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Demystifying the role of the Assisting Officer

assisting officer

The importance of the Assisting Officer (AO) in the Service complaints process shouldn’t be underestimated. An AO is a key person for all involved: complainants, respondents and complaints handlers. In this blog, we will look at three important aspects concerning the role of an AO and provide you with some top tips!

Appointment of the AO

 The AO is appointed by a Specified Officer (SO). They must:

–       be an officer, warrant officer, senior non-commissioned officer or civil servant of equivalent rank


–       be involved in the processing or deciding of the Service complaint.

–       be directly in the employment chain of the complainant if working in a major headquarters or the MOD

–       have had any involvement in the Service complaint or have a personal interest in the outcome

It is your choice whether to have an AO or not, but it is important that you make your decision carefully. Make sure you properly understand the role of the AO and the benefits of having one. Talk to your SO or your Equality and Diversity Adviser about this if you need to.

It may sound obvious, but don’t forget that if you initially decide not to have an AO you can change your mind later and ask for an AO to be appointed.

If you have someone in mind to be your AO that fits the above criteria, you can ask the SO to consider appointing them. Just remember that they don’t have to agree to the person you have suggested.

What are the benefits of having an AO?

The obvious response is that an AO is a source of support but what does this mean? It means that an AO can:

  • listen to your concerns (or act as a ‘sounding board’)
  • give you guidance regarding the Service complaint process.
  • help you understand what you need to do as part of the formal complaints process
  • make sure you are aware of the welfare support available
  • assist you in accessing it if required.

Importantly, an AO will help you through the complaints process.

If you are a Veteran, an AO is also an important link to the Service and their role becomes even more important.

An AO can help you prepare your complaint and ensure that it is clear and concise. They may even be able to attend meetings with you and clarify information provided to you.

Your relationship with your AO

 It is important to establish a working relationship with your AO. How this is done is up to you and your AO, but it is a good start to outline what you expect of each other, how you will communicate and how often you will communicate.

By having a good relationship with your AO, you are empowering yourself simply by maximising the support and guidance available to you.

It is important not to forget that even for the AO, this duty can be challenging, especially if they are balancing this responsibility alongside their normal duties and other demands.  The AO’s level of engagement with the complainant or respondent and the length of time they are the AO for that person will differ on a case by case basis and will depend on many factors.

While it is preferable to have one AO throughout the process for consistency and continuity, this isn’t always possible. Often an AO can’t continue to act in that role for the life of the complaint, no matter how long or short it is. This may be because they have deployed, changed roles, left the Service or even for personal reasons. When this happens you should be offered a new AO.  If you are not offered a new AO, you can ask for one to be appointed by writing to the SO or Decision Body/Appeal Body. If you can’t contact one of these, then speak to your Service complaints secretariat.

If you know in advance that your AO isn’t able to continue in that role, why not ask for a new one to be appointed?

If you want to find out more on the role of the AO, read pages 55-57 of JSP 831, Part 2.