We are conscious that a lack of awareness of our office or negative attitudes towards us might reduce access to our service. Below, we discuss the national awareness survey that we commissioned during 2019/20.
Up-to-date research on national awareness of our office has been long overdue. The last time we gathered this information was in 2012! We therefore decided in 2019/20 to commission some questions as part of the Wales Omnibus Survey, undertaken by Beaufort Research.
The Wales Omnibus represents the only face-to-face omnibus survey of the Welsh general public. The survey is based on a representative quota sample, consisting of a minimum of 1,000 adults aged 16+ who are resident in Wales.
This year, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Beaufort Research was able to complete only 713 interviews before the fieldwork had to be halted in response to public health concerns. It must be therefore borne in mind that the results are based on a smaller sample than intended.
In developing the questions in our segment of the survey, we drew on the 2012 questionnaire. However, we also modified the questions and expanded their scope.
Although we would like everyone in Wales to be aware of us, the priority is that we are known to people who have complained about public services. Therefore, both the 2012 and 2020 survey asked about people’s experience of making a complaint to a public sector provider. Both surveys also asked about awareness of our office.
However, the 2020 survey included also additional questions about:
In both surveys, the results were available by region, gender, age, social class and Welsh language ability. In 2020, we also analysed the results by marital status, ethnicity and disability.
13% of respondents to the survey complained to a public service provider within the last two years. People who identified as disabled were significantly more likely to complain than other groups (21%).
Of people who complained,
Strikingly, 43% of the people who were unhappy with how their complaint was resolved did not do anything else and none complained to us.
Satisfaction with the outcome of the complaint appeared to be particularly low for people who lived in North Wales; were over 55; were Welsh speakers; or identified as belonging to the middle class.
48% of respondents were aware of PSOW – an improvement since 2012 (35%).
People were more likely to be aware of us if they were over 55; Welsh speakers; married or in a civil partnership; disabled; or in higher managerial, administrative and professional roles.
However, awareness of our office was lower among people aged 16-34; people who were single or living together; and people who identified as BAME.
Of those who heard of us, most learned about the office from the media (36%) or through word of mouth (31%).
Somewhat concerningly, only 2% stated that they were directed to us by an organization they complained to.
People commonly believed correctly that we can handle complaints about public services (91%) and promote good complaint practice (78%).
However, a much smaller proportion believed that we could investigate on own initiative (40%). Interestingly, only 38% believed that we can award financial redress.
Furthermore, 82% believed incorrectly that we can act on behalf of people who have a complaint about a public body.
People generally were aware they can complain by post (81%) or electronically (88%).
The awareness of oral complaints was only slightly lower (77%) but still quite high considering that we were granted this power only recently. This said, it may be the case that people assumed that we’ve always had this power.
However, only 45% believed that we can accept a complaint in British Sign Language (BSL).
Positively, people who identified as disabled appeared to be more aware of this power (83%). However, this group was not more aware that complaints could be submitted in BSL.
The general perception of PSOW appeared to be positive, with 70% respondents agreeing that they have confidence in our work, 79% agreeing that we were impartial, and 88% stating that they believed they could approach us if they needed to.
All these scores were much higher for people who identified as BAME, and two of them were also much higher among Welsh speakers.
However – injecting a note of caution – 63% agreed nevertheless that they didn’t know much about our work.
It was good to find out that awareness of our office overall has increased since 2012. However, we also want to use the results to continue to increase our visibility in Wales.
In this, the survey results can help us understand why some groups remain under-represented among our complainants.
The results suggest that Welsh speakers seemed to be more dissatisfied than average with the outcome of their complaints to public service providers. However, we receive very few complaints from people who state that their main language is Welsh. That said, this group appeared to also be more aware than average of our office. This could suggest that either they complain elsewhere; or they face other barriers to access.
The survey results also showed that awareness of our office was lower than average among BAME people and people aged 16-34. People who identify as BAME and people under 25 are also under-represented among our complainants. This suggests that we need to do more to raise the profile of the office among these groups. In 2020/21, we will hold focus groups with BAME people to understand better their perceptions of our office and their views on what makes an accessible complaints process.
The results of the survey can also support our outreach in other respects. For example, in 2020/21 we will launch a strategy to raise awareness of the option to submit a complaint orally. The level of awareness of this service in 2019/20 will help us ascertain the impact of that strategy.
Finally, although we asked people about their experience of complaining in the public sector to better analyse the survey results, answers to these questions can also help us in other work. During 2019/20, we started using our new powers to engage intensely with Local Authorities across Wales to improve their complaint handling processes. The survey results on people’s experience of complaining equip us with additional data to conduct this work, as well as providing us with a benchmark to measure progress over time.