The Service Complaints Ombudsman for the Armed Forces opened on 1st January 2016. This replaced the Office of the Service Complaints Commissioner which ran from 2008-2015. The role of the Ombudsman was set up as part of wide reforms to the Service complaints process. Previous reforms had taken place in 2006 following Nicholas Blake QC's Deepcut Review. This review looked at the deaths of four soldiers at Princess Royal Barracks, Deepcut. It raised concerns about the complaints process and the lack of external oversight. It also recommended the creation of an Ombudsman or Commissioner for military complaints. In response, the Service Complaints Commissioner for the Armed Forces was created. The role of the Commissioner was to:
- help Service personnel access the complaints system
- report to Parliament each year on the operation of the Service complaints system.
Dr Susan Atkins was the first Service Complaints Commissioner (2008-2014). In each of her Annual Reports, Dr Atkins found that:
- the Service complaints system was not yet efficient, effective or fair, and
- the powers of the Commissioner did not go far enough to bring about the necessary changes.
In 2015, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) announced that there would be more reforms to the process. These reforms included:
- streamlining the internal complaints process, and
- replacing the Commissioner with an Ombudsman who had powers of investigation.
Nicola Williams became the first Service Complaints Ombudsman on 1st January 2016. This followed a one year term as the Service Complaints Commissioner. The legislation governing these reforms includes:
- Armed Forces (Service Complaints and Financial Assistance) Act
- The Armed Forces (Service Complaints) Regulations 2015
- The Armed Forces (Service Complaints Miscellaneous Provisions) Regulations 2015
- The Armed Forces (Service Complaints Ombudsman Investigations) Regulations 2015