Complaints procedure

How to make a complaint about the Forestry Commission's service or appeal against an incentive (grant) or regulatory decision.

We treat complaints and appeals differently so that we can manage your concern more effectively.

Complaints

A complaint will normally be linked to an activity we’re undertaking or a service that we’re providing. It could be connected to the direct management of the Public Forest Estate (land managed by the Forestry Commission’s agency, Forest Enterprise, to our role in the management of other woodland, in particular control of tree felling and the encouragement of sustainable woodland management, or to the work of our Plant Health Service.

If something goes wrong or you’re dissatisfied with our service, follow the stages set out below, depending on which aspect of our activities are causing you concern.

What to do if you want to make a complaint

There are 3 stages to our complaints process. We resolve most issues at a local level (stage 1). We would expect that in most situations complaints made to the Director England (stage 3) have been through stage 1 and 2.

Stage 1 - local level complaint

If your complaint is about:

  • the management of the Public Forest Estate – land managed by the Forestry Commission’s agency, Forest Enterprise – send your complaint to the local Forest District office
  • the management of other woodlands and our activities in relation to them, including our role as a regulator, send your complaint to your local Area office
  • any other issue, including complaints concerning requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act or the Environmental Information Regulations, or if you’re unsure where to direct your complaint, send your complaint to our National Office

Forestry Commission

620 Bristol Business Park
Coldharbour Lane

Bristol
BS16 1EJ

Stage 2

If you received a response from your stage 1 complaint and are not satisfied, the second stage of our complaints process will depend on who you received your initial response from:

  • Forest District staff (land managed by Forest Enterprise – send your second-stage complaint to the Forest Management Director from the Forest District office that sent a response
  • Area office staff (incentives, regulations and issues in connection with woodland that does not form part of the Public Forest Estate) – send your stage 2 complaint to the Area Director from the Area office that sent a response
  • National Office staff (multiple areas/districts, cross-cutting issues, or national issues) or, if you’re unsure of where to direct your complaint, send your stage 2 complaint to the Director’s office at our National Office.

Forestry Commission

620 Bristol Business Park
Coldharbour Lane

Bristol
BS16 1EJ

If your complaint concerns the disclosure or non-disclosure of information under the Freedom of Information Act or the Environmental Information Regulations you should address your complaint to the Director England.

Stage 3

If our second response does not fully address your concerns you can move to the final stage of our complaints procedure. All stage 3 complaints should be sent to the Director England: seceng@forestry.gsi.gov.uk

Forestry Commission

620 Bristol Business Park
Coldharbour Lane

Bristol
BS16 1EJ

When contacting the Director England you must:

  • send your complaint within 3 months of having received a final response from your local Area Director or Forest Management Director or National Office – we will not usually consider complaints sent later than this
  • make your complaint in writing unless there’s good reason for not doing so – it’s important we have a record of exactly what you want to complain about so we can address your concerns accurately.

The Director England may delegate the response to the Director of Forest Services, the Chief Executive of Forest Enterprise, or another member of the England Executive Board.

If, despite following our full complaints process, you are not satisfied with the way that we have dealt with your complaint, you may wish to consider further action. Further options are explained at the end of our service standards.

Timber sales complaints

Timber sales are covered by our timber customer charter, which includes its own timber sales complaints procedure.

Service Standard

We aim to:

  • treat all complaints seriously and investigate your complaint thoroughly and fairly
  • try to put things right as quickly as possible if we are at fault – if not, we’ll give you a full explanation
  • learn from complaints and take action to improve our services.

We aim to acknowledge all written complaints within 5 days and let you know who is handling the matter and how to contact them.

We aim to respond in full within 20 working days of receiving written complaints by letter or email.

If it is not possible to give you a full reply within this time (for example, if your complaint requires more detailed investigation), we will tell you what is being done and when you can expect a full response.

If you remain unhappy with our actions and you have exhausted our internal complaints process you may ask your Member of Parliament (MP) to request that the independent Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (the Ombudsman) investigates your complaint and/or the way it has been handled.

More information about the role of the Ombudsman and how to make a complaint can be obtained directly from the Ombudsman.

Appeals

You may appeal against any decision that we have made which you feel is unjust or incorrect. This decision may have resulted in a reduction in the money due to you, or recovery of a grant that we have already paid. (This could be through a reclaim or penalty).

How to appeal a decision

An appeal must be accompanied by full supporting information for us to be able to address your concerns. If the initial decision is not in your favour there is an escalation option in most cases. Details of the process and escalation are set out below.

For penalties associated with the submission of a late claim, an appeal will only be considered where there are exceptional circumstances.

Separate appeals processes exist for applicants involving grants and regulatory issues (felling licenses, environmental impact assessments etc) because this often relates to contractual or other legal agreements. You will need to contact the Administrative Hub that covers your area.

There are 2 stages in an appeal process. Please contact the first point of appeal that is most appropriate for the appeal that you wish to make.

All case decisions relating to grant schemes, including decisions to withhold payment or recover grant:

Penalty associated with a cross-compliance penalty:

  • first stage - Rural Payments Agency (RPA) Customer Services team

Cross-compliance penalties are required to be imposed by the RPA. Any appeal must be directed to the RPA’s Customer Service Team for the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), the Single Payment Scheme (SPS) and Rural Development Schemes:

Rural Payments Agency
PO Box 352
Worksop
S80 9FG
Tel: 03000 200 301

Email: ruralpayments@defra.gsi.gov.uk

Penalty associated with an annual claim or capital claim (such appeals can only be made where there are exceptional circumstances).

  • first stage - Legacy Manager, National Office
  • second stage - Sustainable Forest Management Team Leader, National office:

Forestry Commission

620 Bristol Business Park
Coldharbour Lane

Bristol
BS16 1EJ

Felling licences, usually linked to the conditions being approved (for restocking), or the refusal to issue a licence. (Under section 16 of the Forestry Act, the minister may choose to refer the appeal to a regional committee). Environmental impact assessment, if the applicant wishes to appeal against the Forestry Commission’s Consent Decision or the Conditions Imposed with the consent:

  • first stage - Area Director in your local Area Office
  • second stage - the appropriate forestry minister

Enforcement notice following failure to comply with a conditional licence (under section 25 of the Forestry Act, the minister may choose to refer the appeal to a regional committee).

Illegal felling, restocking notice (under section 17b of the Forestry Act, the minister may choose to refer the appeal to a regional committee). Illegal felling Enforcement Notice (under section 17b of the Forestry Act, the minister may choose to refer the appeal to a regional committee):

  • first stage - the appropriate forestry minister

Environmental impact assessment, a member of the public wishes to appeal against the Forestry Commission’s consent:

  • first stage - the High Court in England

If you’ve lodged an appeal with us and are not satisfied with the way that we have dealt with it, you have the right to make a complaint about the way we have handled your case. As the appeals process is treated as routine business any complaint at this stage will be regarded as a complaint at stage 3.

Exceptional circumstances

Exceptional circumstances can only be applied to an appeal where a penalty is being applied to:

  • a capital grant (such as Woodland Creation Grant or Woodland Improvement Grant) as a result of either a late or an incorrect submission
  • an annual claim (Woodland Management Grant or Farm Woodland Premium or Payment Grant) due to late submission

Exceptional circumstances that might be relevant in these circumstances may include:

  • unforeseen death of the main applicant
  • prolonged unforeseen period of incapacity (not usually a planned, extended period in hospital)
  • unforeseen circumstances resulting in loss of management documentation such as a house or office fire or flood, for example.

If you wish to appeal against our decision to impose a penalty in the above circumstances, you must fully explain how your ability to submit a claim (within the required timescale) was affected. You must provide any supporting evidence.

Appointed Persons process

If you have an agreement approved under the Farm Woodland Premium Scheme (FWPS), you have the right to appeal a decision by the Forestry Commission to the appropriate minister through the Appointed Persons process. However, an agreement made under section 78 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 has transferred almost all of the minister’s responsibilities to the Forestry Commissioners.

This process is administered by Richard Barker in the Director’s office at the Forestry Commission. To request the Appointed Persons process contact Richard Barker: richard.barker@forestry.gsi.gov.uk

Forestry Commission

620 Bristol Business Park
Coldharbour Lane

Bristol
BS16 1EJ

We will advise whether your request for an appeal is deemed appropriate or not. There will be some circumstances where the Appointed Person appeal process would be inappropriate – such as the imposition of a penalty on a claim where, due to EU regulations, it would be impossible for us to take any other decision.

The cost of this Appointed Person is met by the Forestry Commission, but the person making the appeal must meet their own costs.

The independent Appointed Person will consider all of the details of the case and provide a report to the Forestry Commission for its consideration. The Forestry Commission will then take this into account when the decision on the case is retaken. The Forestry Commission is not bound to accept any of the recommendations of the Appointed Person, especially where a regulation prevents it from making any decision other the one it has already taken.

Independent appeal process for Woodland Grant Schemes

A disagreement about whether you’ve met the requirements of a Woodland Grant Scheme agreement falls within the scope of the ‘Disputes’ clause within the grant scheme terms and conditions. You should look at the clause in your agreement, but in most cases you or we may ask for the matter to be decided by an arbitrator. An arbitrator is chosen from a panel of arbitrators agreed jointly by us and the Institute of Chartered Foresters.

The cost of this process is shared equally between the parties. Any notice under the disputes clause should be sent to the National Office:

Forestry Commission

620 Bristol Business Park
Coldharbour Lane

Bristol
BS16 1EJ

Complaints about the Plant Health Service

Level 1 - regional manager

If you have a complaint about our Plant Health Service, please first contact your Plant Health Regional Manager, who might be able to resolve it immediately. In their absence, contact the Plant Health Operations Manager. We aim to deal with complaints within 10 working days of receipt.

Level 2 - head of service

If you are not satisfied with the level 1 response to your complaint you should contact:

Head of the Plant Health Service
Forestry Commission
Silvan House
231 Corstorphine Road
Edinburgh EH12 7AT

T: 0300 067 5155

E: plant.health@forestry.gsi.gov.uk

Level 3 - England and Scotland

We will do everything we can to deal with your complaint to your full satisfaction. However, if you are not satisfied with the level 2 response from the head of our Plant Health Service and your business is in England or Scotland (see below for the procedure in Wales), you may contact:

Head of Tree Health & Contingency Planning

Forestry Commission

620 Bristol Business Park
Coldharbour Lane

Bristol
BS16 1EJ

They will discuss your complaint with the Forestry Commission Director for England or the Head of Forestry Commission Scotland, as appropriate, before responding.

Level 3 - Wales

The Plant Health Service provides a service in Wales by arrangement with the Welsh Government. If your business is based in Wales and you are not satisfied with the level-2 response from the Head of our Plant Health Service, contact:

Deputy Head of Land, Nature and Forestry
Welsh Government
Cathays Park
Cardiff
CF10 3NQ

T: 0300 025 3650

E: plant.health@gov.wales

Level 4: Referral to the Ombudsman

We aim to resolve all complaints within the organization. However, should you remain dissatisfied after using our complaints system you may refer the matter to the appropriate Ombudsman. You may do this either indirectly through your local Member of Parliament (MP) in England, Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) in Scotland, or Member of the Welsh Assembly (MWA) in Wales, or directly to the relevant Ombudsman below.

England

Parliamentary & Health Service Ombudsman
Millbank Tower
Millbank
London
SW1P 4QP

T: 0345 015 4033

E: phso.enquiries@ombudsman.org.uk

Scotland

Scottish Public Services Ombudsman
4 Melville Street
Edinburgh
EH3 7NS

T: 0800 377 7330

E: ask@spso.org.uk

Wales

Welsh Public Services Ombudsman
1 Ffordd yr Hen Gae
Pencoed
CF3 5LJ

T: 0300 790 0203

E: ask@ombudsman-wales.org.uk

Plant Health Service aims, functions and standards of service

The Forestry Commission’s Plant Health Service is one of several government organizations charged with protecting the UK’s plants from pests and disease. The others are Defra (supported by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA)) and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They work with international bodies to agree plant health regulations and co-ordinate their implementation.

Operational responsibilities in regulated forestry material are held by:

  • The Forestry Commission’s Plant Health Service – for wood, wood products and bark in England, Scotland and Wales
  • APHA – for forest tree plants and seed intended for planting in England and Wales
  • The Scottish Government – for forest tree plants and seed intended for planting in Scotland.

Aims and functions

We aim to protect Britain’s trees and forests against quarantine pests and diseases, and to do so in a way which minimizes burdens and restrictions on trade. To achieve these we:

  • enforce rules for the importation of forest material (wood, wood products and bark)
  • comply with government principles of better regulation, and
  • work closely with stakeholders to find effective and proportionate ways of dealing with threats.

By doing this we contribute to the Forestry Commission’s mission of ‘protecting and expanding Britain’s forests and woodlands and increasing their value to society and the environment’.

We provide advice on import regulations applying to wood, wood products and bark, and we issue export phyto-sanitary (plant health) certificates to meet the import requirements of countries outside the EU.

We charge fees for certain services, including fees for issuing export certificates and inspecting imports of regulated wood, wood products and bark.

We maintain close links with the forestry and timber-processing sectors, and work to develop solutions to meet new or changing needs in the marketplace.

Our commitment to you

Our plant health inspectors will always carry official authorization cards as identification, and make themselves known to you by name in written and oral correspondence.

When examining your premises, goods or records, and recording your details, we will keep your business affairs confidential unless you agree otherwise.

We will try to carry out our work with minimum disruption to you and your business. When asking for your co-operation, we will help to make a clear distinction between statutory requirements and advice on good practice.

We will provide information to help keep you informed of changes in the relevant legislation, outbreaks of infestations and other plant health matters. We do this through free newsletters, which are issued regularly to registered forestry traders and published on line for other interested parties.

We operate to precautionary principles, and in some situations immediate action may be required to prevent the spread or introduction of quarantine forestry pests or diseases. We will do our utmost to ensure that any disruption to your business in these situations is kept to a minimum.

Standards

We aim to:

  • answer all telephone enquiries promptly. If the first person you speak to (other than the operator) cannot deal with your query, you will be passed to someone who can. If there is no one immediately available to answer your query, we will do our best to respond within one working day

  • answer all written correspondence (including emails and faxes) within three working days of receipt. If this proves impossible we will let you know why, and tell you when we expect to be able to give you a full reply. For email correspondence, if the person to whom you sent it is away you will get an ‘out of office’ auto-reply telling you when they will be back and offering an alternative contact

  • inspect regulated consignments from non-EU countries, whether shipped in bulk or containerized, on the day of notification by you or your agent, provided that it is ready and safe for examination, or on the next working day. If this proves impossible we will let you know why, and what we are doing to resolve it

  • issue a Certificate of Clearance for those consignments meeting statutory import requirements within four working hours of the end of an inspection, comprising documentary, identity and physical checks. If this proves impossible we will let you know why, and what we are doing to resolve it

  • provide an inspection service from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, unless local variations apply. We will also provide a service outside these hours when you request it in advance, and the plant health inspector who will carry out the examination has agreed to do so. Note that some inspections can only be conducted properly in daylight.

Consultation

We comply with the Cabinet Office Code of Practice on consultation on the development and implementation of new regulations.

How you can help

You must:

  • contact us immediately if you think you have found evidence of a quarantine plant pest or disease (as listed in Schedule 1 of the Plant Health (Forestry) Order 2005, as amended, on your premises. This is a statutory requirement

  • keep full and accurate records of your trade in regulated forest material with other countries, including EU and non-EU countries

  • give our plant health inspectors advance notice if you intend to land controlled wood, wood products and bark. For air cargo this is a minimum of four working hours, and in any other case, three working days. Notification of landing is a statutory requirement: failure to comply may result in a fine, and will almost certainly result in a delay in clearing your consignment

  • complete a Notice of Landing and pass it to an inspector

  • ensure that the shipments of controlled wood, wood products and bark have had the correct treatment and are accompanied by the correct documents before being landed or moved in Great Britain. The requirements are set out in the Plant Health (Forestry) Order 2005, as amended, and in the Plant Health Guide for Importers of Wood, Wood Products and Bark Originating in Countries outside the European Union

  • get to know the plant health rules which apply to you. If you are unsure what they are, ask your local plant health regional manager or contact the Plant Health Service.

If you have any suggestions as to how we could improve our service, contact either your Plant Health Regional Manager or send your suggestion to plant.health@forestry.gsi.gov.uk.

Value for Money

We are committed to carrying out our duties in an efficient manner so that the cost of meeting statutory requirements and carrying out good practice is kept to a minimum.

Where we charge for work you can find out the likely cost to your business before the work is carried out.