This year has seen a rise in the number of anonymous complaints received by my office. As many of these complainants do not provide any contact details my staff and I are unable to respond to these to directly. My first blog for July is written to those of you who have made an anonymous complaint to my office and to anyone who wants to know what happens when I receive an anonymous complaint.
Anonymous complaints have been received by this office since it was first established in 2008 as the Office of the Service Complaints Commissioner. These complaints generally fall into two categories:
- complaints about personal grievances where an individual is concerned raising a complaint in their name will lead to victimisation of some form, including having a negative impact on their career; and
- complaints that can be categorised as “whistleblowing”
Whatever category the complaint falls into, it is important that people understand what I can and can’t do when I receive an anonymous complaint and that they have confidence that I take all complaints I receive seriously.
Firstly it is important that people understand that all dealings with my office are confidential until consent is given to take a specific action. This means that there is no need to send through an anonymous complaint as your information will not be released without your approval unless there is an immediate risk of self-harm or harm to others.
However, even with this caveat I know that some people may still send through anonymous complaints so it is important that I clear up any mistaken beliefs about what my powers are to deal with these. So what I can’t do is:
1. Investigate the complaint.
The legislation that created my role only gives me the power to investigate where the following specific criteria are met:
a) an application is received by a Service person or former Service person; and
b) the application is requesting I exercise one of the following specific powers:
i. review a gateway decision
ii. investigate allegations of undue delay in the handling of a complaint
iii. investigate allegations of maladministration in the handling of a Service complaint that has been finally determined
iv. investigate the substance of a Service complaint that has been finally determined
Basically what this means is that I can only investigate matters that an individual has raised internally. What type of investigation I can carry out will depend on a number of issues, including what stage of the process the complaint is at and what the complainant is saying has gone wrong.
I have no powers of own motion investigation. This means that I can’t investigate matters outside of my specific powers and that I can’t investigate a matter instead of the Services (see my February 2016 blog on this issue for further information).
2. Refer the matter as a potential Service complaint.
Service complaints need to be made by an individual member of the Armed Forces who was subject to Service law at the time of the alleged wrong. They cannot be made anonymously. Because of this I cannot refer an anonymous complaint as a potential Service complaint.
While that is what I can’t do, the good news is that there is still action that I can take, and am prepared to take. So what I can do is:
Make sure you are aware of your options.
The initial point of contact for anyone making an application or seeking information from my office is the Referrals and Enquiries Team. If you provide some form of contact information (even a PO Box address or an email account set up specifically to contact us), they can acknowledge receipt of your complaint and give you all the information on the options for taking your complaint forward. If you don’t want to provide contact information you can phone our office anonymously to discuss your concerns and again, the team will provide you with all the information you need.
Pass your complaint to the relevant Service.
I can’t investigate anonymous complaints. However where a complaint concerns an exceptionally serious matter or appears to fall into the category of whistleblowing, I will raise this with the relevant Service for further investigation. I would always prefer to make you aware that this is what I have done, but if you haven’t provided any contact information I can’t do this. Although it is down to the relevant Service to take action once I have passed the complaint on I will ask for an update so that I can understand what has been done and satisfy my concerns that the matter has been dealt with appropriately.
Please rest assured that I take all complaints received in my office seriously and where these fall outside my specific jurisdiction will nevertheless take the necessary steps to ensure they are appropriately investigated and that things are put right if it is found that something has gone wrong.