Improved BBC complaints system easier and more effective for licence fee payers, Trust review finds

Date: 12.06.2013     Last updated: 23.09.2014 at 09.50

Four out of five users now find the BBC's complaints website easy to use compared with less than two thirds in 2011, a review by the BBC Trust published today has found. 

The improvement follows changes made to the BBC complaints website two years ago, with 78 per cent of complainants now saying they find the system very or fairly easy to use. 

Following these changes in 2011, last year the Trust carried out a review of the BBC's complaints system as a whole, and approved a number of additional changes aimed at making the system faster, simpler and easier to understand.  The review published today examines how well these changes are working. 

The improvements introduced last year included:

  • Introduction of a single, central address, phone number and website link for complaints, with complaints received by other parts of the BBC forwarded on to this central point;
  • Speeding up the complaints process for multiple complaints about the same subject by handling them together and providing a single response to all complainants;
  • Focusing resource on dealing with substantive complaints by ending correspondence on trivial or vexatious ones, although these complainants would still have the right to appeal to the Trust; and
  • Making the complaints system clearer for licence fee payers by clarifying how it will work at each stage.

The review published today found that:

  • 78 per cent of respondents to a survey said they found it very or fairly easy to complain to the BBC via the website, compared with 64 per cent in 2011.  The Trust has particularly welcomed this improvement.
  • New complaints web pages and the redesigned existing complaints website have had positive feedback from licence fee payers;
  • The Trust was pleased to note that the introduction of a Chief Complaints Editor role has had a positive impact on complaints cases which require wider BBC co-ordination and speeding up action when a BBC response is required more rapidly than has previously been the case;
  • Trustees welcomed the finding that centralising of complaints handling has allowed complaints to be tracked more easily and therefore improve the speed with which complaints are dealt with; this centralised approach also enabled the high volume of complaints relating to Jimmy Savile in the autumn to be dealt with effectively;
  • Between 8 August 2012 and 31 January 2013, 294 stage 1b complaints (of 3,687) were closed by the BBC on the grounds that they were trivial, misconceived, hypothetical, repetitious or vexatious, allowing resources to be concentrated on genuine complaints; and
  • During the period under review the BBC was able to meet increased demand and meet its existing complaints handling targets, without any increase in resources. 

BBC Trustee and Chair of the Trust's Complaints and Appeals Board Richard Ayre said:

"Making a complaint to the BBC should not be difficult or complicated and I am pleased to see that the changes we approved last year are beginning to have an impact.  Those who feel they have a grievance with the BBC should have confidence that they can complain quickly and easily, that they will be listened to, and that their complaint will be dealt with appropriately – we will continue to monitor progress to ensure that licence fee payers are getting the service they rightly expect."

An independent 'mystery shopping' exercise will be carried out by the Trust later in 2013 to further test the effectiveness of the complaints system.

The review published today can be found here.

Notes to Editors

  1. The Trust carried out a review of the BBC's complaints framework following the Chairman Lord Patten's review of BBC governance in 2011.  The review's conclusions were published in May 2012, with the changes to the complaints framework implemented in June 2012.
  2. At the time of publication of the review conclusions, the BBC Executive agreed to carry out another review six months after the changes to the complaints framework had been implemented, which the Trust would publish alongside its own conclusions.
  3. The BBC complaints system

All complaints about the BBC must first be dealt with by the BBC Executive (stage 1).   Complainants who are still unhappy at the end of stage 1 may be able to complain to senior BBC management to have their complaint looked at in more detail at a second stage (stage 2). The BBC has set up a special unit called the Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU) to investigate editorial complaints at stage 2. It is not in a programme making division of the BBC and is independent of programme makers. The BBC Trust is the final arbiter in the BBC for complaints. The Trust is the sovereign body of the BBC. It takes appropriate complaints on appeal. For editorial and general complaints this is known as stage 3. Complaints about the Trust go straight to the Trust to reply to and do not go through BBC management.

Findings by the Trust and upheld findings by the ECU are normally published (but not, for example, if it will breach a complainant's privacy or commercial confidence). An on-air correction or apology may be required by the Trust or ECU in serious cases. The Trust will apologise to the complainant if the complaint is upheld, as will the ECU.

A similar process applies for non-editorial complaints (including fair trading and TV licensing), which must first be considered by the Executive, followed by a right of appeal to the Trust.