PIRC Audit Report on the Six-Stage Complaint Handling Process

The Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC) has published a report of findings and recommendations following an audit of Police Scotland’s 6 stage complaint handling process.

The audit identified increasing delays in Police Scotland responding to complaints - with the average time to respond being 222 days which exceeds the current target of 56 days.

It also found that communication could be improved with most complainers not being notified of likely delays inresponding to their complaints and 56% were not asked to provide a statement of their concerns.

Commissioner Michelle Macleod said: “It is crucial to have an effective police complaints system - ‘getting it right’ helps to maintain public trust and confidence and ensures measures are put in place to prevent what has gone wrong from happening again.

“Complaints are a valuable source of information because the public’s perception of policing is just as important as the outcomes, or the service delivered. Therefore, it is essential that the police value complaints and embrace the opportunity for improvement they present.”

The report also highlighted evidence of good practice such as:

  • The correct use of the appropriate test in determining outcomes and the communication of decisions.
  • Police taking appropriate steps to ensure that the complaint process is accessible to representatives and third-party complainers.
  • 88% of complainers receiving a formal letter free of legal jargon that clearly explained the enquiries undertaken and how the police had reached a decision on whether to uphold or not uphold the complaint.
  • 75% of complaints correctly categorised and all complaints that contained criminal allegations were referred to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) or PIRC.

PIRC has recommended that Police Scotland conducts a performance data review, taking account of increased demand and existing resource to establish new Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) for dealing with different types of complaints.

It is also recommended that Police Scotland revises the initial complaint acknowledgement letter to include an explanation on next steps as the complaint passes through the complaint process, and estimated timescales to provide greater clarity for complainers.

The Commissioner added: “Overall, the audit has shown a complaint handling system that demonstrates areas of good practice and highlights opportunities for further improvements.

“We have made ten recommendations that are aimed at improving the service to the public and streamlining processes to enable complaints to be dealt with more quickly.”

You can read the full PIRC Audit Report on the Six-Stage Complaint Handling Process on our website.

Notes to editors

The Commissioner is appointed by Scottish Ministers, independent of the police and has a statutory responsibility to review the way police manage complaints. Following a recommendation from the 2020 Dame Elish Angiolini Report Policing - complaints handling, investigations and misconduct issues, PIRC audited Police Scotland’s compliance with PIRC’s Statutory Guidance on a six-stage process when investigating complaints. This is the structured model that PIRC advises policing bodies in Scotland use for handling complaints as best practice. The Audit involved a sample of 68 complaint files concluded by the police between 1 July and 30 September 2023.