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Ombudsman publishes fifth Annual Report

The Service Complaints Ombudsman for the Armed Forces (SCOAF) Annual Report 2020 was laid in Parliament today.

The report is the fifth report to cover the work of the Service Complaints system and the Ombudsman’s office. There have been a number of improvements to the reformed Service Complaints system. However, the Ombudsman once more finds that the system is not yet efficient, effective and fair.

This year, the Ombudsman chose not to make any further recommendations for improvement to the Service Complaints system in 2020, as no emergent issues required new recommendations that had not been addressed in previous recommendations for improvement.

There is still work to be done to improve the system in order to ensure it provides appropriate access to redress and resolution, whilst reflecting the unique context and challenges of Service life.

The work of SCOAF

In 2020, SCOAF:

  • logged 862 contacts from individuals making an application or an enquiry about the Ombudsman’s powers
  • made 168 referrals to help current or former Service personnel access the Service Complaints system
  • made 98% of referrals within 7 working days, exceeding the 90% target
  • received 286 applications for investigation, of which 86% were eligible for investigation
  • completed 79% of all investigations within the time target
  • completed 95% of admissibility reviews and undue delay investigations within 17 working days, exceeding the 90% target
  • reduced the backlog from 49 unallocated substance and maladministration cases to 23 as of 31 December 2020

The work of the Service Complaints system

In 2020:

  • 1,833 formal statement of complaints and 195 informal complaints were processed by the Services
  • 729 statement of complaints were deemed admissible in-year, with a further 169 pending a decision
  • The 3 largest areas of complaint concerned:
    • career management (40%)
    • bullying, harassment or discrimination (27%)
    • pay, pensions and allowances (13%)
  • 40% of complaints were closed within 24 weeks (tri-Service target)
  • Both female and BAME personnel were overrepresented in the Service Complaints system (21% and 12%) compared to their representation in the UK Armed Forces (15% and 8%)
  • 2 pre-2016 complaints were finalised, leaving 2 complaints made before 2016 still open at the end of 2020

The new Service Complaints Ombudsman for the Armed Forces, Mariette Hughes, said:

I am pleased to present the Annual Report for 2020, covering Nicola Williams’ fifth and final year as the Ombudsman. There have been several improvements to the reformed Service Complaints system. However, this report finds once more that the system is not yet efficient, effective and fair. This year, the Ombudsman chose to not make any further recommendations for improvement to the Service Complaints system in 2020, as no emergent issues required new recommendations that had not been addressed in previous years. Also, the Service Complaints Transformation Team progressed further with wider reform work. While this work had been delayed in some areas due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are several activities underway that are designed to deliver the improvements required.

 As the next Ombudsman, I look forward to reviewing the system over the next few years. My mission is to ensure that the system provides appropriate access to redress and resolution whilst reflecting Service life’s unique context and challenges.

 ENDS