E.3 ACFID Code of Conduct Complaints Handling

The ACFID Code of Conduct offers a mechanism to address concerns relating to signatory organisations’ conduct.  

The current complaints handling process has 2 tiers:

  • complaints handling by signatory organisations themselves; and
  • escalation of the complaint to the Code of Conduct Committee.

This complaint-handling process is essential to the external credibility of any self-regulatory code of practice.  The ACFID Code of Conduct Committee is the independent body charged with overseeing the Code.   

Section E.3 provides guidance as to how the Code of Conduct Committee will approach different aspects of the complaints process. Section E.3 includes one Standard outlining its Principle and Obligations. Standard E.3.1 outlines the complaints handling process and how signatory organisations will be bound by it setting out the steps in the process. Note that these are not court processes and no party has the right to make oral submissions, to a hearing or to legal representation nor do the rules of evidence apply.

Here is some guidance as to how the Code of Conduct Committee will approach different aspects of the complaints process:

Awareness and accessibility for stakeholders

The Code’s credibility requires that stakeholders in Australian and other countries are aware of and able to readily access the complaints process.

  1. ACFID will make the points of access to the complaints process prominent on the ACFID website and publicise it prominently in materials for public information (e.g. Annual Report, brochures).
  2. ACFID will make every reasonable effort to ensure that translation services are available for those of non-English speaking backgrounds who wish to lodge complaints.
  3. ACFID will ensure that the complaints process is conducted with a minimum of formality and technicality.

Scope of complaints process

The Code of Conduct Committee will only consider complaints relating to breaches of the ACFID Code of Conduct and only where the Code Complaints process is the most appropriate way to handle the matter.

  1. Anonymous complaints will not be accepted by the Code of Conduct Committee.
  2. In general, the Code of Conduct Committee will only accept complaints in writing where the complainant is willing for the signatory organisation to be aware of their identity.  The identity and other information relating to the complainant may be kept confidential in exceptional circumstances where the complainant identifies themselves as being at risk if their identity is revealed.
  3. The Code of Conduct Committee will refer a complaint to the internal complaints handling process of the signatory organisation against which the complaint has been made.  Where it is not appropriate to refer the complainant to internal complaints handling process, the Code of Conduct Committee may take the complaint as an own Inquiry,
  4. Where there are more appropriate avenues for dealing with a complaint, (e.g. complaints relating to alleged breaches of Australian law, such as: employment of staff, third party providers, taxation, charities legislation in each state) the complaint will not be investigated by the Code of Conduct Committee.
  5. Wherever the Code of Conduct Committee chooses not to investigate a matter, the complainant will be promptly notified and where appropriate, provided with some advice as to what alternative avenues for dealing with the complaint may be open to the complainant. 
  6. The Code of Conduct Committee may initiate its own Inquiry into an issue which may have sector wide significance, which may lead to a complaint against a signatory organisation or when a complainant has a genuine cause to believe they may be at risk from raising a complaint themselves through a signatory organisation’s own complaints handling process. An Inquiry can also be forwarded to the Committee by ACFID’s Executive Committee or the CEO or Chairperson of a signatory organisation.
  7. The Code of Conduct Committee may continue to investigate a complaint against a signatory organisation that resigns as a signatory organisation during the complaints handling process.

Independence of process and decision-makers

The Code of Conduct complaints process will be conducted independently of ACFID governance bodies and signatory organisations.

  1. ACIFD’s Code of Conduct Committee will be constituted independently of the ACFID Council and Executive and the Committee investigations and deliberations will be conducted separately and confidentially.
  2. Members of the Code of Conduct Committee will avoid any conflict of interest arising in the course of their consideration of any complaint and will advise the Chair at the earliest practical opportunity if any potential conflict of interest arises.  If the potential conflict involves the Chair, she or he will advise the members of the Committee and if necessary, the Deputy Chair will oversee the handling of the particular complaint.
  3. ACFID will ensure that adequate insurances are in place to avoid personal liability by ACFID office-bearers, committee members and their agents.

Fairness

The ACFID Code of Conduct complaints process will be fair and have regard to the principles of natural justice.

  1. The Code of Conduct Committee will be responsible for the management of the complaint in a fair way including the choice of those involved in the investigation, the information gathered and the extent of the investigation.
  2. The ACFID Executive Committee will appoint independent Appeals Officers (nominated by the Code of Conduct Committee) for terms of three years, who will be responsible for hearing appeals against the outcome of a complaint.
  3. At any time during the Complaint Process, the Chair may consult with people with particular skill or expertise to provide advice as needed on the complaint being investigated.
  4. The complaints process will permit all parties reasonable opportunity to provide any information they believe will assist the investigation and parties will be given an opportunity to respond to information provided by the other party. 
  5. The Code of Conduct Committee will keep the parties informed as to progress of the investigation and any consideration of the matter.
  6. Once the investigation report has been presented to the Code of Conduct Committee, the discussion of the merits of the matter will be confined to Code of Conduct Committee members (excluding any person directly involved in the investigation).  The decision of the Code of Conduct Committee will be by majority vote.
  7. If either of the parties is not satisfied with the outcome of a Code of Conduct Committee investigation, they may lodge an appeal with the Code of Conduct Appeals Officers. Appeals may only be submitted in cases where ACFID itself was the complainant in the first instance or where the Code of Conduct Committee had initiated its own inquiry.  If a conflict arises with respect to an Appeals Officer, another Appeals Officer may be temporarily appointed for the particular complaint.  Once the Appeals Officer has made a decision, there are no further avenues of appeal.

Transparency of process

Transparent and open complaints processes help to promote confidence in the Code of Conduct and its self-regulatory effectiveness.

  1. The ACFID Code of Conduct Committee complaints handling process will be published on its website.
  2. Once the complaint process has been completed, complainants and signatory organisations will be entitled to an explanation of the reasons for the decision. 

Confidentiality for the parties

The Code of Conduct Committee complaints process will respect the privacy and confidentiality to which the parties are entitled under the Privacy Act.

  1. At all stages of the complaints process, the complaint will be treated as strictly confidential unless and until the complaint has been determined to be a notifiable breach by the Code of Conduct Committee and the appeal process has been exhausted.
  2. The investigation of complaints will take into account the following key principles from the Privacy Act:
    • Information will only be collected in so far as it is necessary and lawful;
    • Information will only be used for the purposes for which it is collected unless consent is obtained from the signatory organisation under investigation; and
    • Information will only be disclosed with the agreement of the signatory organisation under investigation or where necessary to enforce the provisions of the ACFID Code of Conduct.
  3. At any stage of the process, the Code of Conduct Committee may advise the ACFID Executive Director and/or President or make public any issues arising from a complaint that they believe may have sector wide significance.
  4. Where the Code of Conduct Committee advises the Executive Director of issues arising from a complaint, individual signatory organisations will not be identified, unless the Committee has already made a decision to name the signatory organisation.  (See E.3.1 Complaints Process - F Determination by Code of Conduct Committee below.

Corrective Action

The primary focus for the Code of Conduct Committee where signatory organisations have breached the Code will be working with affected signatory organisations to improve standards and reduce the risk of recurrence:

Where the breach is more serious, or the signatory organisation has not responded appropriately, the Code of Conduct Committee may consider disciplinary action.

The Code of Conduct Committee’s response to a breach will include:

  1. Where a breach has occurred, the Code of Conduct Committee will attempt to settle a course of corrective and remedial action with the signatory organisation (including through mediation or conciliation).
  2. Consistent with this principle, the Code of Conduct Committee will work with the signatory organisation to ensure that it has put in place remedial measures to minimise the risk of the breach recurring.  If necessary, the Code of Conduct Committee may require the signatory organisation to put in place those measures, and may require the signatory organisation to provide monitoring reports as to progress of implementation.
  3. If the complainant has suffered a loss as a result of a breach, the Code of Conduct Committee will look to be satisfied that the signatory organisation has provided appropriate redress.  In the first instance, this will be by negotiation, however if necessary, the Code of Conduct Committee may require the signatory organisation to provide appropriate redress.
  4. In the interests of transparency, accountability and long-term public confidence in the sector, and as appropriate to the breach that has occurred, the Code of Conduct Committee may require the signatory organisation to provide information to some or all of its donors, on its website or in its Annual Report.
  5. Where considered necessary, the Code of Conduct Committee may choose to notify the facts of the breach to the ACFID Executive Committee or itself make public (through media release and/or the ACFID website or Annual Report) the relevant facts of the breach and/or the name of the signatory organisation.
  6. Where the signatory organisation is accredited with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade(DFAT), the Code of Conduct Committee may notify DFAT of the breach.
  7. Where the breach is sufficiently serious and/or the Signatory Organisation’s response has been inadequate, the Code of Conduct Committee may suspend (for up to one year) or revoke the signatory organisation’s status as a signatory to the ACFID Code of Conduct.  Where a decision to suspend or revoke is taken, the signatory organisation will be provided with written advice of the decision and the terms of the disciplinary action.
  8. A signatory organisation that has had its status revoked must re-apply to become a signatory, if it so wishes, not earlier than one year after the revocation.

Efficiency

It is in the interests of all stakeholders that the Code of Conduct complaints process is handled as efficiently as practicable - both in relation to time and cost.

  1. The Code of Conduct Committee complaints processes will provide the parties with reasonable expectation of milestones for completion of each stage – noting that the time required may differ for each investigation.
  2. The Code of Conduct Committee will be responsible for monitoring adherence to timelines and putting in place remedial action when necessary.

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E.3.1 Agreement to the process

Principle

Signatory organisations agree to be bound by the independent, accessible, fair and confidential ACFID Code complaints handling process.

Obligations

  1. Signatory organisations will comply with the complaints handling process as set out in the Guidance. This forms part of the binding obligations of this Code.
  2. Signatory organisations will comply with Code of Conduct Committee requests for information within all reasonable time limits set.
  3. If there is a breach of the Code, signatory organisations will comply with the corrective or disciplinary action agreed with the Code of Conduct Committee, as described in the Guidance and which forms a binding part of the Obligations of this Code.
  4. If a breach has occurred, the signatory organisation will comply with the Code of Conduct Committee requirements that it will put in place measures to minimise the risk of the breach recurring.

Why

Signatory organisations are expected to be good citizens of the Code community and ensure that they are compliant, engaging with and responding to ACFID and the Code of Conduct Committee, to promote the Code on their website and to notify breaches - both their own and other signatory organisations. 

Values

This standard reflects the Code of Conduct’s commitment to:

  • Accountability to stakeholders for performance and integrity
  • Honesty and transparency.

Practical guidance

Outlined in the following section is the procedure for having a complaint addressed by the Code of Conduct Committee.  According to the following definitions:

  • The ‘Complainant’ is the person or organisation making the complaint.
  • The ‘Signatory Organisation’ is the organisation against which the complaint is made.
  • The ‘Chair’ means the current Chair of the Code of Conduct Committee.
  • The ‘Investigating Officer’ means a member of the Code of Conduct Committee appointed to conduct an investigation into a complaint.
  • The ‘Appeals Officer/s’ is an independent decision-maker appointed by the ACFID Executive Committee to consider appeals by either of the parties against determinations of the Code of Conduct Committee.
  • The ‘ACFID Executive Director’ is the chief executive, a person appointed by and accountable to the ACFID Executive Committee.

ACFID Complaints Handling Process

A description and flow chart of the Code of Conduct complaints process is set out below.

A. Making a complaint

Complaints should first be raised with the relevant signatory organisation. If the complainant is not satisfied with the response then they can lodge a complaint with Code of Conduct Committee as outlined below.

Complaints against a signatory organisation under the ACFID Code of Conduct should: 

  1. Be in writing (or in a form as approved by the Code of Conduct Committee)
  2. Include the name and contact details of the complainant
  3. Set out the basis of the complaint
  4. Include all available supporting evidence

Complainants will be contacted and asked to provide any information not submitted.

Any complaints received that cannot meet the above criteria may be dismissed.

Where a complainant has genuine cause to believe that they may be at risk from having their identity revealed to the signatory organisation, they may request that the Code of Conduct Committee maintain confidentiality of their identity and relevant details of the complaint information.  In such cases, the Code of Conduct Committee may take on the complaint on behalf of the complainant (ie. as an own inquiry).

Complaints should be marked ‘confidential’ and addressed to:

                 Chair

                 ACFID Code of Conduct Committee

                 C/-- ACFID

                 Private Bag 3

                 Deakin ACT 2600 

B. Initial response

A written acknowledgement will be sent to the Complainant within five working days of the receipt of the complaint.

C. Chair review of complaint

The Chair (in consultation with at least one member of the Code of Conduct Committee) conducts an initial review of the complaint within 15 working days of the receipt of the complaint and makes a decision on whether:

  1. Where appropriate, to refer the complainant to the signatory organisation’s internal complaints handling process;

Where necessary, may request additional information;

  1. Where appropriate, take steps to conciliate or mediate the matter;
  2. To dismiss the complaint - and send the decision to the Code of Conduct Committee for ratification;
  3. To refer the complainant to a more appropriate body - and send the decision to the Code of Conduct Committee for ratification; or
  4. To appoint an Investigating Officer to review the complaint further.
D. Investigating officer review of complaint

The Chair will appoint a member of the Code of Conduct Committee as an Investigating Officer. If necessary, an Investigation Team may be appointed who will normally have specialist expertise related to the nature of the complaint. The Chair is responsible for ensuring that no material conflict of interest exists amongst any of the Investigation Team.

The signatory organisation is informed in writing of the complaint, provided with a copy of the complaint material and invited to respond in writing (normally within 15 working days). The Complainant is informed in writing of the decision to investigate further and the expected timeframes. The Complainant will be notified in writing of any changes to the expected timeframes.

The Investigating Officer (or Team) will review the complaint and any response submitted by the Signatory Organisation if it is provided within the required timeframes. The Investigating Officer (or Team) may, at their discretion, seek additional information as required from the Signatory Organisation, the Complainant or such external experts as considered necessary. The Investigating Officer may, at their discretion, attempt to conciliate between the parties, or suggest independent conciliation or mediation. 

The Investigation Officer is not limited in their investigation to those issues nominated by the Complainant and may form their own view of any breaches that may have arisen from the circumstances of the complaint. The Investigation officer is not bound by the Rules of Evidence.

These are not court processes and the parties are not entitled to a hearing, to make oral submissions or to be legally represented.

E. Report

The Investigating Officer (or Team) will prepare a draft report of the facts and issues of the complaint. Prior to finalisation of the report, a copy of the draft report (without the recommendations) will be provided to the Signatory Organisation and the Complainant with five working days to correct any matters of fact. 

The Investigating Officer (or Team) will consider any response to the draft report made by the Signatory Organisations and/or the Complainant provided that it is submitted within the required timeframe.  At their own discretion, the Investigating Officer (or Team) will finalise the report and make a recommendation to either:

  • Dismiss the complaint
  • Refer the Complainant to a more appropriate body
  • Find the Signatory Organisation in breach of the Code.

The final report of the Investigating Officer (or Team) and the initial response of the Signatory Organisation and/or the Complainant to the draft is submitted to the Code of Conduct Committee for a final determination.

F. Determination by Code of Conduct Committee

The Code of Conduct Committee considers the complaint received, the report of the Investigating Officer (or Team), any response by the Signatory Organisation or Complainant and any other complaint related information considered relevant.  Once the report and recommendations are presented to the Committee, the discussion of the merits of the matter will be confined to Code of Conduct Committee members (excluding any person directly involved in the investigation). 

A determination is made (by simple majority of those present and eligible to vote) as to whether there has been a breach of the Code.

Where no breach is found, the complaint will be closed and the Complainant and the Signatory Organisation will be informed of final determination in writing (receipt will be confirmed by phone).

Where a breach is confirmed, the Code of Conduct Committee will consider the appropriate corrective and remedial action that will be taken.  The Code of Conduct Committee will take all reasonable efforts to work with the signatory organisation (including mediation or conciliation if required) to settle the appropriate corrective and remedial action with the Signatory Organisation. 

Where agreement with the Signatory Organisation is not reached within a reasonable time, the Code of Conduct Committee will make a determination as to the appropriate action and require the Signatory Organisation to comply. 

Subject to the circumstances and seriousness of the complaint, action required of the Signatory Organisation may include:

  1. Redress for the complainant;
  2. Action to ensure no repeat of the breach and/or implementation monitoring;
  3. Provision of information to some or all donors or stakeholders via the Signatory Organisation’s website or Annual Report.

Subject to the circumstances and seriousness of the complaint, action by the Code of Conduct Committee may include:

  1. Notification of the breach (as appropriate to the ACFID Excom and DFAT ) in relation to accredited agencies only;
  2. Publication of the breach (via media release, the ACFID website or Annual Report);
  3. Suspension or revocation of the status of the Signatory Organisation as a signatory to the Code of Conduct.

Once a determination has been made, a letter will be sent to the signatory organisation outlining the Committees decision and any required action by the Signatory Organisation will be formally notified.

G. Appeal Process

Appeals may only be submitted in cases where:

  • ACFID itself was the complainant in the first instance
  • The Code of Conduct Committee had initiated its own inquiry.

As noted in section E.3 Scope of Complaints Process the CCC may initiate its own inquiry:

  • In response to an issue of sector-wide significance
  • has a genuine cause to believe they may be at risk from raising a complaint themselves through a signatory organisation’s own complaints handling process.     

Appeals may be submitted by Complainants or signatory organisation on the form provided by the Code of Conduct Committee. Appeals may be made on any grounds and may relate to the whole or part of a determination, which must be specified.

Appeals against a determination of the Code of Conduct Committee must be:

  1. In writing and marked confidential
  2. Sent to the ACFID Code of Conduct Committee Appeals Officer
  3. Received within 30 working days of the notification of the determination by the Code of Conduct Committee
  4. Include the grounds on which the appeal is made 

The appeal will be dealt with by one of the ACFID Code of Conduct Committee Appeals Officer/s (who will not have been involved in the matter previously).  

On acceptance of the appeal, the Appeals Officer will advise the other party of the lodgement of an appeal and provide copies of the material submitted in support of the appeal.  The other party will be offered the opportunity to make submission on the appeal (normally within 15 working days).

The Appeals Officer will examine the complaint documentation along with any material submitted with the appeal or in response.  The Appeals Officer will consider the appeal, prepare a draft report and within 15 working days of the receipt of the submission from the other party provide a copy of the draft report to the Chair for the opportunity to correct any matters of fact.  Once this comment has been considered, the Appeals Officer may:

  1. Uphold the determination of the Code of Conduct Committee in whole or in part;
  2. Overturn the determination of the Code of Conduct Committee in whole or in part;
  3. Make a new determination in relation to the Complaint; and
  4. Where there has been a breach, exercise the powers of the Code of Conduct Committee

The Signatory Organisation, Complainant and Code of Conduct Committee will be informed of the determination of the Appeals Officer in writing.  The determination by the Appeals Officer is final. 

Cross-references to other standards

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