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Complaining to your local council

You can complain to the council about lots of different things. For example, you can complain if you're not happy about something they've done or the way you've been treated, or you've received an unsatisfactory service from them. Depending on what your problem is, you can complain about the council as a whole, a specific department or a particular person in any department.

Complaining about council housing services

If you're a council tenant, you can complain if your home needs repairs done but the council aren't doing anything about it.

Complaining about rubbish in stairwells or on the street

You can also complain if you're unhappy about high levels of litter, dog fouling or fly tipping in your area. Usually, you should complain to the environmental health department about these issues - you can find contact details on your council's website.

Complaining about your neighbours or antisocial behaviour

Whether you're a tenant or a home owner, the council should take action against antisocial behaviour in your area, so you can complain to the council if you're having problems with your neighbours.

Complaining about other services

If the council provides a service to you (for example, rubbish collection, recycling facilities or street lighting) and you're not happy with it, you can complain about that. You can do that by contacting the council directly and asking for the department that's responsible for the service.

What's the difference between challenging a decision and complaining?

Challenging a decision that's been made about you is different from complaining about something. Usually, 'challenging' the council means that you disagree with a decision that's made about you and you want it to be looked at again. It's a bit like appealing against a decision that's been made about you.

On the other hand, 'complaining' means that you're not happy about the way you've been treated or something that's happened in the your dealings with the council. For example, you could complain about the council if:

  • someone in the housing department has been rude or unhelpful to you
  • the housing benefit department has lost some paperwork you handed in to help with an application you've made
  • you feel that someone in the council has discriminated against you
  • you've been harassed, bullied or intimidated
  • the council isn't providing a service satisfactorily.

This page can gives advice and information on how to make complaints . You can find out:

However, you must get help from an advice agency if you're taking on the council in this way.

What should I do if I've had a bad experience with a particular member of staff?

If you've had a bad experience with a particular member of staff in the council it can be really upsetting. It can knock your confidence and make you very angry - especially if you've been treated badly by several people and feel that no one cares about you. However, you can put in an individual complaint about that person if you want to.

Here's some advice on steps you can take to back up your complaint:

  • Stay calm and try not to get upset if you have to deal with the person again
  • Try to find out what their name, position and job title is. You can ask them for this information when you're speaking to them. If they won't give it to you, ask to speak to their supervisor or boss. There is no reason why they shouldn't give you this information unless you're threatening them or being rude or aggressive.
  • Make a note of the date you spoke to or met with the person, the times and what was said. This will help you to remember what happened in the future - you'll be surprised at how quickly your memory will fade!
  • Tell someone you trust about what happened and how it made you feel - they may be a useful witness in the future.

Problems with council housing - who should I complain to?

If you live in a block of flats or on a council estate and you've got a problem with your home, there will probably be a caretaker, factor or concierge service responsible for dealing with these issues so you should speak to them first of all. If you're not sure who to contact, get in touch with the housing department who should be able to give you a contact name and telephone number. In most cases, a caretaker, factor or concierge service will be able to help you with your problem and you won't have to take it any further.

Problems with a particular department - who should I complain to?

If you've had problems with a particular department (for example, housing, environmental health, social work or refuse collection) or a specific member of staff in the council you should follow the formal complaints procedure.

The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman website has a useful complaint agency finder that helps you to find the address details for your local council. You simply have to know the name of the council, where its headquarters are based or the postcode to find the right address using this service.

However, if possible, you should try to address your complaint to a specific person or department in the council. You should be able to find this out by using the complaint agency finder to get the phone number and calling for further information. There's no reason why the council shouldn't give you this information (unless you're being rude or aggressive). Try to be assertive and confident when you're talking to them. If you don't feel up to it, ask someone you trust to make the phone call for you. Alternatively, this information may be available on your council's website.

How should I complain?

All councils should have a formal complaints procedure in place and you should ask for full details of that and follow it as closely as possible. There may be information about the complaints scheme on your council's website.

If you feel you're being sent round in circles by the complaints process, you don't have to put up with it - find out how you can get further advice (see 'what if I'm not happy with the reply?') below.

If there is no formal complaints procedure, you could write a letter to the council. If you need some help to write the letter, ask someone else you trust to help you. Meanwhile, here are some other handy tips:

  • if possible, make sure you address your letter to a specific person or department (if you don't, it's more likely to get lost or passed round)
  • remember to include your full name, an address where you can be contacted and your phone number (if you have one)
  • stick to the facts and try not to get angry or emotional (even if what has happened to you is really upsetting or personal)
  • suggest a solution to the problem that you'd find acceptable (for example, getting the repairs in your flat done or getting an apology from the member of staff who was rude to you)
  • ask for a written response to your letter within a certain time period (for example, two weeks)
  • keep a copy of your letter
  • send the letter by recorded delivery post or hand it into the council offices and ask for a receipt.

The Scottish Public Service Ombudsman (SPSO) has a template complaint letter that you can download from their website.

What if I'm not happy with the reply I get?

If you don't feel you've received a satisfactory response from the council, or if you don't get a reply at all, you could take your complaint to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman. For more information, have a look at our page on complaining to the SPSO or visit the SPSO website.

When you contact the SPSO it will:

  • tell you whether or not it legally has the power to deal with your complaint (if it can't help you, it'll explain why and point you in the direction of further help)
  • get in touch with the council to tell them that the SPSO is now dealing with your complaint
  • carry out an investigation into your complaint
  • keep you up to date with what's happening in the investigation (it may take a long time to investigate things fully).

What if I believe I've been discriminated against?

If you think anyone at the council has discriminated against you because of your race, gender, sexual orientation or because you are disabled, you can take further action - read the section on discrimination to find out more.

Scotland map Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.
This content applies to Scotland only.
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