January 2016 – Service Complaints Ombudsman – The first 30 days
The 1st January 2016 saw not only the beginning of a new year but the beginning of the new Service complaints system and my role as Service Complaints Ombudsman. Over the past 30 days we have received a steady stream of enquiries from current and former Service personnel wanting to obtain further information about the new system and my new powers, or utilise those powers. I am confident that the level of contact indicates a growing awareness of the changes and of the existence of my office, which we will continue to build upon over the coming year.
Whilst the new streamlined process will hopefully lead to complaints being dealt with in a timely manner and resolved appropriately at the earliest possible opportunity, it is just as important that confidence in the system increases. I want our Service men and women to have confidence in the Service complaints process. They must feel able to raise a complaint without fear of recrimination and confident that when they do complain, their complaint will be handled efficiently, effectively and fairly by the chain of command.
My new powers are significant. As the Service Complaints Commissioner I only had the power to refer potential Service complaints to the chain of command and oversee/report on how the system was operation. However, as the Service Complaints Ombudsman I not only retain these functions, I also have powers of investigation. Namely, I have the power to:
- review decisions not to accept a complaint or appeal for investigation
- investigate undue delay in an ongoing Service complaint or Service matter;
- investigate allegations of maladministration in the handling of a Service complaint that has been finally determined (i.e. has had an appeal decision); and
- investigate the substance of a Service complaint, in whole or in part, that has been finally determined
This means that when individuals are unhappy with the way complaints are being handled, or feel they have been wrongly excluded from the process by the Services, they can ask me to investigate or review the decision received and I will hold the Services to account where things have gone wrong. My office is independent, impartial and will always act with integrity. This can only increase the level of confidence in the system.
The first 30 days of the new system have been positive and encouraging and I am looking forward to the challenges and lessons that will come over the course of the year.