What the Ombudsman can and can’t do: a quick guide

19 Jun 2019

Have you ever wondered why the Ombudsman does some things but not others? Why she only deals with Service complaints and not all complaints? Read for more information

Have you ever wondered why we do some things but not others? Why we only deal with Service complaints and not all complaints? The role of the Service Complaints Ombudsman is to help build a better Service complaints system, but there are limits on what we can and can’t do as part of this. In this week’s blog, we are providing a quick brief on the role of the Ombudsman.

Why can’t you investigate my complaint? Why didn’t you award me compensation? Why didn’t you overturn the decision?

These are questions we are often asked and usually the simple answer is that it’s outside our powers.

In broad terms, the role of an Ombudsman is to investigate complaints that weren’t handled properly in the first place. But what that means, and when, where and how it is done depends on the specific powers given to that Ombudsman.

The Service Complaints Ombudsman for the Armed Forces has a very specific jurisdiction. As set out clearly in the legislation, the Ombudsman only has jurisdiction over the Service complaints system rather than all aspects of the Armed Forces.

In addition, her specific powers are also set out. The Ombudsman can:

Refer Help Service personnel access the Service complaints system
Review Decide whether decisions made by the Services to not accept a Service complaint for investigation were correct
  • Undue delay in the handling of a Service complaint or Service matter while it is ongoing
  • The substance of a Service complaint once it has completed the internal process
  • Maladministration in the handling of a Service complaint once it has completed the internal process
Report Annually to Parliament on the overall efficiency, effectiveness and fairness of the Service complaints system

The Ombudsman can only act within these powers. There are also other limitations placed on her powers by the legislation and policy.

This means that the Ombudsman can’t:

Investigate INSTEAD of the Service The Ombudsman isn’t an alternative process and has no powers of own motion investigation. Your complaint must go through the internal process first. The internal process is a separate process and the Ombudsman has no involvement in the day-to-day handling of Service complaints within the internal process.
Monitor the handling of your complaint If the Ombudsman makes a referral, reviews an admissibility decision or investigates undue delay, her involvement stops once the referral is made or the decision is reached. We do not have the power to monitor how your complaint is handled after that.
Overturn a fair and reasonable decision If a decision has been made by the Services that, based on all the available evidence is fair and reasonable, the Ombudsman will not overturn it.
Award compensation The Ombudsman can make recommendations about what redress should be granted, including financial payments, but can’t:

1. Direct redress to be made, or

2. Set a monetary amount for financial payments.

Accept every application for investigation that is received The Ombudsman isn’t a third level of appeal. Applications are only accepted if they:
  • are in time (or it is just and equitable to accept them outside of the time limit)
  • have a reasonable prospect of resulting in a different outcome following an investigation
  • concern a matter where an investigation by the Ombudsman would be in the public interest.

Why is all of this important? Simply put, because if people don’t clearly understand what the Ombudsman can and can’t do then it creates unrealistic expectations about what can or will be achieved. This can then cause frustration and anger.

In line with our customer charter, when you contact SCOAF you can always expect us to:

  • provide you with information about what we can and can’t do. But, if you have specific questions or expectations, then please let us know.
  • be transparent about how we handle your matter.
  • give you a clear and reasoned decision letter at the end of the process.

Respect, Communication, Impartiality, Transparency, Improvement

We won’t always be able to do everything you want. However, it is important that the Ombudsman always acts within the limits of her powers to ensure the integrity of the office.

If you would like more information about what the Ombudsman can and can’t do, use the ‘How can we help you?’ tool on our website www.scoaf.org.uk  or contact us on 020 7877 3450 or by email at contact@scoaf.org.uk.

If you are looking for an ombudsman with jurisdiction over a different area, use the Ombudsman Association’s ‘Find an Ombudsman’ tool.