Every year the Citizens Advice service helps millions of people with their problems. Each Citizens Advice Bureau is an independent charity and part of a network of bureaux in Scotland. Citizens Advice Scotland is the umbrella organisation that provides support to Bureau such as training, policy, IT and other matters.
However, every so often someone comes away from a Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) feeling more than a bit disgruntled. Perhaps you had to wait some time, only to find out that there is very little the service can do for you. Perhaps you felt that you were not treated with respect or courtesy. Perhaps the advice you received did not work out for you or was even negligent.
Unfortunately, these things happen. You can make a complaint to let the bureau know that you are not satisfied with the service you received. Bureaux know they are not perfect. But they aim to be as good as they can be. That is why there is a complaints procedure and your complaint will be handled locally. Sometimes things can be put right. Sometimes only an explanation can be given along with an apology. Bureaux want to learn from mistakes. What you tell them helps review how things are done and helps to improve services.
Please note that this policy is solely for complaints about the service a client has received at a Citizens Advice Bureau or national helpline - and not for any other type of complaint.
Misunderstandings can often be sorted out on an informal basis. It is important to let the bureau know that you are unhappy and to give them the chance to put things right. Don't be afraid to contact the manager of the Citizens Advice Bureau that advised you – they might be able to iron out the problem straight away.
If you feel the problem needs to be looked at and put on an official footing, you can follow the bureau complaints process or put all the information in a letter or email and send it to the CAB manager.
To make sure that all complaints are handled efficiently and fairly, there is a procedure. This runs through various stages when complainants continue to feel unhappy with the response they have received.
Your complaint will be treated in confidence, seriously and quickly.
Making a formal complaint
There are several ways to make a complaint. You can call your local bureau or put the information in a letter or email and send it to the bureau. Complaints can be addressed to the bureau manager or chair.
Your complaint will be investigated by the bureau manager under the direction of the chair of the bureau, or by the chair if you are complaining about the manager. If it is upheld, you will get an apology and, where appropriate, be given details of any action that the bureau is taking to put things right.
The bureau will aim to respond in full to your complaint in 20 working days. However, if the issue is complicated, it may take longer although you will be kept informed of progress. If you are not happy with the bureau manager’s response, you can request a review by the Chair.
Review of your complaint
If you are still not happy after the bureau’s response, you can request a further review. The bureau should provide details on how to do this.
This review will be conducted under the direction of the Citizens Advice Scotland Chief Executive Officer. This involves the CEO reviewing the bureau’s handling of your complaint and whether the complaints process has been followed. However, a further investigation of the facts of your complaint will not be carried out. If the complaints process has not been properly followed by the bureau, you will get an apology and may be given details of any action that is being taken to put things right. If your complaint is not upheld by Citizens Advice Scotland and you are still not happy, you can ask for your complaint to be looked at by an Independent Arbiter.
Review by an independent arbiter
If your complaint is not upheld and you indicate that you are not satisfied and want to progress further you must write to the CEO within two calendar months from the date of receipt of CAS’ response to the complaint. The CEO will write to an appropriate independent arbiter who is entirely separate from the CAB service. You will be notified accordingly.
The arbiter will be asked to review the Association’s handling of the complaint and whether the final decision had been fair.
The full report of the independent arbiter will be sent to CAS and the arbiter will notify you of his/her decision. The arbiter’s decision is final.
Financial Ombudsman Service
The Financial Ombudsman Service provides a free, independent service for clients to solve disputes with not for profit debt advice providers.
The Financial Ombudsman Service will only step in once the bureau has had the opportunity to investigate matters, so please contact the bureau first.
If your complaint is about debt advice or if you were seeking advice about your credit record and you are not satisfied with the bureau’s final response or if eight weeks have passed since you first let the bureau know about your concerns, you can ask the Financial Ombudsman to review your complaint.
Contact the Financial Ombudsman Service
The Financial Ombudsman Service
London E14 9SR
0800 0 234 567 – free for people phoning from a ‘fixed’ line (e.g. a landline at home)
0300 123 9 123 – free for mobile phone users who pay a monthly charge for calls to numbers starting 01 and 02.
Who to contact to make an initial complaint
Please contact the Manager or Chair of the Citizens Advice Bureau in question. You can find the contact details for the bureau by searching here.
Citizens Advice Scotland
If the issue relates to one of the national helplines please contact Citizens Advice Scotland at the postal address given on the complaint form or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Third party complaints
If you have a complaint about a Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) but you are not a client you should raise your complaint with the manager of the CAB concerned. Wherever possible, put all the information in a letter or email and send it to the CAB manager. Where a complaint is about a CAB manager then it should be raised with the Chair of the CAB.
Once the CAB’s Third Party Complaints Procedure has been exhausted and you remain dissatisfied, you may wish to contact CAS regarding the handling of the complaint. A review by CAS is limited to the bureau’s handling of the complaint. It does not involve investigating the substance of the complaint.