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Complaint Handling Guidelines

The City of Toronto aims to deliver exceptional, equitable, and accessible customer service. If customers are dissatisfied with the service they receive, the City wants to make it easy for them to make a complaint. Once a complaint has been made, customers should know what to expect. Corporate complaints handling guidelines outline how the City of Toronto will manage complaints efficiently, fairly, effectively and uniformly across all City divisions.

Customer service complaint protocols by City division

All City divisions have established customer service complaint protocols based on corporate complaint handling guidelines. This page contains direct links to each divisional customer complaints protocol.

A Charter of Expectations promotes standards among the Toronto Public Service and informs Toronto citizens about what they can expect from public employees. Customer service standards and complaint handling protocols further expand on those expectations.

Complaint handling procedure

A complaint process involves the following steps:

Customer intiates contact

A complaint may be made in a number of ways:

  • Verbal complaints are made in person or by telephone
  • Written complaints may be filed by hand delivery, mail, fax or e-mail

A form should be made available to help complainants make their written complaints, and should include the following components:

  • Contact details of the complainant
  • Summary of the complaint (Details, location, staff involved, resolution requested, enclosures, date complaint submitted)
  • Type of the complaint 

Desired outcome Statutory time limits for complaint resolution should be stated. All complaints should be filed as soon as possible to ensure that the individuals involved in the complaint are better able to properly address any concerns. 

Informal resolution

Complaints should be resolved informally if possible. In many cases, a
complainant will simply want to vent their frustrations to someone who
will listen attentively. If City staff employ common courtesy, it is
likely that most complaints will be resolved before formal action is
necessary. For cases where informal resolution is successful, complaint
logging is not required.


Information about all complaints is recorded and tracked from initial receipt through the entire process until the complaint is resolved.

Recording complaint details ensures that if the complaint has to be escalated or referred to other business areas, staff will have all relevant information at hand to resolve the complaint. Additionally, staff can extract informative data for service planning, monitoring, controlling and decision making. All complaints should be logged using a complaint logging form (templates to follow).

The complainant should be provided with the unique tracking number assigned to the complaint (see "Tracking Numbers", below), as well as appropriate contact information, steps that will be taken to settle the matter, and the estimated duration of investigation.

The complaint recipient should conduct an initial assessment of the complaint and determine if the contact applies to the recipient's program area or another area within the City. The complaint should be transferred to the appropriate area as necessary. In cases where more than one City division is involved in the complaint, the division which interfaces with the complainant (i.e., the division that serves the complainant directly) should maintain ownership of the complaint.

Tracking Numbers

A newly logged complaint should be assigned a unique tracking number to be logged into a shared database that is accessible to the entire division. Tracking numbers should begin with three letters to distinguish the complaint's division of origin (e.g., SWT00001 for Solid Waste Toronto). Adding letters to the tracking number ensures that if the complaint needs to be transferred to another division there will be no duplicate tracking numbers.

The vision for the future is to have all complaints logged on a City-wide shared database in which tracking numbers will be generated automatically. Under such a system, it will not be necessary to re-log a complaint after transfer as currently indicated in Figure 1. Until that time, tracking numbers should be generated manually and should begin with a set of letters unique to the division of origin.


Once it has been determined that the complaint is with the correct division, complaint owners are responsible for receiving, recording, and ensuring the resolution of complaints as quickly as possible. The complaint owner should gather the relevant information and identify appropriate action. The complaint owner should:

Confirm the complaint is not an enquiry, feedback, a suggestion, or a comment; Check to see if there are any previous complaints from this complainant or about the issue(s) concerned; If necessary, contact the complainant to clarify the complaint and capture any missing required details; Categorize and prioritize the complaint; and Ensure complaint information is complete for the investigation.

If the complaint has to be terminated (e.g., it is in fact a service request, or it is a duplicate), or if the complaint is to be marked "pending" (e.g., due to insufficient detail), the complainant should be notified.


Internal Review

The complaint owner should consult with all relevant staff to determine what has happened and identify appropriate action to resolve the complaint (if possible), and summarize findings.

If the complainant is not satisfied, staff should escalate the complaint to their immediate supervisor. The complaint can be further escalated to the service area Manager. The Manager should inform all individuals in the management chain so that the Senior Management Team is aware of the complaint and is prepared to take necessary action to resolve it. The complaint owner should remain responsible for tracking progress, keeping customers informed, and ultimately for complaint closure throughout the escalation process (templates to follow).

External Review

Internal review of complaints may not always result in resolution, and a complainant may seek external review. External review can take a number of forms:

  • External investigation agencies – There are a number of accountability/complaint bodies that receive and investigate complaints from the public and public sector agencies about the conduct of agencies (e.g., the Office of the Ombudsman at the City of Toronto).
  • Alternative dispute resolution – A professional mediator, through a formal face-to-face process of discussion, helps the parties to clarify issues and reach a solution agreeable to both sides.
  • Other appeal mechanisms – Where rights of appeal to outside tribunals or other legal remedies exist, dissatisfied complainants should be advised of these avenues of redress after all others have been exhausted.


If the proposed resolution is accepted by the complainant, the complaint is closed and the completed complaint tracking form (template to follow), along with any other relevant documentation, is filed.

Guiding principles

Accessibility – The complaints process must conform to Access for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) requirements. The public should be able to access the complaints process at any point during service delivery via various channels: phone, letter, fax or e-mail and in-person at relevant locations.

Visibility – Information about how and where to complain should be well publicized through established communication mechanisms such as the Internet, Intranet, and other means of public communications.

Responsiveness – All complaints should be acknowledged and resolved in a timely manner. Complainants should receive a notification of receipt of the complaint including time frame for resolution. Complainants should be kept informed of delays.

Confidentiality – Public complaints will be dealt with in a confidential manner according to the Municipal Freedom of the Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA). Information will be collected, used and disclosed in accordance with the Act.

Customer Focus – Staff should communicate to the public that complaints are taken very seriously and dealt with in a manner that meets and exceeds customer expectations. Complaints analysis and periodical reporting should reflect the City's commitment to understanding public needs, undertaking corrective measures to rectify problems, and improving public service delivery.

Documentation – All complaints and their outcomes must be logged to track complaint trends and make service improvements.

Communication/Training – Divisions should ensure that all staff are aware of their divisional complaint procedures through communication and/or training.

Management responsibilities

Management is responsible for using these guidelines to develop relevant systems for complaints collections, trend analysis, and reporting. Management should also identify a member of staff as a dedicated complaints officer who will be responsible for establishing systems for complaints recording, tracking, and analysis. Finally, management is responsible for monitoring and evaluating the complaints handling procedures and conducting periodic review to identify areas for improvement.


Staff will notify the complainant as necessary at the following occasions:

  • At the time the complaint is made, the complaint recipient should acknowledge the complaint and provide a tracking number.
  • If it determined that the complaint is in fact a suggestion, feedback, a service request, or a compliment, the complainant should be notified.
  • If the complaint is a duplicate, the complainant should be notified.
  • If more details are required for the complaint handling procedure to continue, the complainant should be notified and asked for the details.
  • After assessment, the complaint owner should provide the customer with:
    • Complaint owner contact information
    • Steps that will be taken to settle the matter
    • Estimated investigation duration
  • After investigation, the complainant should be notified of the outcome:
    • Written complaints should receive a written notice of decision unless otherwise requested by the complainant.
    • Verbal complaints should receive written or verbal notice at employee's/ manager’s discretion or as requested by the complainant.
    • A copy of all written notifications to the complainant should be stored and linked to the complaint log for ease of access.
  • After escalated investigation (as necessary), the complaint owner should respond to the complainant with the outcome.

Response times

Service standards should be provided for each stage of the complaint management process.

When a service area receives a high volume of customer complaints, response time targets should be prioritized based on the severity, seriousness and complexity of the complaint.

Target Response Times

Divisions should establish target response times for complaint assessment and internal investigation. Complainants should be notified after each of these stages.

Complainants should be informed of any excessive delays.

Monitoring and reporting

Regular monitoring and review of complaints should be conducted to identify complaint trends and opportunities for improvement. When information on complaints associated with a division is captured, classified and analyzed, systemic and recurring problems can be more easily identified and rectified, and opportunities for operational and customer service improvement may reveal themselves. A consistent approach by divisions will allow the City of Toronto to monitor and track its progress.

Each division will be responsible for the safekeeping and management of all complaint records (e.g., complaints log, investigation reports, written interview notes, copies of policy documents, etc.).

Complaint reporting and tracking guidelines are as follows:

1. Tracking and resolution

Each division should develop a form that records complaints data for analysis purposes (template to follow). The form should include:

  • Tracking number
  • Date complaints received
  • Name and contact information of complainant
  • Contact channel (e.g., in person, phone, etc.)
  • Complaint summary
  • Complaint type
  • Complaint owner name, division, program area, and contact information
  • Investigation notes
  • Outcome target date for resolution
  • Escalated investigation information

2. Complaints log

Each division should develop a database to record complaints data for analysis purposes. Categories should include:

  • Date complaints received
  • Unique tracking number
  • Contact channel
  • Complaint summary
  • Complaint type
  • Stage of complaint
  • Name, role, and program area of complaint recipient
  • Name, role, and program area of complaint owner
  • Summary of outcome
  • Date resolved

3. Reporting

Periodic reports should include (note: procedures and templates for reporting to follow):

  • Total number of complaints
  • Size of current complaint backlog
  • Percentage of complaints handled within agreed response times (service standards)
  • The type and number of complaints received
  • The type and volume of escalated complaints

4. Customer service improvements made using complaint data

Why have a complaint handling procedure?

An effective complaints system will benefit the City by:

  • Creating a second chance to provide service and satisfaction to dissatisfied customers, thereby identifying areas that need improvement;
  • Providing opportunities to strengthen public support; and
  • Assisting in planning and allocation of resources.

Each division has its own methods for investigating complaints. However, all investigations should be conducted in an objective and fair manner.

Proper handling of complaints helps improve customer satisfaction with the City of Toronto. Monitoring complaint trends can prevent the problems that gave rise to them from recurring. Handling and monitoring of complaints should result in greater public confidence in the City and a public service that functions more professionally and effectively. A consistent approach by divisions will allow the City of Toronto to monitor and track its progress.

What is a complaint?

A complaint is an expression of dissatisfaction related to a City of Toronto program, service, or staff member, where a customer believes that the City or its staff has not provided a service experience to the customer’s satisfaction at the point of service delivery and a response or resolution is explicitly or implicitly expected. 

For the purpose of this policy, a Complaint can be about one or more of the following categories:

  • Divisional Policy, Process, Procedures
  • Staff
  • Access to Service
  • Timeliness of Service
  • Outcome
  • Quality of Service
  • Standard of Service
  • Charges
  • Agents

A customer complaint is distinct from:

  • Enquiry – A general or specific request for service or request for information regarding a City of Toronto product or service made by a customer that is resolved at the point of service delivery. 
  • Feedback – An opinion, comment and expression of interest in a City of Toronto program of service by a customer.
  • Compliment – An expression of approval for a City of Toronto service, staff member, program, product or process.
  • Suggestion – An idea submitted to the City of Toronto by a customer with the aim of improving services, programs, products or processes.

 Some complaints are exempt from these Guidelines, including:

  • Anonymous complaints – Anonymous complaints are difficult, if not impossible, to assess or investigate and will not be dealt with through the complaint handling process. 
  • Complaints by employees – Alternative procedures are available to employees to initiate complaints within the organization.
  • Complaints about services for which 311 provides service request numbers, such as missed garbage pick-up, no water service, etc.
  • Appeals.


Accessibility – The ability for a complaint handling system to be easily understood, easily found with relevant information publicised, with no barriers to people with a range of ability.

Assessment – The process of gathering and documenting information to confirm the merits of a complaint.

Complainant – The person/ member of the public who makes the complaint.

Complaint –An expression of dissatisfaction with the level of service received from a city of Toronto program or service, where the customer believes that the city has not provided a service to the customer's satisfaction at the point of service delivery and a response is explicitly or implicitly expected.

Complaint owner – The appropriate staff person who receives the complaint through escalation. This individual is responsible for tracking progress, keeping customers informed and ultimately for complaint closure.

Complaint recipient – The employee who first receives a complaint from the complainant.

Complaint records – Records of a complaint will be maintained and filed by relevant City staff. Information will remain confidential.

Confidentiality – Refers to information provided by a person on a confidential basis which is not to be disclosed e.g. the identity of the provider and/or the details of the information are not to be disclosed except as agreed to by the provider.

Categories of Complaints – Complaints can be about the quality of service delivery, organizational policy, actions and decisions or employee conduct and behaviour.

Customer – Group of individuals (members of the public) that receive service.

Investigation – Process by which a situation is examined in detail, facts are established and the truth or falsity of any allegations is established. Investigations obtain direct evidence such as witness statements and documentary evidence.

Ombudsman – An independent and impartial organization that assists agencies to be aware of their responsibilities to the public, to act reasonably and to comply with the law and best practice in administration.

Responsiveness – The quality of readily reacting to a request (in particular, a customer complaint).

Resolution – Where parties agree on a future course of action, or the complaint is withdrawn, or a compromise is agreed on.

Service Standard – The time set that City Staff should review and responding to a customer complaint.

Visibility – The ability for a complaint handling system to be easily identifiable.