Client relationships

Much of the public sector corruption and other unethical behaviour reported to the Commission may involve the external clients of public sector agencies. In this context, "clients" refers to those individuals who use services or resources provided by a public sector organisation such as patients in a public hospital, tenants in public housing or people receiving disability services.  

It is important for public agencies delivering these services to make sure that the services are provided equitably and that agency employees maintain appropriate professional relationships with the agency's clients. The corruption risks in this context usually arise from close relationships with clients or when employees misuse their positions to take advantage of clients.

The improper conduct of client relationship can constitute corrupt conduct as defined by the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act 1988.

Corruption risks

A risk assessment of the management of clients of a public sector agency may identify some or all of the following corruption risks:

  • An employee accepting or soliciting money or a benefit to provide favourable treatment or an unfair advantage to a client.
  • An employee deliberately failing to disclose a conflict of interest in order to exploit this interest to get a personal benefit.
  • An employee disclosing confidential information to a client for unauthorised purposes.
  • An employee facilitating queue-jumping for a public service/product to provide inappropriate service.
  • An employee not following appropriate approval processes or exceeding delegation levels.
  • An employee abusing their position of trust to take unfair advantage of a client or provide favourable treatment.
  • A client offering bribes to influence public officials delivering the service.
  • A client and a public official colluding to engage in corrupt conduct.


Managing corruption risks

As a minimum your agency should:

  • Introduce policy and procedures for managing client relationships that contain elements listed in the Policy Development Model.
  • Include in the policy sanctions for any breach of the policy and procedures.  
  • Review the policy every two years.
  • Refer to the management of client relationships in all relevant corporate documents such as codes of conduct.
  • Train all relevant employees in the policy and procedures to ensure they are aware of their accountabilities.
  • Include managing client relationships as a risk to be assessed in the agency's internal audit and corruption risk management processes.


Risk management strategies

Following your risk assessment of the management of clients you should consider these risk management strategies:

  • Communicating with clients and making them aware of the organisation's policies and standards of behaviour through a communications plan.
  • Providing clients with access to the organisation's code of conduct and related policies.
  • Requiring employees involved in managing clients to declare conflicts of interest so that the conflicts can be managed or removed.
  • Informing clients clearly about what documentation they need to produce when resources are being allocated to them or they are using services, so that accurate supporting documentation and records are kept.
  • Rotating employees with responsibility for managing clients to reduce the risks from corrupt conduct.
  • Informing clients and employees about the enquiry and complaint process so that inappropriate behaviour can be identified.
  • Including a clear statement of the agency's stance on fraud and corruption, as well as its fraud and corruption control initiatives.
  • Developing a protocol for agency employees to communicate with clients that includes how to manage complaints.

Record-keeping and reporting strategies

You should consider the following record-keeping and reporting strategies:

  • Developing protocols for communication with clients.
  • Keeping current records of any resources or services applied for by clients.
  • Listing delegations and changes in delegation levels.
  • Recording the management of any conflicts of interest reported by employees.
  • Reporting any interviews or discussions with clients.
  • Supervising clients performing services on behalf of the agency.


Case studies

Case study 1

In 2005-06 the ICAC investigated a report that a community service order (CSO) organiser improperly assisted offenders subject to CSOs. The organiser did not take action when:

  • the offenders failed to comply with the conditions of the CSOs

  • a supervisor improperly directed offenders on CSOs to undertake work at his family members' residences, and

  • another supervisor falsely certified CSO offenders' timesheets in return for money.  

The CSO organiser, the main person of interest in the investigation, had worked at the department for approximately three years at the time of the investigation. He was socially associated with two of the offenders. Another supervisor who was a volunteer had been in the role for approximately two years, and also knew the same two offenders through association with a church. It was found that four CSOs, one organiser and four supervisors had engaged in corrupt conduct.

The recommendations made in the report included: developing formal guidelines and criteria for allocating offenders to agencies, such as the identification and management of conflicts of interest; prohibiting the employees of the department from giving personal references for clients; developing induction materials for offenders and clear instructions for CSO supervisors; and conducting field checks of agreed service responsibilities to verify timesheets.
Case study 2
In 2004 an ICAC inquiry found that a prison officer had taken contraband into a NSW prison for an inmate in return for money.

The inquiry also established that the officer had associated with family members and friends of an inmate outside the prison and had dealings with at least one former inmate. In addition, he had a personal drug habit that adversely affected his judgment and the performance of his duties, supplied drugs to other correctional officers, and was involved in planning other criminal activity, none of which was carried out to completion.

The ICAC's corruption prevention recommendations were directed at improving the vigilance of staff searches and other detection mechanisms at the prison.


Frequently asked questions

I am not very familiar with this definition of 'client'.  Why have you focused on this group of people?  

The public sector provides services, benefits and programs to many individuals, groups and organisations. Restricting the definition of client to a commercial arrangement leaves out many professional relationships that carry a risk of corruption.

How can my agency protect employees from close relationships with clients that are not appropriate?

Make sure that employees who have frequent contact with clients are aware of the risks and have the skills to deal with overly-friendly clients. Make sure they know the difference between being 'friendly' and being 'friends'. These skills can be learnt in training sessions and from supervisors who demonstrate, for example, how to politely decline gifts and explain why it is important to maintain a professional distance. 

Is it okay to go to social functions with these clients, for example if they want to have a drink after work, or give me tickets to an event?  

There is not a clear 'yes' or 'no' answer to this question. The main things to be aware of are the perception by other clients, your colleagues or members of the public that socialising with a client could be seen as showing favouritism, and that you may place yourself in a position whereby you could be tempted to be improperly influenced by a client.

Your code of conduct and other relevant policies should address these issues and supervisors should be able to advise employees. A couple of points that may be kept in mind are:

  • pay for your own ticket or any food or drinks
  • ensure that your ticket or some documentation about the event is retained, including the invitation received
  • give some thought as to who is the best person to attend the event – this is the difference between the organisation sending an appropriate representative for client service reasons, and you or your client wanting you personally to go for non-professional reasons

My agency is in a regional area where most people know each other. What should we do in this situation to reduce the risk of corruption? 

Social contact with clients will be inevitable in some communities. It is important to remember that your role at work is different from in a social setting. Supervisors should be ready to manage any conflicts of interest or offers of gifts and benefits that involve their staff. As a preventative measure managers can reallocate the work of employees who find themselves in close relationships with clients.    



Other publications

  • Fraud and Corruption Control: Guidelines for Best Practice, Crime and Misconduct Commission (Qld), Brisbane, 2005, Chapter 10.


Relevant ICAC investigations


Relevant websites


Related topics