When is a complaint not a complaint


When is a complaint not a complaint?
Most of the complaints you hear about in the news or this newsletter will be the 5% of complaints where there are serious breaches of the Act or rules. The majority of complaints you don’t hear about will have been resolved by our Early Resolution team. The Early Resolution team also helps resolve hundreds of potential complaints every year before they become formal written complaints.  

REAA encourages early resolution of complaints wherever possible. We get actively involved in referring complaint enquiries to agencies so agencies have the opportunity to resolve issues with the consumer, reducing the likelihood that any issues escalate to a formal complaint. Alternative dispute options are always pursued only with the agreement of the complainant. Complaints that raise serious concerns about a licensee’s conduct will not be referred to an agency for resolution. 

How we deal with complaint enquiries
Since 1 January 2017, the Early Resolution team has handled 672 phone calls (at the time of writing) about potential complaints. In those phone calls we:
  • clarify the complainant’s perspective on what happened
  • explain the complaint process, including that the first suggested step is to make a complaint to the agency
  • explain what the Act/rules or case law says and give guidance on what the complainant can realistically expect licensees to do
  • if appropriate, assist the complainant to register their complaint with the agency.
Of those 672 phone calls, about 16% resulted in a formal written complaint at some point.

We’re increasingly getting involved in helping consumers get their complaint to the right person in the agency. This might involve providing contact details for the manager or eligible officer of the agency or contacting the manager directly to pass on complaint details. If you receive a call from us about a potential complaint, this is a great opportunity for you and your team to listen to the complainant’s concerns and consider what type of resolution could be reached. 

Since the beginning of the year, of the 63 complaint enquiries where we’ve contacted the manager to pass on complaint details, only one enquiry has come back as a formal complaint. This is really encouraging and shows the commitment the vast majority of licensees have to working with the complainant towards a successful resolution.

What types of complaint enquiries tend to be resolved without formal complaints?
The key issues that we see being resolved after we refer issues back to agencies are:
  • customer service/professionalism 
  • communication (tone, tardiness, language used)
  • providing misleading (or misunderstood) verbal information about a property
  • concerns with a sale process (for example, what happened during a multi-offer situation). 
Of the complaint enquiries that come back as complaints, many involve the following issues:
  • Non-disclosure – these may be complaints where there is no evidence of or a question around the licensee knowing about the problem.
  • Misleading statements or misleading advertising.
What should I do if the Early Resolution team refers a complaint to me?
We commonly hear feedback from consumers about their experience in making a complaint to an agency. What they tell us is that you can make their experience better by:
  • contacting the consumer as soon as you can to talk through the issues they have raised – what they are saying is important to them 
  • explaining your agency’s complaint process
  • being realistic about timeframes and following up when you say you will.
For more tips about complaint handling, see the Early Resolution team’s article Five steps to resolving complaints.

If you can’t resolve the complaint with the consumer, set out in writing:
  • your understanding of the complaint
  • the process you’ve followed to try to resolve the complaint
  • the agency’s view.
Our complaint form asks consumers to include a copy of any response they’ve received from the agency, and most consumers do include agency responses with their complaint. The Early Resolution team finds a clear response from the agency is very helpful when deciding what approach to take with formal complaints. 

Referring consumers to REAA
If you’re not able to resolve a complaint with a consumer, please encourage them to call us to talk through the issue instead of simply sending us a complaint. Currently, only 41% of formal complaints come from consumers who spoke to us about their complaint first. The other 59% have come from consumers who didn’t speak to us first and may not be fully aware of who we are and what we can do. The more consumers we can speak to before they make a complaint, the better informed they are about what behaviour they can expect from licensees, the complaint process, the potential outcomes and advice on alternative ways of getting their issue resolved. 

If your agency needs assistance with resolving a complaint, our Early Resolution team is here to help. You can call our team of seven accredited mediators on 0800 367 7322, or contact the Early Resolution team leader, Sarah Ramsay, on 04 471 8940 or sarah.ramsay@reaa.govt.nz​