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HMRC internal manual

Inheritance Tax Manual

Communications: Handling of complaints/compliments: handling a complaint

If a mistake has been made, or if there have been unreasonable delays in handling a case you should

  • admit it and
  • apologise

Approach a complaint in a positive way. You are more likely to settle it at an early stage and avoid it escalating into something more serious later on. This helps the customer, the Department and it makes you feel good!

Even if you believe the complaint is unjustified or we cannot do what the complainant has asked (for example, give an extra statutory relief), you should show that you understand what has caused them to complain. A simple way to do this is to restate the person’s complaint in your own words.

Here are a few do’s and don’ts when dealing with a complaint:


  • obtain full details of the complaint - listen carefully - allow them to ‘let off steam’ and clarify where necessary
  • explain what has gone wrong and why
  • ask your manager for help, if necessary
  • apologise if appropriate and show concern - make sure your language is positive and use plain English wherever possible
  • put things right as quickly as possible and explain what you are going to do. If this can’t be done straight away promise follow up action and make sure you carry out whatever you have promised to do
  • put yourself in customer’s shoes - acknowledge their distress
  • stay calm especially if they are particularly upset
  • treat the customer with respect and be sensitive to their needs
  • be fair and open-minded
  • keep notes of any telephone calls
  • learn from the mistake to avoid the same thing happening again


  • take the complaint personally - the customer is upset with the Department and not you
  • blame colleagues or the Department, pressure of work is not a satisfactory explanation and you should not use it
  • be pressured into doing or saying something you should not
  • enter into an argument or react if customer is rude or abusive

There are different types of redress which we can make. We can

  • apologise
  • put matters right
  • improve procedures
  • educate staff
  • reimburse costs (IHTM02247)
  • pay for worry and distress (IHTM02247) or poor complaints handling
  • remit interest (IHTM02247)

Action to put a matter right (or to try to put a matter right) may include financial redress,interest remission or payments for worry and distress. Remember that any case where these are claimed (with the exception of interest remission) or you think that they may be appropriate should be referred to the Customer Service Team in Ferrers House.

Complaints are an opportunity for learning. They may help us to learn

  • about what we should do to improve our service, or
  • that we need to improve our communication with other organisations on whom we depend, or
  • that we need to educate our customers about our requirements and standards of service

If you think a complaint has given rise to an opportunity to improve or has a lesson we can learn from, let your manager or the Customer Service Team in Ferrers House know.

There are two manuals which cover in greater detail aspects of complaints/compliments handling. These are the Customer Handling Guidance and the Redress Handbook

Remember all formal complaints should be acknowledged within 5 working days, dealt within 15 working days and recorded on the ECCS database (IHTM02253)

Finally remember to mark file covers with ‘Complaint’ and make a note on COMPASS that a complaint has been received on a case