How Ofcom deals with BBC TV, radio and on demand complaints

Published: 1 August 2023

We've set out below a quick explanation of the process. However, please refer to our detailed procedures for full information.

Other than in exceptional circumstances, Ofcom can only consider your complaint if you’ve already complained to the BBC first. Please visit the BBC complaints page to make a complaint to the BBC.

The full BBC complaints process consists of three stages -Stage 1a, 1b and 2. If you are unhappy with the response from the BBC at each of stage 1a and 1b, you can ask the BBC to look at it again. Stage 2 is the final stage, where you can complain to the BBC Executive Complaints Unit, the ECU. You should wait to see if you are happy with the BBC ECU’s final response before making a complaint to Ofcom.

We assess each complaint about the BBC carefully to see if our rules may have been broken, and whether, on the face of it, a complaint raises potentially substantive issues under the Broadcasting Code which warrant investigation.

If however, you have made a complaint to the BBC, but the BBC has failed to provide a response within its own deadlines (these are contained in the BBC Complaints Framework), or you consider that exceptional circumstances apply, you can complain directly to Ofcom. Ofcom will then assess your complaint to see if it requires immediate intervention. These exceptional circumstances include (but are not limited to) Ofcom having potential concerns about material that: is likely to incite crime; may cause financial or physical harm, or harm to minors; or involves under 18s in a programme or series. More guidance on what constitutes “exceptional circumstances” can be found in our Procedures for investigating breaches of content standards on BBC broadcasting services and BBC on demand programme services (PDF, 208.0 KB). Whether Ofcom decides to intervene at an earlier stage in any such complaint will depend on the relevant facts in each case.

If we decide the complaint doesn't raise issues warranting further investigation, we'll close the complaint and publish a record of this in our Broadcast and On Demand Bulletin, which is published every fortnight.

If we decide to investigate, we’ll include the case in a list of our new investigations, published in the Broadcast and On Demand Bulletin.

An investigation is a formal process which can take some time depending on the complexity of the issues involved.

Ofcom can also launch investigations in the absence of a complaint from a viewer or listener if we consider there is a potentially serious issue.

We publish the results of our investigations about the BBC in our Broadcast and On Demand Bulletins. We might judge that an issue is in breach, resolved or not in breach of our rules. There’s an archive of our Broadcast and On Demand Bulletins  for reference.

We hold these decisions on the BBC’s compliance records. If the BBC breaks the rules repeatedly, or in a way we consider to be serious, Ofcom has the legal powers to impose sanctions on it. Possible sanctions include the imposition of a fine. We publish all Sanctions Decisions on our website.

We've set out below a quick explanation of the process. However, please refer to our detailed procedures  for full information.

We encourage you to follow the BBC’s complaints procedures in the first instance. You can do this by visiting the BBC complaints page.

If you want to submit this kind of complaint to Ofcom please do so within 20 working days from when the programme was broadcast or last made available on BBC iPlayer.

Please note the complaint is your sole chance to set out your case to Ofcom. Therefore, please provide us with full details of how you believe the programme was unfair to you and/or how it infringed your privacy. Your complaint should include relevant examples of how and why unfairness was caused to you and/or your privacy was infringed.

Once we have received your complaint (which we refer to as a fairness and privacy complaint) we may make an Entertainment Decision (i.e. consider whether we can take the complaint forward for investigation) based on the factors set out in the Procedures for making a fairness and privacy complaint. We will send you a copy of our Entertainment Decision. All recently entertained fairness and privacy investigations are included in Ofcom's published list of new investigations each week.

If we decide that we cannot entertain your complaint, the case will be closed.

If we decide that we can entertain your complaint we will ask the BBC for a response to it and then consider the case put forward by both you and the BBC. Using this information we assess the complaint carefully to reach a Preliminary View on whether our fairness and privacy rules may have been broken. A copy of the Preliminary View will be sent to you and the BBC and you will each have an opportunity to comment on it before we make a final decision (the Adjudication) which is published on our website.

An investigation is a formal process which can take some time, depending on the complexity of the issues involved. You should be aware that during the course of an investigation we will need to contact you and may need to ask you for additional information. If you do not provide that information by the requested deadline, we may take this to mean that you no longer wish to pursue your complaint and will therefore close it.

You should also be aware that at any point during either the entertainment or investigation stage, the BBC may suggest, via Ofcom, a way to resolve your complaint. For example, the BBC may offer to write a letter of apology to you or edit a particular section of the programme before re-broadcasting it. If the BBC makes such an offer we will pass it to you. If you accept this offer we will consider that the complaint has been resolved and the case will be closed.

In exceptional circumstances Ofcom can also launch fairness and privacy investigations in the absence of a complaint from a viewer or listener.

We always publish, in full, the final Adjudication of every fairness or privacy complaint that we entertain. The Adjudication will normally include your name as the complainant (unless publishing your name would itself be unfair to you or breach your privacy).

The final Adjudication on a complaint will be either upheld, upheld in part or not upheld. The Adjudication will be published in a Broadcast and On Demand Bulletin on our website. See our Broadcast and On Demand Bulletins archive for examples of previous fairness and privacy Adjudications.

Please note there is no internal review or appeal process for final Adjudications.

You should be aware that if Ofcom upholds your complaint it does not necessarily mean that the BBC will be required to broadcast a summary of Ofcom's decision. In addition, Ofcom cannot require the BBC to: broadcast a correction or apology; edit the programme prior to any re-broadcast; or, pay you compensation.

We hold all our decisions on the BBC’s compliance records. If the BBC breaks the rules repeatedly, or in a way we consider to be serious, Ofcom has the legal powers to impose sanctions on it. Possible sanctions include the imposition of a fine. See our Sanctions Decisions page to read previous sanctions decisions.

The BBC is responsible for the editorial standards of its online material, under the BBC Charter and Agreement set by Government and Parliament.

You should make any complaint about online material to the BBC first. But if you are not satisfied with how your complaint has been resolved by the BBC, you can seek an independent opinion on it from Ofcom.

We can consider your complaint, and the BBC’s response to it, if it is about content on the BBC website and apps. This includes written text, images, video and audio content. It does not include social media, Bitesize, BBC material on third-party websites and World Service content.

If your complaint is about something you have seen or heard on BBC iPlayer – where programmes must comply with our Broadcasting Code – please use our complaints form.

We assess all BBC online material complaints we receive. Where we think a complaint raises a significant issue which should be considered further, we can provide an opinion on whether the BBC has observed its editorial guidelines in the online material. Our opinion, including any recommendations, will be sent to the BBC and published on Ofcom’s website. The BBC will take account of Ofcom’s opinions, and will decide whether further action is appropriate.

Further information on complaints about BBC online material can be found in our complaints handling procedures (PDF, 163.7 KB).

If you have a complaint about fair and effective competition in relation to the BBC, please submit it to For more information about this area, please see the relevant Ofcom Procedures.

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