Complaints handling procedure

How to handle any formal complaint you might receive

How do I manage a complaint investigation?

As an investigator, you must follow our procedures and timeframes as outlined below when a formal complaint is being investigated.

Although the investigation is carried out by the appointed investigator, they must keep HQ and Country/Region offices up to date. Wherever possible, communication about the complaint should be directly between the complainant and the investigator. The HQ Complaints team and regional complaint advisers can offer advice and support at any point of the investigation, but will not engage about the complaint on your behalf, unless agreed otherwise. You should feedback the outcome of the investigation to HQ and the  Country/Region office.

Safeguarding concerns: At any stage, if there are elements of a safeguarding concern in the complaint we will refer to the Safeguarding team who will make a decision which procedure should apply.


After a discussion with the complainant, a relevant Girlguiding officer or volunteer will make a decision as to the most appropriate way forward and whether a full investigation is required.

Full investigation not required: Some complaints or feedback may be resolved informally. The complaint will be referred to the relevant team or local guiding for further resolution, support and learning. The complaint can be referred back to the assessment stage if it remains unresolved.

Full investigation required: When a complaint requires an investigation it will progress to Stage 1: Complaint investigation.

Stage 1: Complaint investigation

Step 1: Investigating the complaint

The complaint will be sent on to the most appropriate person for investigation, as set out in the complaints policy under, ‘who will handle my complaint’.

The complainant will either be contacted by the relevant Girlguiding officer or volunteer or, if they are not leading on the investigation themselves, the appointed investigator. The complainant must be told when someone will be in touch.

Once a complaint has been received by the relevant Girlguiding officer or volunteer a complainant will be contacted as soon as possible, and will:

  • Acknowledge that the complaint has been received.
  • Indicate how they propose to deal with the matter.
  • Give an estimate of how long it will take to give a final response to the complaint. 

If a complaint is taking longer than anticipated to resolve, the complainant will be kept informed of this and told when to expect further contact. We expect the Investigator to be in touch with the complainant at least once every 14 days unless agreed otherwise.

The amount of contact between the Investigator and the complainant will depend on the nature of the matters raised; the potential difficulties involved and the clarity of the information provided. If necessary, and at any stage of the investigation, a complainant may be asked for further information.

Step 2: Carrying out the investigation

The investigator will assess the situation and decide on how best to approach each investigation on a case-by-case basis. The Investigator must meet with or talk to the complainant individually, as well as the accused party and witnesses. The investigator will contact all relevant people who need to contribute to the investigation, to inform them of the investigation taking place and to explain their involvement.

The investigation will involve gathering all the relevant facts, including statements from witnesses and relevant documentary material. The Investigator uses this to form the basis of their decisions about the complaint, and where applicable (as outlined in step 3 below), writes a report of the investigation.

Any individual who is invited to attend a meeting to discuss a complaint has the right, if they so wish, to be accompanied by a Girlguiding colleague or a friend who is not involved in the complaint.

Step 3: Closing the complaint - findings collated and shared

The Investigator, in conjunction with HQ and Country/Region Office, decides whether or not an investigation report is required.

Investigation report not required: Some complaints or feedback may be resolved by agreed action (verbal or written) between a complainant and the Investigator without the need for any further investigation or written report to be produced. If this is a verbal agreement, the investigator will send a written follow-up to the complainant for reference. Any findings and outcomes will be fed back to HQ Complaints team and Country/Region office so that a copy of the complaint being closed is centrally recorded.

Investigation report required: The investigator will contact all necessary parties in writing once the investigation has been completed; to inform of the investigation findings and of any action taken, or planned, as a result of the findings. Any findings and outcomes will be fed back to the HQ Complaints team and Country/Region office as appropriate so that a copy of the complaint being closed is centrally recorded.

The complaint is then closed.

Action plans/outcomes

Complaint outcomes which fall within the scope of specific procedures, such as the managing concerns about adult volunteer behaviour procedures, will be referred to Compliance for consideration under those procedures.

Complaints appeals and review process

The appeals process involves reviewing the original investigation - including the information and evidence gathered to form the outcome of the investigation; reviewing any sanctions applied and reinvestigating in the light of any new information.

Each case is considered on an individual basis and it is decided by the Region Chief or Head of HR in conjunction with the relevant employee at HQ whether an appeal, including a reinvestigation into any aspects of the complaint, is appropriate. Other than in very exceptional circumstances, an entirely new investigation will not take place. This is at the discretion of Girlguiding who will decide on a case-by-case basis.

You can find information on timeframes in Appendix A.

Stage 2: Complaints appeal


  • The investigation has been carried out and complaint has been closed.
  • An appeal request received from appellant to Region Chief or Head of HR, who informs HQ Complaints team.
  • Region Chief Commissioner or Head of HR decides in conjunction with HQ Complaints Team whether or not to accept the appeal request.

Step 1: Appeal request accepted or declined

Appeal request is responded to within seven days of being received.

Appeal request accepted: If the appeal request demonstrates that new information has come to light since the investigation was concluded, the appeal will be accepted. If accepted, the appellant is informed of when to expect further contact and who the appeal investigator will be. The appeal investigator will be appointed by the region chief or head of HR in conjunction with HQ, to ensure they are impartial and has not been involved at previous stages.

Appeal request declined: If the appeal request is not considered adequate, or no new information has come to light, it will be declined. If declined, this marks the end of the complaints process.

Step 2: Undertaking the appeal

Further information gathered: the appeal investigator may need to gather further information, including conducting additional interviews or analysing new evidence. In this case, Stage 1: Step 2 of the complaint investigation procedure for how to undertake an investigation applies.

Step 3: Closing the appeal - findings collated and shared

The appeal investigator writes a report showing the findings of their review of the original investigation, and of any reinvestigation as appropriate.

They also decide whether to uphold the original investigation outcome and/or recommendations or to amend these.

The appellant is informed of the outcome of the appeal. The appeal investigator informs country/region office and HQ Complaints team of all outcomes, drawing attention to points/learning that needs to be addressed.

The appeal investigator decision is final and marks the end of the complaints process.

Stage 3: Final review

If the complainant or accused party is dissatisfied with how a complaint was investigated, a final review can be requested. The final review will not consider the original complaint itself, but the way in which the complaint policy and procedure were applied. A final review can only be requested if a complaint has already gone through the investigation and appeals stage.

Grounds for a final review might include (this is not an exhaustive list) a failure to:

  • Make available the Girlguiding complaints policy and procedure.
  • Take into account the complainant’s or accused party’s background and individual circumstances, for example, their first language, disabilities etc.
  • Discuss the complaint and keep the relevant parties informed of developments.
  • Resolve the complaint in a reasonable length of time.
  • Ensure an impartial investigation of the complaint.

The purpose of the final review is to make sure that the complaint has been thoroughly investigated and that the decision made about a complaint is based on accurate findings and supported by evidence. The final review will not include any re-investigation but will be an examination of how the procedure was undertaken and identify any learning points.

Request for a final review must be made to the HQ Complaints team within seven days of being informed of the outcome of an appeals decision. If the request is accepted, HQ will appoint a senior volunteer or appropriate employee to carry out the final review within 25 days.

Once the final review is completed, all relevant parties will be contacted in writing to inform of the outcome of the review and any further action taken or planned.

The decision of the final review is absolute and cannot be appealed. This marks the end of a complaint and it cannot be processed any further. After the final review, we will not engage with the original complaint any further.


Appendix A

Complaint investigation timeframes

HQ aims to respond to all emails received within five working days. Any alterations to this timeframe will be advised of on the complaints email address automatic response message. Once your complaint has been identified as per the complaints policy, it will be passed locally for investigation (normally within five working days of the complainant’s last contact with HQ Complaints team or country/region office). The complainant will be acknowledged by local guiding within seven days of them receiving your complaint.

At any stage of the complaints process, the investigator, appeal investigator or final reviewer will give the relevant parties an estimate of how long it will take to provide the final response as soon as they are reasonably able to do so. Each complaint is considered on a case-by-case basis. If the complaint and/or any stage of the complaints process is taking longer than anticipated to resolve, the relevant parties will be kept informed of this and told when to expect to receive further contact. The expectation is that unless agreed otherwise, the investigator/reviewer and the relevant parties are in touch at least once every two weeks (14 days) until the complaint is closed.

An appeals request must be received in writing within 14 days of the date the relevant parties are informed of the complaint outcome. 

An appeal request is responded to within seven days of a decision decline.

A final review will be concluded within 25 days of the request being made.

Girlguiding policies and procedures are reviewed and updated from time to time as part of a review cycle.