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December 2016 – Look back at 2016

As we approach the Christmas season we also come to the end of the first year of my term and also the very first year of the Office of the Service Complaints Ombudsman. Although our official year-end statistics won’t be released until the New Year, I thought it only appropriate to use my final blog for the year to reflect on the past year and to thank those who have helped to make it successful.

At the end of January I gave a brief progress report on the first 30 days of my office.  The message was one of assurance that my new role and powers could make a real difference to the functioning of the Service complaints system and would also help to raise the confidence Service personnel have in that system.  At the end of our first year I am unwavering in that commitment.

2016 has been a very busy year and my team has worked tirelessly to ensure that it has run smoothly. By the end of our third quarter we had logged over 700 contacts.  80% of those resulted in a formal application being made to my office, 246 of which were requests for investigation.  These numbers, which will only continue to rise before our office closes for the year on Friday afternoon, clearly demonstrate the need and desire for independent oversight of the system.

Although we had spent a year preparing for the transition, we had no way of truly knowing how ready we were until we started operating and I am pleased to say that we were exceptionally well prepared and hit the ground running from day one! As a learning organisation many of our policies have evolved as we have faced new challenges or identified more efficient ways of conducting our business, but this is to be expected in the first year of operation and the ethos of continuous improvement runs through everything that we do.

While we are an independent office we need to have working relationships with a number of key stakeholders in order to get our message out and ensure we can effect real change. All of the preparation we did leading up to transition and the work we have done this year has been enhanced by the support we have received – from all of our stakeholders old and new but particularly from the Families Federations and Service Chiefs. There are far too many individuals and organisations to name, so I won’t even attempt to at the risk of leaving someone out!

But this support has really been the icing on the cake and I must take this opportunity to thank each and every member of my team for their hard work and dedication this year.

The Referrals and Enquiries Team, who are the initial point of contact for everyone who comes to us, ensure that every individual is treated with the utmost care and concern.  They are often required to communicate messages that are difficult or disappointing – particularly where the powers of my office do not have the reach to take the action being requested – and they do so expertly and with compassion.

By the end of the week the Investigations Team, led by the Head of Investigations, will have handled well over the 246 applications referred to above and conducted a number of complex investigations against tight timeframes.  They have consistently done so to the highest possible standards, producing reports and decisions that are not only fair but underpinned by recommendations that aim to bring about positive change for Service personnel.

In addition to those frontline teams my office couldn’t function without the work done by the wider team including our Head of Office, Statistics Manager, Policy Manager, External Relations Team, Business Manager and Executive Assistant.  Every day they work to ensure that we are operating within budget and according to the correct policies and procedures; that we are gathering the right information to report about our work and the work of the Services in a meaningful way; that we are communicating our message clearly and reaching as many people as possible; and, that I am balancing my commitments to my core work as Ombudsman with my wider responsibilities.

While I will not be in a position to make any definitive statements about how the system is operating until all of the numbers are in and I write my Annual Report next March, I can say that we have had a successful first year and are well positioned to meet any of the challenges that 2017 may bring.

Note – This blog post was updated on 5 January 2017.