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Whistleblowing v Service Complaints: What’s the difference?

Whistleblowing is a word that is sometimes used interchangeably with the word complaint – but the act of whistleblowing and making a complaint are two separate things.

If we compare whistleblowing to the Service Complaints system, it is easier to see the differences.

A Service Complaint….. Whistleblowing…..
·         is about an issue that has happened to the person making a complaint ·         is when a worker reports an issue that impacts on the wider public
·can be made about a wide range of issues ·         concerns particular types of wrongdoing. This could include:

–       breaking the law (criminal or civil)

–       serious health and safety breaches

–       covering up wrongdoing

·         must be made in writing and signed by the person making the complaint ·         can be anonymous
·         follows the process set out in JSP831 ·         falls under the Whistleblowing and Raising a Concern policy


There could be times when something falls into both categories, but it is usually one or the other.

However, there is one similarity between the two: people should not be treated unfairly because they have made a complaint or raised a concern.  The law offers protection to whistleblowers in certain circumstances. Similarly, the Service Complaints process makes it clear that personnel must not be treated unfavourably or unfairly because they have made a complaint.

The remit of the Service Complaints Ombudsman for the Armed Forces (SCOAF) does not cover whistleblowing. SCOAF cannot accept anonymous complaints and does not have the power to investigate those concerns.

Although we do not deal with whistleblowing, if someone comes to us with an anonymous complaint we will:

  • provide them with information on their options, or
  • pass the complaint on to the relevant Service to investigate
The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has a confidential hotline that allows personnel to raise a concern where they believe someone has, is, is going to, is asking them to, or is covering up wrongdoing against the MOD that:

  • goes against the Values and Standards of the Services or Civil Service Code, or is illegal;
  • endangers others or places the health and safety of people at risk;
  • places our property, assets and money at risk through theft, fraud, or negligence

The Confidential Hotline can be contacted in one of the following ways:

The Confidential Hotline is not to be used to raise queries about Service complaints.

The Whistleblowing and Raising a Concern policy can be accessed on the MOD intranet.

SCOAF treats all of the complaints we receive seriously. If you contact us with a  complaint that falls outside of our jurisdiction, we will explain this and provide you with clear information about alternative ways to raise your complaint.

For more information read JSP831 and The Whistleblowing and Raising a Concern Policy.