Informal resolution and alternative dispute resolution: What’s the difference?
As the Service Complaints Ombudsman for the Armed Forces, I have oversight of the Service Complaints system. But what some people don’t know is that not all complaints are dealt with this way.
The Service Complaints system is the formal mechanism for resolving specific types of grievances raised by Service personnel. However, many complaints are successfully dealt with using informal complaint resolution and alternative dispute resolution (ADR). These are exceptionally important tools in any complaints system because not every complaint needs to go through the full formal process to be properly handled or successfully resolved.
Informal resolution and alternative dispute resolution are often used interchangeably, but it is not correct to do so because they are very different processes.
|Informal Resolution is….||Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is….|
|an agreed way of dealing with a complaint outside of the formal procedures.||a specific and structured way of dealing with a complaint outside of the standard formal procedure. ADR includes mediation, arbitration and conciliation. In terms of Service Complaints, it refers to mediation.|
|usually recommended for less serious complaints, or where a full investigation is not required to determine what has happened and who was responsible.||usually recommended where the complaint can be resolved by bringing the parties together for facilitated discussion by a neutral third party.|
|generally not suitable for complaints about bullying, harassment and discrimination that may require robust investigation and a formal record of decision.||generally not suitable where there is an imbalance of power that cannot be successfully mitigated by the mediator/third party.|
|a process that can be facilitated by someone who doesn’t have specific training or qualifications. However, the person should have access to informal resolution guidelines and know where to access support if required.||a process that can only be facilitated by a qualified practitioner.|
|a voluntary process||a voluntary process.|
|something that can be tried before resorting to either alternative dispute resolution or the formal process.||something that can be tried before resorting to the formal process.|
Why are there so many ways to resolve a complaint? Put simply: not all complaints are equal in terms of the level of resource that is required to resolve them. What is required will depend on the subject matter of the complaint.
Let’s take a complaint about an OJAR as an example. On the face of it, it might seem that it is a simple complaint that readily lends itself to informal resolution. But how it can or should be dealt with will ultimately depend partly on the specific issues raised in the complaint.
Having these options available offers more choice to complainants and allows certain complaints to be resolved faster than the formal process. This makes them exceptionally important tools in the complaints process. However, while I strongly encourage all suitable complaint resolution options to be discussed with complainants, I do so with the following two caveats:
- Some complaints simply do not lend themselves to informal resolution or ADR.
- Both processes are voluntary. It is ultimately for the complainant to decide how they wish to try and resolve their complaint.
 A Service Complaint is a complaint made by a current or former Service person about how they were wronged in their Service life. There are certain issues that cannot form the basis of a Service Complaint. These are listed in The Armed Forces (Service Complaints Miscellaneous Provisions) Regulations 2015. In addition, there are some issues that need to go through a specific complaints process before they can form the basis of a Service Complaint. These are called Special to Type (STT) issues and they include, but are not limited to medial complaints, pay and housing.