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Ombudsman publishes fourth Annual Report

Annual Report 2019 Summary BrochureAnnual Report 2019


The 2019 Annual Report for the Service Complaints Ombudsman was laid in Parliament today.  This is the Ombudsman’s fourth report to cover the work of her office and the reformed Service complaints process.

For the fourth year, the Ombudsman found that, despite continued improvements, the system is still not efficient, effective or fair. To address this, the Ombudsman made four recommendations for improvement to the system which runs alongside the fourteen ongoing recommendations from her previous reports. This is because the Ministry of Defence is already considering a raft of recommendations arising from three key reviews[1] of the Service Complaints system in 2019, some of which concern structural changes.

The full report and the summary brochure can be found on our website under Annual Report. Highlights from the report include:

The work of SCOAF

In 2019, SCOAF:

  • logged 754 contacts from individuals making an application or an enquiry about the Ombudsman’s powers
  • made 144 referrals to help current or former Service personnel access the Service Complaints system
  • made 100% of referrals within 7 working days, exceeding the 90% target
  • received 322 applications for investigation, of which 82% were eligible for investigation
  • completed 80% of all investigations within the time target
  • completed 90% of admissibility reviews and 99% of undue delay investigations within 17 working days, meeting/exceeding the 90% target
  • reduced the backlog from 143 unallocated substance and maladministration cases to 49 as of 31 December 2019
The work of the Service Complaints system

In 2019:

  • 1,184 formal statement of complaints and 149 informal complaints were received by the Services
  • 766 were deemed admissible in-year, with a further 178 pending a decision
  • The 3 largest areas of complaint concerned
  • career management (37%)
  • bullying, harassment and discrimination (25%)
  • pay, pensions and allowances (15%)
  • 46% of complaints were closed within 24 weeks (tri-Service target)
  • Both female and BAME personnel were overrepresented in the Service Complaints system (23% and 12%) compared to their representation in the Armed Forces (11% and 8%)
  • 5 pre-2016 complaints were finalised, leaving 4 complaints made before 2016 open at the end of 2019

The Service Complaints Ombudsman, Nicola Williams said:

“The reformed Service Complaints system still needs fundamental structural changes to ensure that Armed Forces personnel have the confidence to raise a formal complaint, in a system that operates efficiently, effectively and fairly as possible. Currently, I am concerned that personnel are dissatisfied with the length of time taken to resolve a complaint; causing undue delay, including my office; which is having a significant impact on complainants’ wellbeing and mental health.  Further work in this area is needed to address these issues, and with the support of the Ministry of Defence and the single Services, I am confident that we can build a better system for all Service personnel.


[1] The three reviews carried out in 2019 which looked at the operation of SCOAF and/or the Service Complaints System was:

– House of Commons Defence Committee, ‘Fairness without Fear: The work of the Service Complaints Ombudsman’, Sixteenth Report of Session 2017-19

– Ministry of Defence, ‘Report on Inappropriate Behaviours’. 7 June 2019

– Army Inspectorate, ‘Review of the Service Complaints Process’ 28 June 2019 (This report is not a public document so it is not available online)