Complaints policy

How to make a formal complaint and how we will handle it

The British Library is committed to providing excellent service, and we invite feedback to ensure continuous improvement of the services and facilities we provide. However, we recognise that sometimes we may not always provide the high level of service to which we aspire.

This statement sets out how you can take up any matter you think is unsatisfactory about the service you have received at, or from, the British Library.

Making a complaint

Problems are often resolved simply and quickly by speaking to a member of our staff or a manager in the relevant department or by speaking to our Customer Services team.

However, if you are not satisfied or if Customer Services or the department considering the matter believes that a more substantive review is required, your complaint will be considered under the formal complaints procedure.

Stage one – formal complaint

If you wish to make a complaint you should write to:

Customer Services
The British Library
Boston Spa
West Yorkshire
LS23 7BQ


telephone: (0)1937 546060

Our Customer Services Manager will send you a written acknowledgement of receipt within 5 working days of receiving your complaint.

We will appoint a Service Manager to conduct a full investigation into your complaint.

The Service Manager will consider your complaint with an open mind, being fair to all parties. If we have got something wrong we will apologise and attempt to put things right.

The Service Manager’s aim will be to achieve resolution of every substantive issue raised within your complaint. If appropriate, a face-to-face meeting may be arranged with you.

Wherever possible a response will be sent to you within 20 working days. Where this is not possible, a revised date will be agreed with you.

Stage two – further investigation

If you are dissatisfied with our response, you can ask for your complaint to be investigated further. You should write to Customer Services at the address above and set out why you are unhappy with the response you have received and why you believe that your complaint needs to be investigated further.

If we agree that there are grounds to believe that the complaint has not been properly or sufficiently considered to date, an appropriate senior manager will review the matter and commission a second-stage investigation.  We will send you a written acknowledgement of receipt within 10 working days of receiving your complaint.

Otherwise, the Customer Services Manager will inform you in writing within 10 working days of the decision and will explain why a second-stage investigation is not considered to be appropriate in this case.

After completing the second-stage investigation the senior manager will compile a written response to you and arrange for it to be sent to you with an accompanying letter.

Wherever possible the second-stage response will be sent within 20 working days of receipt of your complaint. Where this is not possible, a revised date will be agreed with you.

Stage three - appeal to the British Library Board

If you remain dissatisfied after the second-stage response to your complaint, you may ask for your complaint to be referred to the British Library Board for further consideration. You should make such a request in writing and include a full explanation as to why you believe your complaint needs to be investigated further, e.g.

  • misrepresentation of facts
  • improper carrying out of investigation
  • improper consideration given to details of complaint

If the Chair of the Board agrees that there are grounds to believe that your complaint has not been properly or sufficiently considered to date you will be notified within 20 working days of receipt of your request.

The Chair will then take appropriate steps to investigate your complaint further and will inform you of the outcome within a further 20 working days. Where this is not possible, a revised date will be agreed with you.

If the Chair decides there are no grounds for further action, his/her letter will explain why no further investigation is considered to be appropriate in this case.

Parliamentary & Health Service Ombudsman

If you are not satisfied with the Chair’s reply, you have the option of writing to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, who can investigate complaints about government departments and agencies in the UK and the NHS in England. You may write to:

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman
Millbank Tower

Complaints Helpline Tel: 0345 015 4033

Time limits for making complaints

A complaint should be made as soon as possible after the matter giving rise to it and, in any case, within six calendar months of the incident occurring.

If you were not aware at the relevant time that there was cause for complaint, your complaint should normally be made as soon as possible after you became aware of it and, in any case, no more than six calendar months after becoming aware.

Exceptionally, the Customer Services Manager will have discretion to extend the above time limits where

  • it is considered unreasonable for your complaint to have been made earlier, and
  • it is still possible to investigate the matter in question.

The scope of this complaints policy

Complaint issues

A complaint may be about any matter reasonably connected with the exercise of the Library’s functions unless it is about a specific matter that may require resolution by other means, as specified below. These include matters which

  • are of a criminal nature
  • are relating to collection security, fraud or discrimination
  • arise out of the Library’s alleged failure to comply with the Data Protection Act 1998 or General Data Protection Regulation (2018)
  • arise from a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000
  • arise in relation to licensing terms and conditions granted under the Re-Use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2015
  • are about issues in which the Library is taking, or proposes to take, disciplinary proceedings
  • are being, or have been, investigated by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

Complaints relating to serious breach of collection security, fraud, discrimination or a serious breach of the Library’s Code of Service

The Library’s complaints procedure is not appropriate for investigating matters of a serious criminal nature (such as accusations of criminal damage, serious breaches of collection security, fraud, discrimination, etc.)

In such circumstances the Customer Services Manager will immediately refer the matter to the Head of Human Resources to determine the correct course of action, which may involve direct referral to the police or other appropriate authorities.

Freedom of information, re-use of public sector information, and data protection issues

Any matters that may be identified within a complaint that refer to either a Freedom of Information request, a request made under the Public Sector Information Regulations, or a Data Protection issue, will be immediately referred to the Library’s Corporate Information Management Unit for handling in line with complaints handling procedures set by the Information Commissioner.

Possible disciplinary proceedings

The Library’s complaints procedure is concerned only with resolving complaints and not with investigating disciplinary matters.

Consideration of whether or not disciplinary action is warranted is a separate matter for management and is subject to a separate process of investigation.  However, information gathered during the complaints procedure may be made available for a disciplinary investigation.

If disciplinary action arising from the event(s) in question is subsequently taken against a member of staff, the Library is under no obligation to disclose the outcome of those proceedings with you.

Persistent and vexatious complaints

At times complaints can become vexatious and/or persistent, causing undue stress for staff and resulting in a disproportionate use of the Library’s resources.

In dealing with such situations the Customer Services Manager will ensure the complaints procedure has been correctly implemented and that no material element of a complaint has been overlooked or inadequately addressed.

Where a complaint deemed to be vexatious or persistent is considered to have no basis or genuine substance, the Library reserves the right not to investigate. In this situation, the Library will notify the complainant within 20 working days.

General points

The Library staff will treat all users politely and with respect. In return, staff are not expected to tolerate any behaviour that is of a personal, abusive or threatening nature.

Discrimination, in particular on the grounds of religion, gender, race/ethnicity, disability, age or sexual orientation, is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

Every effort will be made to ensure that the process of handling complaints promotes equal access, by meeting the diverse range of needs of the people who may wish to make a complaint.

To ensure the effectiveness of the complaints process and enable staff to understand the complaints procedure, appropriate training will be made available for Library staff.

This procedure will be reviewed every two years. In addition, amendments will be made in the intervening period, should aspects of this procedure’s effectiveness be found inadequate as a result of the ongoing monitoring, or if inadequacies in its operation are identified at any stage.

To facilitate the process of making a complaint, the Library’s policy and procedure relating to complaints will be widely publicised internally and externally using a variety of media, including the use of email and the Library’s website.

The Library will not normally offer financial compensation for errors made or poor service. The Library is a public sector organisation that relies on public funding and donations, and we work hard both to ensure a consistently high level of service and also to resolve any lapse in this standard that you let us know about.