Last updated 5 December 2022

Depending on the nature of the complaint and the outcome sought, there are various steps a complainant can take. It is usually best to start with the most informal and direct approach. Below are steps that could be taken to resolve a complaint:

  • talking directly to the professional about your concern
  • making a complaint to the relevant professional association
  • making a complaint to the regulatory board of that profession
  • seeking review of the complaint in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (available for some professions)
  • commencing legal proceedings (suing someone).

Some complaints would not warrant being pursued through to court proceedings, even if the complainant is unhappy with the result.

In most cases there are time limits, so complaints should be made promptly.

Talking directly to the professional

Many complaints against professionals result from poor communication or misunderstandings.

Professionals sometimes fail to appreciate that their clients or patients do not share their expertise. A competent professional should explain their services and the likely results and risks in non-technical language that the client can understand.

Most organisations that handle complaints recommend or require (if appropriate) that the complainant first speaks directly to the professional about the concern.

The Office of the Health Ombudsman has resources to assist in talking to the provider about a complaint, and many suggestions are relevant to other professionals.

If this does not resolve the problem or is not an appropriate first step, a complaint can be lodged with the respective professional association or regulatory board.

Making a complaint to the professional association

Professional associations usually:

  • are established by professionals (who are members of that association) to regulate the conduct of their profession
  • control the activities of their members and try to uphold the profession’s public image
  • set standards of ethical conduct for their members
  • recommend the level of fees that should be charged for various services
  • receive and investigate complaints about the conduct of their members and take disciplinary action, when appropriate
  • attempt to settle complaints by discussion or negotiation, rather than by formal inquiry
  • deal with less serious complaints concerning delay, discourtesy or excessive fees
  • do not have the power to award compensation.

A complaint should generally be in writing and include as much detail as possible. If the professional organisation is unable to deal with the matter, it will normally notify the complainant and recommend alternative avenues for making the complaint.

If a complainant alleges that a professional is negligent, dishonest or unfit to practise in that profession, the association will usually refer the complaint to the regulatory board.

Making a complaint to the regulatory board

Regulatory boards usually:

  • are established by government
  • control the licensing, registration and practice of professionals
  • receive and investigate complaints about the conduct of the professionals in their industry
  • ensure that only people with sufficient training and good character, if applicable, are registered
  • take disciplinary action or pursue a prosecution where necessary
  • do not have the power to award compensation.

Seeking review of the complaint in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal

In certain professions and situations, a complaint can be reviewed by the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT):

  • If a complainant is unhappy with a disciplinary decision made by a board or association, they can seek review of the decision in QCAT.
  • If the professional involved does not abide by the organisation’s decision, the organisastion can apply directly to QCAT for further disciplinary proceedings or enforce its decision.
  • If a complaint is serious, a professional association or regulatory board can refer the complaint directly to QCAT.

Decisions of QCAT can generally be appealed to the QCAT Appeals Tribunal and then to the Court of Appeal.

Commencing legal proceedings (suing someone)

Not every complaint will give rise to the right to sue someone. Anyone contemplating legal proceedings should seek expert legal advice from a private lawyer, a community legal centre or Legal Aid Queensland about their chance of succeeding and the risks involved.

Legal proceedings are generally only worth pursuing if the complainant can show financial loss, damage to property or injury to health. Sometimes, a complaint will not be worth taking to court because the cost of the legal proceeding is more than the compensation that is likely to be obtained.

Whether someone can successfully sue a professional for breach of contract will depend upon the terms of the contract between the professional and the complainant, and how much evidence can be provided.

A negligence case will generally require a high standard of evidence.

In some cases, it is possible to negotiate a settlement with the professional or their insurers without having to sue.

There are some downsides to starting legal proceedings that mean it can be better to try to resolve the matter with the professional:

  • Court proceedings generally take a lot of time.
  • Paying a lawyer can be expensive and self-representing can be challenging.
  • There can be a risk of being ordered to pay the legal costs of the other party.
  • The outcome is out of the control of the parties.
  • Proving a professional has been negligent requires a high level of evidence, and it can be difficult and expensive to get other professionals to provide this evidence.

Legal advice should also be obtained before signing any settlement agreement that discharges the professional from liability for their conduct.