The Model Complaints Handling Procedures

Since 2012 the SPSO's Complaints Standards Authority (CSA) has worked closely with a range of partners and stakeholders to develop and implement Model Complaints Handling Procedures (MCHPs) for each public service sector.

We published MCHPs for the local authority and housing sectors in March and April 2012.  In December 2012 we published CHPs for the further and higher education sectors and in March 2013 we published the CHP for the Scottish Government and Associated Public Authorities in Scotland. Most recently, we worked with the Scottish Government to deliver the NHS MCHP, which was published in October 2016, and we published the Social Work MCHP in December 2016, ready for implementation on 1 April 2017.   You can find copies of these procedures and associated documents in this section.

These MCHPs have been developed in line with the recommendations of the Sinclair report (link is external) that the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) simplify and improve complaints handling by developing complaints handling standards.  They have also been developed within the framework of the SPSO Statement of Complaint Handling Principles, approved by the Scottish Parliament, and Guidance on a Model Complaints Handling Procedure.

Read more about the background of the MCHP introduction across all public service sectors in Scotland

The emphasis in the MCHPs is on quicker and simpler complaints handling with local, early resolution by empowered and well trained staff. Our aim is to help bodies ‘get it right first time’ with a focus on resolving complaints at the frontline wherever possible.  There is also an emphasis on valuing complaints – recording all complaints, reporting key information and using the lessons learned to improve service delivery.

The aim of standardising and streamlining CHPs has been at the core of this work, so all MCHPs are closely aligned. The key elements of each MCHP will be the same for all sectors, including:

  • A shared definition of what is and what is not a complaint
  • A two stage process where complaints are resolved as close to the frontline as possible
  • Frontline resolution of complaints within five working days
  • An investigation stage of 20 working days, which provides the organisation’s final decision
  • Recording of all complaints
  • Active learning from complaints through reporting and publicising complaints information.

There is, however, enough flexibility in the MCHPs to reflect the requirements of each sector and of each organisation.

MCHP relaunch 

In 2018-19, we conducted a review of the MCHP to establish its effectiveness and usability. 

Following our consultation across all sectors, the MCHPs were revised to:

  • standardise the core text across all of Scotland’s public services (to remove minor inconsistencies in how the MCHP operates within different sectors), while retaining individualised sector-specific content and examples in each version
  • update the MCHPs in line with:
    • feedback from organisations under jurisdiction (via a consultation survey and individual feedback from contacts with SPSO)
    • issues identified in casework
    • recent research and good practice in relation to using alternative resolution approaches, promoting positive complaint behaviours and improving access to complaints for vulnerable groups.

The updated MCHPs have been published under section 16B(5) of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman Act 2002 on 31 January 2020 to give public sector organisations time to implement any changes by April 2021.

Sector MCHPs

You can find the detailed MCHP documents for each sector via the drop-down menu below. 

The MCHP for each sector includes the following sections:

  • Part 1: Overview and structure 
  • Part 2: When to use the procedure - guidance on identifying what is and what is not a complaint, handling complex or unusual complaint circumstances, the interaction of complaints and other processes, and what to do if the MCHP does not apply
  • Part 3: The complaints handling process - guidance on handling a complaint through stages 1 and 2, and dealing with post-closure contact
  • Part 4: Governance of the procedure - staff roles and responsibilities and guidance on recording, reporting, publicising and learning from complaints
  • Part 5: Customer-facing guide - information for customers on how we handle complaints
  • Implementation guide

The Local Authority MCHP has been developed by SPSO in partnership with a working group of local authority complaints experts and applies to all local authorities and all local authority services. It also applies to all services provided by a health and social care partnership on behalf of a local authority.

The MCHP for Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) has been developed by SPSO in partnership with the housing sector, guided by a steering group of key housing stakeholders and an advisory panel of housing association representatives.  It applies to all RSLs and all the services they provide, including those that they provide under contract from other agencies such as local authorities.

The Scottish Government, Scottish Parliament and Associated Public Authorities in Scotland MCHP has been developed by SPSO in partnership with relevant stakeholders.  It applies to all Scottish Government, Scottish Parliament and associated public authorities under the SPSO’s jurisdiction in terms of schedule 2 of the SPSO Act 2002.

The NHS was the last public sector to adopt the MCHP on 1 April 2017. Therefore, the NHS MCHP has not yet been revised since it was first published. 

There is no longer a standalone Social Work MCHP. In line with feedback received during our public consultation on the revision of the MCHPs, in 2020 we have combined the MCHPs for the local authority and social work sectors into a single document (the Local Authority MCHP, see above).

The revised Local Authority MCHP includes a core text, which is consistent across all public services in Scotland, with some additional text and examples specific to local authorities and health and social care partnerships (HSCPs) handling social work complaints.  This includes the social work specific content from the previous Social Work MCHP, which has been incorporated (and updated where appropriate).  The core text was drafted based on the Social Work MCHP, so much of the content remains unchanged.

The revised Local Authority MCHP, published 2020, applies to social work complaints, whether they are handled by local authority or health and social care partnership (HSCP) staff.

For complaints relating to the actions and processes of the Integration joint boards (IJB) itself, IJBs should adopt the MCHP for the Scottish Government, Scottish Parliament and Associated Public Authorities.  The Ombudsman has written to all IJBs with the revised version of this MCHP.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Part 4 of the MCHPs on Governance includes a section on recording, reporting, learning from and publicising complaints, which refers to the complaints performance indicators published by the SPSO.

The documents in this section outline the KPIs for:

  • Local Authorities (this includes Health and Social Work Partnerships, in relation to social work functions delegated from local authorities as well as the Arm’s Length External Organisations commissioned by Local Authorities to deliver services on their behalf)
  • Registered Social Landlords
  • Colleges
  • Universities and
  • Scottish Government, Scottish Parliament and associated public authorities.

Please direct any queries regarding the MCHPs to the CSA team at [email protected]


Contact us

If on behalf of a public sector organisation you have any questions about complaints handling, or if you require support or guidance, please contact us:

Phone:  0131 297 4863

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Updated: January 26, 2024