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The importance of educating personnel on the Service complaints process

In my first Annual Report as Service Complaints Ombudsman, one of the recommendations I made concerned the importance of training and education on the Service complaints system at all levels.  It was a recommendation that I made after receiving feedback from a number of personnel who felt there wasn’t enough training on this issue.  While work on this recommendation is still continuing, I wanted to let you know more about what we have been doing and why I think education in this area is so important.

Continuing education in the workplace is important because it provides us with the information we need to understand different issues and do our jobs properly. When it comes to Service complaints, that information will be about the practical aspects of making and handling complaints.

While there is written guidance available that provides information on this, sometimes that is not enough. What happens if you don’t understand the written guidance? Or you have questions about what it means or how it applies to your specific circumstances? If people don’t have a clear understanding of the process, they can’t use it effectively.

This is where face-to-face learning has enormous benefit. Not only do some people respond better to this style of learning, but it provides an opportunity to ask questions and explore issues in greater detail. This is something I have witnessed over the last 2.5yrs as Ombudsman.

Each year, my office is invited to present at each of the single Service courses for new Commanding Officers[1]. While my responsibilities as Ombudsman only permit me to attend in person at one course each year, it is something I enthusiastically embrace and always look forward to. As do the staff from my office who represent me on the courses I am not able to attend.

Ombudsman presents at a Naval CODC at HMS Collingwood

The Ombudsman presents at the RAF FCSP at Shrivenham


The Ombudsman presents at the Army CODC at Roberston House, Sandhurst 

Presenting on these courses allows us to communicate our message clearly and directly to those personnel who will be the initial complaint handlers. We discuss our work in that context, provide examples of how my powers work in practice and demonstrate what we think good complaint handling looks like.

It also provides an opportunity for those personnel to ask questions and raise issues related to the complaints process. Not only can we respond to the issues raised, it gives us greater insight into what matters to personnel and helps us to improve our messaging.

It is one of the most important aspects of the outreach work we do.

While this is currently the only programme we deliver face-to-face presentations for, there are other courses we have contributed to at the request of the Services. We are also exploring how we can contribute to more of the training modules about Service complaints to ensure all personnel are aware of my role and the functions of my office.

Overall, I have been impressed by the quality of the education provided regarding Service complaints. However, my office still receives feedback that there is little or insufficient training on this topic.  This recommendation is still ongoing and will continue to be until I determine that it has been substantially completed. While we have been invited to contribute to some courses, there is still work to be done. Although we do not have the resources to deliver face-to-face presentations on every training course that is offered, my office will continue to work to determine how we can add benefit to the training offered to personnel at all levels.

[1] The Commanding Officer Designate Course for the Naval Service and Army and the Future Commanders Study Period for the RAF.