Complaints Page

Complaints about the NIAO

What to do if you want to complain about the work of the Northern Ireland Audit Office

The NIAO aims to carry out its work to the highest professional standards and to deliver an efficient and effective public audit service which represents best value for money. We are committed to continual improvement. This includes handling complaints carefully in an open and courteous way by investigating the matters raised thoroughly and replying as quickly as possible.

The NIAO has an internal three-stage complaints process. We will do all we can to resolve your complaint at the first stage, but if you are not satisfied with our response or you are unhappy with the way we have handled your complaint, you may progress to stage two by contacting the Director of Corporate Services who will arrange for someone in senior management, not previously involved in the case, to carry out a full independent review. Should you remain dissatisfied with the handling of your complaint, you can ask for it to be referred to the C&AG. How to complain and details of our procedure are set out below along with how you can expect us to handle your complaint.

 

What do we consider to be a complaint?

The NIAO defines a complaint as: “an expression of dissatisfaction, however made, about the actions or lack of actions by the NIAO, or its staff, affecting one or more members of the public or an employee of a body audited by the NIAO”.  

Complaints addressed by NIAO are limited to maladministration; to establish maladministration it is not sufficient that there is a mere mistake or error but rather that something more than this, such as, bias, neglect, inattention, delay, incompetence, inaptitude, perversity, turpitude or arbitrariness (the Crossman catalogue) have taken place in an administrative function.

Administrative functions that may be the subject of a complaint include:

  • correspondence, where the correspondent is unhappy with our response;
  • the work of NIAO staff, including an alleged failure to follow the Code of Conduct;
  • not adhering to Office policies;
  • how services are procured;
  • resources provided by the NIAO, for example publications;
  • the reasonableness of the processes followed by the NIAO staff;
  • the behaviour of NIAO staff; and
  • discrimination or delay in handling job applications for NIAO posts (from external candidates).

These administrative functions extend to the work of any audit firms appointed to carry out the work of the NIAO.

 

Who can complain?

Complaints may arise from those we audit, those we consult during the course of an audit, correspondents and the general public.

 

Is there a time limit for complaining?

We will do all we can to look into your complaint. However, we will not usually accept complaints that are made more than six months after the event being complained about or being brought to the complainant’s attention.

 

Are there any types of complaint that this procedure cannot consider under this process?

There are some issues that we would not consider to be a complaint for the purpose of this policy.  Exemptions include:

  • complaints relating to the C&AG’s opinion or judgement in conducting his statutory functions as an independent officer of the NI Assembly;
  • complaints relating to the Local Government Auditor’s opinion or judgement in conducting her statutory functions;
  • employment matters, including complaints from staff or former staff which would be considered under the NIAO’s employment procedures;
  • complaints that the NIAO has failed to meet its obligations to disclose information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and to deal with requests in accordance with statutory procedure, which are subject to a distinct formal process; and
  • complaints that the NIAO has failed to meet its obligations to disclose information under the Data Protection Act 2018 and to deal with requests in accordance with statutory procedure, which are subject to a distinct formal process;
  • complaints relating to organisations audited by the NIAO. If the complainant wishes to comment on an organisation audited by the NIAO, they should raise it with that organisation, using its own complaints procedure.

 

There are also circumstances where we will not pursue a complaint, where the NIAO considers a complaint to be:

•        Vexatious: a complaint instituted without sufficient grounds and serving only to cause annoyance to the receiver of the complaint; an abusive or unduly persistent oppressive complaint; or otherwise an abuse of the procedures for dealing with complaints or conduct matters; and / or

•        Repetitious: a complaint that is substantially the same as a previous complaint (whether made by or on behalf of the same or a different complainant); contains no fresh allegations which significantly affect the account of the previous complaint; or where no fresh evidence, being evidence which was not reasonably available at the time the previous complaint was made, is tendered in support of it.

 

What happens to my complaint?

Stage 1

Any communication that is identified as a complaint should, in the first instance, be passed to the Director of Corporate Services. Once a complaint has been received, we will send the complainant an acknowledgement letter within five working days. We will assess if it meets the definition of a complaint as set out in this policy. If it does not meet this definition, we will write to the complainant to explain why. If possible, we will suggest another organisation that may be able to help.

Where we have determined that the correspondence meets the definition of a complaint as set in this policy, the NIAO staff member who has responsibility for the work to which the complaint relates should meet and/or speak with the complainant, as they are best placed to sort out most problems. Most complaints should be resolved through this informal channel.

We aim to respond to the majority of complaints within 20 working days of the complaint arriving with us. The time taken to respond will vary depending on the complexity of the complaint. If we are unable to respond within 20 working days because, for example, the matters raised require more detailed investigation, we will let the complainant know.

Stage 2

We will make every effort to satisfactorily resolve the complaint in Stage 1. However, if the complainant is not satisfied by our response or by the way that their complaint was handled, they should contact the Director of Corporate Services who will arrange for someone in senior management and not previously involved in the case to carry out a full independent review.

We aim to respond to the majority of Stage 2 complaints within 20 working days.

Stage 3

If the complainant is unsatisfied by the outcome of the Stage 2 review, they can request that the matter be referred to the C&AG (or LGA if it is a local government issue). The C&AG/LGA will consider whether:

•        the complaint has been handled properly;

•        our response was appropriate; and

•        whether any further action is necessary.

 

The complainant will be sent the outcome of this review into how their complaint was dealt with. This must be done within two weeks of the day on which the complaints procedure has been exhausted. In this correspondence, the Office is legally required to advise the complainant:

  • when the organisation’s internal complaints process has been exhausted
  • that they may refer the matter to the Ombudsman if he/she remains dissatisfied
  • of the time limit for making such a referral
  • how to contact the Ombudsman

 

What can I do if I am still dissatisfied with the outcome of Stage Three?

If you remain dissatisfied following the outcome of Stage Three, as the Office falls under Schedule 3 to the Public Services Ombudsman Act (Northern Ireland) 2016, you may contact the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman’s Office by e-mail by following the link:

nipso@nipso.org.uk

You may also write to the Ombudsman at this address

Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman,
Progressive House
33 Wellington Place
Belfast BT1 6HN

 

Further alternative means of communication with the NI Public Services Ombudsman include:

Telephone:    02890 233821

Text Phone:  02890 897789

Freephone:   0800 34 34 24

Freepost:      Freepost NIPSO 

This must be made within six months of completion of the Office’s complaints procedure (unless the Ombudsman decides there are special circumstances).

Further details are available from the NI Public Services Ombudsman’s website:

https://nipso.org.uk

 

 

How to contact us to make a complaint

You can contact us by e mail by following the link below

complaints@niauditoffice.gov.uk

You may also write to us at this address

Director of Corporate Services,

1 Bradford Court

Upper Galwally

Belfast,

BT78 6RB.

 

Please note that from 1 April 2016 the Office is legally required to give a complainant written notice advising them:

  • when the organisation’s internal complaints process has been exhausted
  • they may refer the matter to the Ombudsman if he/she remains dissatisfied
  • of the time limit for making such a referral
  • how to contact the Ombudsman

The Office must do this within two weeks of the day on which the complaints procedure has been exhausted.