How to make a complaint

The steps below show you:

  • what to do before making a complaint
  • what information you need to support your complaint
  • how to submit your complaint
  • what happens after you've made a complaint.

If you need help with your complaint, see Get help making a complaint.

If you are being held in custody, and want to make a complaint about Youth Justice or Corrective Services, see Complaints about custodial services.

If you work for the government (including local government) and your complaint is about serious wrongdoing in your workplace, see Making a public interest disclosure (whistleblowing).

Step 1 Contact the organisationStep 2 Find out who can handle your complaintStep 3 Prepare your complaintStep 4 Make a complaint onlineStep 5 We assess your complaint

Step 1

Contact the agency

Generally, as a first step you should contact the agency you want to complain about.

It could be a government agency, community service provider or a private company. For example, if you want to make a complaint about public housing, contact the Department of Communities and Justice (Housing NSW).

This gives the agency a chance to fix the problem.

They should have a complaint process for you to follow. Visit their website or call them to find out how to complain to them. They usually welcome you speaking up as it can help them to uncover a problem and improve their services.

We usually expect you to contact the agency with your complaint, before you make a complaint to us.

However, if you find it hard to work out how you can make a complaint to the agency, you can contact us and we will help you - see Get help making a complaint.

You can also complain to us directly if you don’t feel safe making a complaint to the agency.

Keep a copy of all emails and letters

Keep a copy of emails or letters between you and the agency. You may need to show this to us if your complaint is not resolved.

If you don't get a reply within the time promised by the agency, contact them again to make sure they received your complaint and are going to respond. You can also ask them to give reasons for the delay.

If you need help contacting the agency, see Get help making a complaint.

Step 2 

Find out who can handle your complaint

If the agency doesn't respond when you contact them, or you're not happy with their response, the next step is to find the right ombudsman or other external complaints body to complain to.

We handle complaints about most NSW government departments and agencies, local councils in NSW and community service providers. But, there are complaints we cannot help you with: for example, Centrelink (Services Australia), Australian Tax Office (ATO), electricity, gas, water and phone companies, and other private businesses.

Check complaints we handle to see a list of who can handle your complaint if we can’t

If you make a complaint to us and we can't handle your complaint, we'll tell you who can help.

If we can handle your complaint, continue to Step 3.

Step 3 

Prepare your complaint

You will need to tell us:

  • who and what your complaint is about
  • what happened after you contacted the agency
  • what you think should happen to resolve your complaint.

We'll also ask you to upload documents to support your complaint. For example, letters or emails between you and the agency, photos or other documents. We will need all the evidence you have to assess your complaint.

Step 4

Make your complaint online

When you're ready, make your complaint online. It takes about 15 minutes.

Making a complaint is free.

You can ask someone such as a family member, friend, or community worker to help you or to submit the complaint form for you. You can also help another person to make a complaint. You will need their permission to do this.

Once you submit your complaint, we'll email you a copy of it.

You don’t have to tell us your name when you make a complaint. However, it will be harder for us to assess and resolve your complaint if we don’t know who you are. We will treat your complaint confidentially and seek your permission before telling the agency that we have received a complaint from you. It is a criminal offence for anyone to take any action against you for making a complaint to us. If you are concerned that this could happen, please let us know.

Step 5 

We assess your complaint

We review the information you give us and decide what action to take.

Depending on your complaint, we may:

  • put you in contact with the right person in the organisation who can respond to your complaint
  • contact the organisation about the problem and ask them for an explanation, or
  • seek further evidence from you or the organisation about what has happened,
  • commence a formal ‘maladministration’ investigation into your complaint. We do this only rarely when there is evidence of very serious and/or systemic problems.

We will give you reasons for our decisions.

We'll contact you within 2 weeks to give you an update on your complaint. We can finalise most complaints within 30 days.

Read more about what we do with your complaint

If you're not satisfied with the outcome

If you're not happy with what the agency or service provider does as a result of our decision, contact us to talk to your case officer.

If you're not happy with our decision or the way we handled your complaint, see Complaints about the NSW Ombudsman.

If you need help

We can help you make a complaint. We can support people with disability and Aboriginal peoples, and have information in easy English and other languages, see Information in other languages.