Complaints

All members of the CIPR agree to abide by its Code of Professional Conduct. If you believe a CIPR member has breached the Code, there is a procedure in place to make a complaint against that individual.

Who may make a complaint?

Anyone, whether an organisation or an individual.

You do not have to have suffered loss or damage in order to complain: you only have to believe that a Member of the Institute may have breached the Code of Conduct.

Sometimes the Chartered Institute of Public Relations itself will initiate a Complaint or take over the role of Complainant, for instance if the Complaint raises a matter of general principle.

Whom can you complain about?

Members of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, and any staff or sub-contractors for whom they are directly responsible, even if those staff or sub-contractors are not CIPR Members in their own right.

Members agree to be bound by the Code of Conduct when they accept Membership. This is why it makes sense to hire CIPR Members when you need public relations support.

You may recognise Members from the letters FCIPR, MCIPR or ACIPR after their name, but you can also ask us to check whether someone is a Member – or whether they were a Member at the time of the events that you want to complain about. Members cannot avoid responsibility for their past conduct by resigning from the Institute.

We cannot deal with Complaints about PR practitioners who have not been Members of the CIPR.

To register a complaint

Contact Martin Horrox, Regulatory Consultant, at martinh@cipr.co.uk, on 07974 964639, or by letter to:

Chartered Institute of Public Relations
52-53 Russell Square
London WC1B 4HP

Martin Horrox will advise you (and the Member you complain about) on the various stages of a Complaint. He is your contact point with the CIPR throughout.

Initial checks

We will check that the person you have complained about is actually a Member – or was, at the time of the events you are complaining about. If this is not the case, there is nothing further that we can do.

We will also tell you if we think the Complaint is not covered by the Code of Conduct.

Written details

You will be asked to state your Complaint in writing (we can help you to do this, if necessary). The person you have complained about will be shown this document and asked to provide a written reply (and the same help is available to them).

Conciliation

Most Complaints are resolved through 'Conciliation', when the Institute helps both sides to reach an agreement by acting as a go-between in negotiations. It is always the first resort, but it depends on the willingness of both sides to take part.

This is a very informal process, organised at the discretion of the Institute's conciliators. The process is confidential; no records of the discussions are kept, and the result is not published.

Formal hearings

If no agreement is reached through Conciliation, the Complaint will be considered by the Professional Practices Committee and possibly, after that, by the Disciplinary Committee.

These Committees are formed of senior and experienced people from public relations and other professions. The Disciplinary Committee deals with the most serious cases, and those that cannot be resolved by the Professional Practices Committee.

Any discussions that were held as part of a Conciliation process are ignored by the Committees, and Committee members who acted as CIPR conciliators during the Conciliation process are not allowed to take part in formal hearings. The Committees, in other words, start afresh, with no preconceptions.

Both sides in the dispute have the chance to state their case in person to the Committees; they may also be allowed to bring a friend or a legal adviser to Committee hearings. If the case goes as far as the Disciplinary Committee, they may also be able to submit further information and to call and cross-examine witnesses. The Committees themselves may ask for additional written evidence and call witnesses.

Although formal hearings are subject to detailed regulations (see Section C below) they are run, above all, on the principle of natural justice: in other words, both sides should receive fair and equal treatment.

Confidentiality

Everyone (you, the person you have complained about, and Committee members) must keep every detail of the Complaint and the Complaints Procedure confidential until the Chairman of one of the Institute Committees rules otherwise.

If a case goes to a formal hearing, and the decision is against the CIPR Member, a summary of the Complaint and the outcome will normally be made public.

Outcomes

If the Complaint is not resolved by Conciliation, the Committees may decide to

  1. advise the Member (the person you have complained about) to improve the way he or she does business;
  2. reprimand the Member;
  3. require the Member to repay fees received for work that forms the subject of the Complaint;
  4. require the Member to pay the Institute's costs of the Complaints Procedure;
  5. expel the Member;
  6. publish the decision (naming names);
  7. drop the case, if they consider that the Complaint is not proven; or take no further action.

Compensation

The CIPR does not award damages. If you have complained that a CIPR Member carried out substandard work for you, the Member may be required to return any fees that you paid for that work. If the substandard work was part of a larger contract, the refund is limited to the value of that part of the contract. If you want more or different compensation, you should use the courts.

Legal action

Occasionally disputes are pursued through the courts and through a Complaint to the CIPR at the same time. We will normally halt the CIPR Complaints Procedure until the court case is completed.

Legal action, in other words, does not of itself cancel the CIPR Complaints Procedure, whether the action is taken by you (the person who is complaining) or by the CIPR Member (the person who is complained about).