straightforward resolution where the issues involved are potentially easily resolved, requiring little or no investigation.

Such complaints may be received by different means such as a letter or email, over the telephone or in person. All staff members could potentially be the first point of contact for an individual wishing to raise a complaint. Normally complaints should be directed to the member of staff responsible for the area of service concerned with the complaint. All staff members will be equipped to attempt to resolve a complaint about their area of ministry there and then, wherever possible. If they are unable to deal with the complaint, they will signpost complaints received to the appropriate point for frontline resolution.

The clear focus of straightforward resolution is on taking action to resolve complaints quickly wherever this is possible. This may take the form of a quick apology or explanation for a shortcoming or failure where this is evident.

When is straightforward resolution appropriate?

The following examples are typical of the type of straightforward issues that the church would expect all staff to address.

  • An area of ministry that has not been provided and should have been
  • An area of ministry that failed to meet acceptable standards
  • A request that has not be answered/actioned
  • A complaint that a staff member or volunteer was rude or unhelpful
  • A complaint that a staff member failed to attend a scheduled meeting.

The member of staff receiving the complaint should consider four key questions:

  • What is the complaint?
  • What does the individual wish to achieve by complaining?
  • Can I achieve this, or provide an explanation as to why not?
  • If I can’t resolve this, for example because it is outside my expertise or there is a conflict of interest, who can I refer the complaint to for straightforward resolution?

Where a complaint has been successfully resolved at the straightforward resolution stage, and the outcome has been communicated to the complainant either by face-to-face, telephone or email communication, there is no additional need to send further written confirmation to the complainant.

A complainant may be unwilling to engage with attempts to achieve straightforward resolution and may insist that their complaint be fully investigated, and a formal response provided. In these circumstances complaints will be escalated to the Investigation Stage.

To prevent confusion and unrealistic expectations, it is helpful to tell individuals what is not considered to be a complaint. Examples of these would be an individual asking for help or for clarification of an issue.

In terms of timescales, it is likely that resolution will take place face-to-face or on the telephone and should be achievable within a short period of time; 24 hours in the majority of cases.

Straightforward resolution should be completed within a maximum of five working days.

It may on occasion be necessary to obtain information from other parts of the church to resolve the complaint at the straightforward resolution stage. Where this is the case, staff should make the appropriate enquiries to obtain the information required for the response to be made to the complainant. However, staff should take no longer than five working days to go back to the individual either with a response that resolves the matter, or to advise them to take their complaint to the Investigation Stage.

In exceptional circumstances, we may negotiate an agreed extension of no more than five days with the complainant at the straightforward resolution stage. It should usually be where there are clear and justifiable reasons for doing so and where it will increase the possibility of resolving the complaint without escalation to the Investigation Stage. Authorisation should be obtained from the Senior Leaders.

Where the timescale is extended, the reasons for delay and a revised timescale for response will be provided to the complainant. All attempts to resolve the complaint at this stage should take no longer than ten working days from the date of receipt of the complaint.

LEVEL TWO: THE INVESTIGATION STAGE

Some examples of complaints that would be considered appropriate for the Investigation Stage include where: -

  • Straightforward Resolution Stage failed
  • The complainant did not want to engage with the Straightforward Resolution process
  • The issues are too complex and need investigation
  • The complaint concerns serious/high risk issues such as
    • Safeguarding or involving children, youth or vulnerable adults
    • Serious health or safety issues
    • Reputational damage
    • Major failures
    • Criminal allegations

The investigation will be allocated by the Senior Leaders to the person(s) best placed to investigate, seeking to ensure that they have not been involved in the issues under investigation. They will be a single point of contact for their complaint and their name and contact details will be provided to them as early as possible after the decision to consider the matter at the Investigation Stage.

The person(s) will have sufficient internal credibility and independence to ask difficult questions and recommend changes to policy or procedures in response to the complaint. They will also have a thorough understanding of the Complaints Procedure and a knowledge of the church. They will have the authority to resolve complaints within pre-determined boundaries and have the support of Senior Leaders & Trustees to do so.

The staff member (or team) responding to the complaint is responsible for establishing what information is required, for gathering that information and for ensuring that the information gathered is of a suitable quality and accuracy to enable a full and informed response to be issued.

Complaints of this nature will be acknowledged within three working days

A full response will be provided within 21 working days

Exceptionally, if the response will be delayed, the complainant will be informed and given a revised timescale for bringing the investigation to a conclusion.

LEVEL THREE: APPEAL

If the complainant remains dissatisfied, they have the right of appeal to an independent body.

A thorough investigation leading to a full and objective response to the complaints, endorsed by senior management and where relevant Trustees, will have established the church’s definitive position. Should the complainant remain dissatisfied, further investigation will not change that decision. The complainant will be informed that a full investigation has taken place and the matter is now considered closed.

The final decision letter will tell the complainant about their right to appeal should they be dissatisfied with the outcome of their complaint.

Complainants have the right of appeal to Vineyard Churches UK and Ireland (VCUKI). On receipt of complaints that have already been through a local church’s complaints process, VCUKI will conduct its own investigation in accordance with their complaints policy.

Appeals should be made in writing (or by email), marked “Private & Confidential”, and sent to the Complaints Manager at the Finance and Legal Office.

The complainant can also complain to the Charity Commission at any stage. Information about the kind of complaints the Commission can involve itself with can be found on their website at:Charity Commission Complaints About Charities

TOOLS FOR INVESTIGATION AND REDRESS

Establishing the complaint

The complainant may not be able to put their complaint in writing, This should not be a barrier and a range of methods for complaining by whatever means is easiest for the them will be considered

There will be occasions where a person is unable, or reluctant, to make a complaint on their own. The Church will accept complaints brought by third parties, including advocates, as long as they obtain appropriate consent from the complainant.

On receiving a complaint, the complaint handler will address three key questions:

  1. What is the complaint?
  2. What does the individual wish to achieve by complaining?
  3. Are the individual’s expectations realistic and achievable?

The answers to these questions will be established and agreed by the complaint handler and complainant at the outset. In many cases the answers will be clear, but where they are not, the complaint handler should ask the complainant directly for clarification. Once the specific points of complaint and the desired outcome are established, the complaint handler can use these to focus the investigation. A proper investigation starts with a thorough review of the circumstances being complained about.

Investigating complaints

A tailored investigation will be carried out which is thorough but also proportionate to the issues that have been raised. The complaint handler will decide what information is required and from where that information should be gathered. The complaint handler will have the authority to obtain relevant evidence and full access to people, records and specialist advice if necessary. When gathering evidence as part of an investigation, due regard will be given to information that may be confidential, sensitive, restricted or covered by data protection legislation, with consent to access records (such as medical records) being obtained where appropriate.

The complaint handler will be given the resources to conduct interviews, make site visits and obtain independent professional advice if this is required.

The scale of the investigation should be proportionate to the issues complained about. The complaint handler should seek to establish:

  • What is alleged to have happened?
  • What should have happened?
  • What did happen?
  • What was the cause of any identified failings?
  • What can be done to rectify any failings?

The process of investigating a complaint

The detailed timescales for completing an independent investigation into a complaint will be set by the determinative complaints policy.

The following six stage process will be undertaken by the investigator:

  1. Estimating. The initial request will be forwarded to the Independent Investigator, who will establish the terms of the investigation and a schedule of work will be agreed.
  2. Research and reading papers. Relevant evidence will normally include the records, notes of conversations with the complainant and details of the complaint itself as well as any supporting correspondence or documentation, including relevant policies and procedures. Once the evidence is collated it is good practice to prepare a chronology or history of the circumstances and events leading to the complaint. If there are gaps in the information these should be identified, and further evidence collected.
  3. Planning. This will involve liaison with key personnel, agreeing timescales and forming an initial view as to who may need to be interviewed during the independent investigation.
  4. Undertaking visits and interviews. It will usually be necessary to interview the complainant and the person against who the complaint has been made in person, although telephone interviews may be appropriate in certain circumstances. Other interviews may be necessary. Wherever possible, any other staff or volunteers who were originally involved in the issues relating to the complaint should be spoken to and their answers evaluated objectively.
  5. Writing the report. The independent investigator will write up their findings in a report. This report will conclude that the complaint is either withheld or not withheld.
  6. Review, feedback and learning. Any feedback received from the commissioning organisation via the online evaluation, or any other sources will inform our learning.

The conclusion reached will be based on an objective analysis of the evidence and aim to provide a clear explanation of this analysis. All points raised by the complainant and agreed at the start of the investigation will be properly and fully considered in the response. Multiple subjects of complaint relating to a similar issue can be grouped together or summarised.

The complaint handler should aim to resolve the complaint by either meeting the complainant’s expectations or, where this is not appropriate, providing a full explanation of the church’s position.

Using alternative dispute resolution

Some types of complaint are not easily resolved through written correspondence. The church will consider using services such as mediation or conciliation as an effective tool in resolving dissatisfaction and defusing problems before they escalate.

Where parties agree, mediation can be used to facilitate communication between the complainant and the person or organisation that they are complaining about, helping all concerned to get to the real issues and underlying concerns.

Communicating the decision

At the end of the investigation, the church’s decision will be formally communicated to the complainant in the most appropriate manner. This would normally be face-to-face or in writing if that is not possible. Normally a complaint meeting would then be confirmed in writing. Responses will be based on the facts established by the investigation and a full explanation will be given about how those facts were used to inform the conclusions reached. (For sensitivity and/or legal and compliance reasons the church may not always be able to tell a complainant what the findings are or what action has been taken in response to a complaint. The church will however always look into complaints that are made and is committed to taking the appropriate action in the circumstances.)

Each of the issues agreed between the complaint handler and complainant as forming the complaint should be responded to in full.

The decision on the complaint outcome and the response will be agreed by the Senior Leaders or when the complaint concerns them by the Trustees before it is communicated to the complainant.

Correspondence will aim to be clear and easy for the recipient to understand. Complaint handlers will take into account the specific needs of the complainant and provide material in a suitable format and in languages other than English if appropriate. Technical language and jargon such as medical terms will be avoided or explained in lay terms. It may also be helpful at this point to signpost complainants to the role of advocates if they require further assistance.

Literacy will not be assumed and the use of face to face/telephone contact may be appropriate if the complainant has special needs, or where the subject matter to be communicated is sensitive. In these cases, it will be communicated face to face or by telephone, followed by a letter.

Where an investigation identifies a failure on the part of the church and it is proposed to take action to resolve the complainant’s dissatisfaction, the correspondence will include details of what will be done and when.

Unacceptable behaviour by complainants

People may act out of character in times of trouble or distress. If there have been upsetting or distressing circumstances leading up to a complaint, in a small number of cases this can lead to the person acting in an unacceptable way. Examples of behaviour that may be considered unacceptable include persistent refusal to accept a decision made in relation to a complaint; persistent refusal to accept explanations relating to what can or cannot be done about the complaint and continuing to pursue a complaint without presenting any new information.

Behaviour should not be viewed as unacceptable just because a complainant is forceful or determined. In fact, being persistent can be a positive advantage when pursuing a complaint. However, the actions of people who are angry, demanding, or persistent may result in unreasonable demands on time and resources or unacceptable behaviour towards staff. The church will protect staff from unacceptable behaviour such as unreasonable persistence or offensive behaviour from the complainant.

If a complainant’s behaviour adversely affects staff’s ability to do their work, that person’s contact may need to be restricted. Wherever possible, this should be achieved without impeding the complaint investigation. For example, contact may be restricted to written or third-party correspondence, preventing the complainant from directly contacting staff with repeated telephone calls or emails.

The threat or use of physical violence, verbal abuse or harassment towards staff may result in the ending of all direct contact with the complainant and it may be appropriate to report incidents to the police. Incidents where physical violence is used or threatened will always be reported.

Complaints handling staff will be authorised to deal immediately with unacceptable behaviour from complainants in a manner the member of staff considers appropriate. Where this happens, the church will communicate that decision, advising the complainant of a right of appeal, and the process to review any decision to restrict contact with the church.

Redress

Redress can come in a number of forms. The complainant may propose a form of redress that will resolve their complaint. The church will always consider their wishes and, if it is reasonable, meet them.

The complainant’s wishes may not always be reasonable and there will be limits to the church’s powers to provide certain remedies. Any failures will be acknowledged and remedied quickly and fairly and in a way that best reflects the extent of the problems encountered by the service user.

Appropriate redress could include:

  • An apology
  • An explanation
  • Correcting the error

Where appropriate, the church will undertake to improve policies, procedures or systems or implement staff training to address ministry failures. The complainant will be told about action taken, although it is not appropriate to share specific details that affect individual staff members.

Reporting serious concerns to the Charities Commission

SWLV Trustees are required to report an incident to the Charities Commission if it results in, or risks, significant:

  • harm to people who come into contact with your charity through its work
  • loss of the church’s money or assets
  • damage to church property
  • harm to the church’s work or reputation

Some of these incidents could come to light as a result of a complaint. The main categories of reportable incident are:

  • protecting people and safeguarding incidents – incidents that have resulted in or risk significant harm to beneficiaries and other people who come into contact with the church through its work
  • financial crimes – fraud, theft, cyber-crime and money laundering
  • large donations from an unknown or unverifiable source, or suspicious financial activity using the church’s funds
  • other significant financial loss
  • links to terrorism or extremism, including ‘proscribed’ (or banned) organisations, individuals subject to an asset freeze, or kidnapping of staff
  • other significant incidents, such as – insolvency, forced withdrawal of banking services without an alternative, significant data breaches/losses or incidents involving partners that materially affect the charity

It is the responsibility of the church’s Trustees to decide whether an incident is significant and should be reported.

Publicising the complaints handling procedure

Information about the SWLV Complaints Procedure should be easily accessible at all times, not just made available when a person wishes to complain. Online information about how to access the Procedure will be clearly visible on the website.

Recording the complaint

The church will maintain complete and accurate records of all contact regarding complaints and ensure that this information is easily accessible to Trustees and investigators, in a single location.

A complaint file will contain basic information such as the complainant’s details, the issues raised, and the action taken. It will also contain any complaints correspondence, notes of meetings and telephone calls, email correspondence with the service user and any internal communications about the investigation.

Complaint’s information will be recorded and handled in a way that satisfies Data Protection requirements. Complaints handling staff will be trained in Data Protection law and practice and aware of the expectations of the public in respect of their personal information.

The information recorded about complaints received should be sufficiently detailed to allow follow-up action to be taken, to review lessons learned and prevent a recurrence of any issues identified. The time taken to complete each stage of the procedure being followed will also be recorded.

Recording complaints data

The church will ensure there is a system in place to record all relevant data about a complaint. As a minimum this would include

  • the ministry or area complained about
  • what action was taken to resolve the complaint
  • the outcome of the complaint
  • whether the complainant was satisfied with the outcome

The information gathered will be used on to identify any trends and to proactively improve the efficiency of the ministry of SWLV. Information from complaints handled at the Straightforward Resolution stage will also be recorded and used to inform lessons learned.

Learning from complaints

Reports detailing complaints performance will be provided to the Senior Leaders and Trustees. This will ensure that any trends or wider issues that may not be obvious from individual complaints are quickly identified and addressed.

When reviewing complaints information, the Senior Leaders and Trustees will consider the potential to make improvements or the need to update internal policies and procedures.

The Senior Leaders will ensure there are procedures in place to act on any issues that are identified. Those procedures should include the following:

  • An individual or team being designated the ‘owner’ of the issue, with responsibility for ensuring that any identified action is taken
  • Agreement as to what action should be taken to improve
  • A target date being set for the action to be implemented
  • The designated individual following up to ensure that the action is taken within the agreed timescale
  • Performance reviews in the area being monitored to ensure that the issue has been resolved
  • Learning from complaints being relayed to Trustees

Staff training

SWLV staff will be provided with the appropriate skills and resources. Staff training should include the following:

  • A full understanding of the Complaints Procedure and the individual’s role in handling complaints
  • A full understanding of the policy about which complaints are suitable for straightforward resolution and which for investigation
  • Customer service and complaints handling training
  • Data protection and Freedom of Information training
  • Training on the different types of redress available to resolve complaints and options for alternative dispute resolution
  • A full understanding that they are empowered to resolve complaints and that they have the authority to do so
  • Training in investigation and interview skills, and in a range of skills suited to gathering and evaluating evidence (investigative staff only)
  • Specialist training for staff who may have to deal with complainants who are vulnerable, or who have specific needs

This policy has been reviewed & approved by the SWLV Board of Trustees

November 2021

SWLV cookies policy

To give you the best possible experience, this site uses cookies. We have published a new cookies policy, which you should read to find out more about what cookies are set, when they expire and and how we use them. Cookies policy