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Ombuds Day 2020 – How do Ombudsman make a difference

This 8th October is Ombuds Day, which occurs on the second Thursday of October each year. Ombuds Day is promoted by the American Bar Association (ABA) to increase public awareness of Ombudsman institutions, their roles, function and the valuable work they provide.

Similar to last year, the theme for Ombuds Day is ‘Unusual Name, Important Service’. However, the SCOAF collaborated with members of the Ombudsman Association and adapted the theme to discuss ‘How do Ombudsman make a difference?’

In this short clip, Nicola Williams, Service Complaints Ombudsman for the Armed Forces talks about three ways Ombudsman make a difference by maintaining their independence.


To find out how other Ombudsman answered the question, visit OA OmbudsDay 2020.

How does SCOAF make a difference to the Service Complaints system?

The Service complaints system is important in addressing concerns Service personnel have about their Service life.

The SCOAF are helping to build a better Service complaints system for all Service personnel to have confidence in a system that will handle their complaint efficiently, effectively and fairly. We do this by providing independent and impartial oversight of the Service Complaints process through the Ombudsman’s powers to refer, review, investigate and report:

Refer – The Ombudsman can assist Service personnel access the internal system to raise a complaint if they feel they are unable or unwilling to submit their complaint directly to their chain of command.

Review – The Ombudsman can review a decision by the chain of command to not accept a complaint into the system for investigation, or to not allow a complaint to proceed to appeal for a further decision.

Report – The Ombudsman is required to oversee and report to the Secretary of State for Defence on how the Service complaints system operates to address any issues for it to work as efficiently, effectively and fairly as possible.

For more information on the Ombudsman’s powers, read What the Ombudsman can and can’t do.

What needs to be done to improve the Service complaints system?

The reformed Service Complaints process came into effect from 1st January 2016. The process was streamlined from a three to a two-tier level, and the Ombudsman was established with increased powers than it ever had before.

However, there is still work to do to improve the Service complaints process for it to be efficient, effective and fair. As SCOAF’s last four reports have shown, individuals who make a complaint need to have confidence in a complaints system that performs to the level required to meet its objective. This can only be achieved if significant changes are made in a timely manner and complaints are resolved at the earliest possible opportunity.

SCOAF is committed to its part of the process, and each of the Services and MOD has demonstrated a clear commitment to delivering improvements through the recommendations that we make. However, the Ombudsman understands that changes to the process take time, including potential changes to legislation and the ongoing work to change the culture and performance around complaints.