Is SCOAF independent?
At SCOAF, we have three key values. They are Independence, Impartiality and Integrity. These govern the way we work, the way we make our decisions, and are at the forefront of everything we do.
|Independence||We are independent from the the Services we investigate. We hold them to account for service failure or injustice.|
|Impartiality||We are impartial. All investigations are undertaken on their own merits. We do not take sides.|
|Integrity||We ensure that we are consistent in our approach, adhering to policy and process and acting within the confines of jurisdiction.|
The Service Complaints system is the internal workplace grievance system for members of the Armed Forces in the UK. SCOAF exists to provide oversight of the Service Complaints system, and to hold the Services and the Ministry of Defence (MOD) to account for the performance of the system. Our vision is that all Service personnel have access to, and confidence in, a complaints system that is efficient, effective and fair. However, one of the questions my office receives most frequently, is whether the Ombudsman is truly independent. This is usually in the context that SCOAF staff are civil servants, and that our budget is provided through MOD. People sometimes wonder whether that means there are certain things we can’t say, or do – because we are ‘part of the MOD’.
The short answer is that SCOAF really is independent – because the Ombudsman’s role is independent. As the Service Complaints Ombudsman, I am appointed by HM the Queen, not by the MOD. There are specific terms to my appointment which make it clear that I am not considered an employee of the MOD. I am appointed for a period of 5 years, and it is one of the requirements for the role, set out in legislation, that whoever holds the role of Ombudsman must never have served in the Armed Forces.
In addition, SCOAF staff are civil servants. The legislation which governs us sets out that the power for my staff to investigate and report on the Service Complaints system is delegated directly from me as the Ombudsman and is not granted by MOD. Whilst the budget from SCOAF is provided by MOD, SCOAF retains full control of how the organisation is run, how investigations are conducted, and the findings that are made.
One of my statutory functions is to report annually to Parliament on whether the complaints system is efficient, effective and fair. Whilst I do engage in regular meetings with senior stakeholders at the MOD to discuss the work of SCOAF, and the Service Complaints system, this is in the spirit of pursuit of a common goal. Collaboration and engagement is key to ensuring that issues are taken seriously, and that steps are agreed to address these.
In this year’s Business Plan, a key deliverable is to create a framework agreement between the MOD and SCOAF, setting out precisely how we operate in relation to each other. This document will provide clarity and assurance around the independence of my office, and reflects best practice in other, similar ombudsman organisations. This is really important to me, in terms of providing transparency and accountability, for the operation and independence of SCOAF.
For more information on the Ombudsman’s wider objectives read the SCOAF Business Plan 2021-2022 (591 KB)