This complaints procedure enables an individual member to make a complaint against an individual member, a group of members, a branch or branches of the MA. The matter(s) that have led to the complaint being made must have taken place no longer than six months before the submission of the complaint.
This complaints procedure does not cover any complaint regarding formally approved decisions of the annual general meeting, national council, the board of trustees, MA policy committee or branch committee. These complaints should be addressed to the MA Company Secretary, detailing the procedural flaws that have been identified by the complainant, to be investigated by the Company Secretary at his absolute discretion.
The standing complaints panel shall comprise a deputy chair and two trustees, to be elected by the board of trustees annually at each November board meeting.
All aspects of the complaint, including but not limited to the proceedings, findings, decisions, correspondence or other communications are to be kept entirely confidential by the complainant, the respondent, the chair of the MA, the complaints panel and the company secretary. If it is believed appropriate for any other party to be informed about any aspect of a complaint, the chair of the complaints panel shall make the final decision as to what information is suitable to be shared and with whom.
Discretion of the panel
The complaints panel has absolute discretion in the following matters:
- Whether a complaint is accepted as such.
- The basis upon which the complaint is to be heard (for example written papers or hearings in person).
- The timing for response by the complainant or the respondent.
- Any other aspect of the process by which the complaint will be investigated and concluded.
Appeals shall be heard by the chair of the MA. The chair shall, with absolute discretion, alone or in consultation, decide whether the criteria for a valid appeal has been met, and subsequently the process through, and basis upon, which an appeal is to be heard. There can be no appeal against the findings of an appeal.
In the event that any member of the complaints panel, or the chair of the MA, is the subject of the complaint, the deputy chair who is not the existing chair of the complaints panel shall take their place in this process.
In the event that the national officers as a group are the subject of the complaint, the complaint will be taken to the next board meeting for discussion about the personnel tasked with investigating and concluding the matter.
First stage (informal stage)
A complainant must attempt, and is required to substantiate their attempt should it be unsuccessful, to resolve the matter informally with the member(s) or branch(es) against whom the complaint is made.
The member(s) or branch(es) against or to whom a complaint is made shall endeavour to resolve that complaint as quickly as is practicable and in as amicable a manner as is possible.
If a complaint is not resolved at an informal level the matter may be referred to the national office of the MA.
Second stage (formal stage)
A complaint shall be made in writing to the company secretary of the MA. The correspondence shall include the reasons for the complaint, details of the complainant’s desired outcome, all evidence that the complainant wishes to rely upon to pursue the complaint, and evidence that an attempt to resolve the complaint informally has been unsuccessful or is of such nature that this route is inappropriate.
The complainant shall receive in writing, within five working days of the receipt of a complaint, an acknowledgement that their complaint has been received.
The company secretary, on receipt of a complaint, shall inform the complaints panel that a complaint has been received and instruct the panel that they have five working days to assess the complaint and instruct the company secretary of the next steps to be taken.
[indicative time from receipt of complaint = five working days].
If the complaints panel decides that the complaint should not be accepted, it will inform the company secretary of its reasoning and that reasoning will be conveyed to the complainant within a further five working days.
[indicative time from receipt of complaint = ten working days].
If the complaints panel decides that the continuance of the second stage of the complaints process is appropriate, the company secretary shall inform the complainant and the chair of the MA. The respondent will then be informed that a complaint has been received against them. The respondent shall receive all the paperwork received in support of the complaint and be given a deadline of five working days to respond with their own evidence.
[indicative time from receipt of complaint = fifteen working days].
Having received all relevant information from both parties, the company secretary shall pass all documentation to the complaints panel. The complaints panel then has fifteen working days to consider, discuss, conclude and submit their findings to the company secretary. The complaints panel may decide to convene a meeting between themselves, request further information from either party, discuss any aspect of the complaint with either party, or request hearings in person, at their absolute discretion. Any contact by or with any member of the complaints panel by either party shall be in the presence of, and documented by, the company secretary, who will act in this as in all other aspects of this procedure as secretary to the panel.
[indicative time from receipt of complaint = thirty working days].
The complaints panel may alter any of the above timescales if they consider that circumstances require such an alteration, provided that both parties are informed of any such alteration as soon as is practical.
The findings of the complaints panel shall be conveyed to both parties by the company secretary within five days of his receiving the findings from the complaints panel.
[indicative time from receipt to resolution = thirty-five working days].
Third stage (appeal stage)
A complainant or a respondent may appeal against the findings of the complaints panel. An appeal shall be made in writing to the company secretary of the MA within ten working days of the notification of the findings.
An appeal may not be made simply on the basis that the appellant does not agree with the findings of the complaints panel. An appeal must be made either on the grounds of flawed process or on the basis that there is new information that has not previously been considered and there are reasonable grounds to believe that this may change the outcome.
The chair of the MA shall be the appeal chair. They have fifteen working days to consider, discuss, conclude and submit their findings to the company secretary. The appeal chair may during this time speak to or seek written statements from anyone that they deem appropriate, the company secretary, as secretary for the appeal process, being present to record such interaction.
[indicative time from receipt of appeal = fifteen working days].
The outcome of the appeal shall be conveyed to both parties within five days of the company secretary receiving the findings from the chair.
[indicative time from receipt to resolution = twenty working days].
There are three circumstances which may give rise to a disciplinary sanction. The process in each of these cases is detailed below.
A recommendation of the complaints panel
Any individual MA member may address a concern by lodging a complaint via the MA complaints procedure.
Any decision to act on a recommendation of the complaints panel, short of removal of a member or group of members from the MA, will be approved and implemented by the chair of the MA. The chair of the MA will inform the board of any such action at the next available meeting of the board.
In accordance with clause 8(a)(iii) of the MA bye-laws, where there is a proposal that an individual’s membership should be terminated, the individual in question must be informed in writing with not less than fourteen days’ notice of the Board meeting at which the matter will be considered and the motion will be voted upon. The individual will be given an opportunity to respond either personally or in writing. In addition, the secretary of the branch to which the member belongs will be informed in writing with not less than fourteen days’ notice and given the opportunity to submit their views to the board and to the member in question. Any vote of the board on such a matter must achieve a three-fourths majority in order to be enacted.
A breach of the branch minimum standards
The matter of whether or not a branch has breached the branch minimum standards can be dealt with by: the MA complaints procedure, where a potential breach has been the subject of a complaint from an individual member; or the complaints panel directly, where the company secretary and chair have asked the panel to investigate a potential breach.
Where a breach has been identified by the complaints panel and a subsequent recommendation made, the matter will be dealt with in accordance with the section above.
A disciplinary matter involving a trustee
Clause 55 of the MA bye-laws deals with the removal of a trustee.
A trustee must abide by the rules detailed in the royal charter and bye-laws of association, and the trustee roles and responsibilities detailed in the standing orders of association.
A key principle of dealing with disciplinary matters involving trustees is that formal routes should be a destination of last resort. The majority of issues should, and can, be dealt with informally through meetings between the trustee in question, the chair and company secretary. If this approach fails, then the chair and company secretary can agree to appoint an independent arbiter to seek to resolve the issue. As a rule of thumb, more formal routes should only be followed in the case of a second or third breach, or a gross breach of the rules such as bringing the magistracy or the MA into disrepute.
The matter of whether or not a trustee has breached any of these rules can be dealt with by: the MA complaints procedure, where a potential breach has been the subject of a complaint from an individual member; or the complaints panel directly, where the company secretary and chair have asked the panel to investigate a potential breach.
In the event that the potential breach may have involved the chair of the Association, the complaints procedure allows an individual member to raise a complaint in this regard. Where a potential breach has been identified by the company secretary, deputy chair or other board member, the company secretary and both deputy chairs must agree by a formal and recorded two thirds vote in favour that further action should be taken.
Any decision to act on a recommendation of the complaints panel short of removing the trustee from the board will be approved and implemented by the chair of the MA.
In accordance with clause 55(e) of the MA bye-laws, where there is a proposal that a trustee be removed from office, the trustee in question must be informed in writing with not less than fourteen days’ notice of the board meeting at which the matter will be considered and the motion will be voted upon. The trustee will be given an opportunity to respond either personally or in writing. Any vote of the board to remove a trustee from office must achieve a three-fourths majority in order to be enacted. For the sake of clarity, the trustee who is the subject of the vote in question does not have the right to vote on the motion.