Frequently asked questions

Making a complaint

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Should I make a complaint? Will it be accepted?

If you are unhappy about something that has happened in your Service life then you can make a Service complaint about it. The decision to make a complaint is yours. The staff at SCOAF can’t advise you, or tell you whether your complaint will be accepted by your Service. This is because the SCOAF needs to remain impartial in case you need to ask us to investigate at a later stage. If you are unsure whether you should make a complaint or want advice about an existing complaint you can:

  • Speak to your unit Welfare Officer or Equality and Diversity Advisor who may be able to provide advice.
  • Contact one of the Service charities for support and help.

Can I be treated unfairly for making a Service complaint?

No. The Service complaints process makes it clear that no one should be treated unfairly or unfavourably as a result of having made a complaint or as a result of providing information that supports a complaint. If you are, this is victimisation and it is unlawful.

I want to raise the same issue as my colleague. How do I do this?

You will need to submit your own Service complaint. Service complaints can only be made by an individual and not as a group. So even if the issue that you want to complain about is the same, or a similar, issue to another person, you can’t “join” their complaint or make a joint complaint. You will need to raise separate complaints which will be investigated as separate complaints.

I don’t want to be identified. Can I make an anonymous complaint?

No you can’t make an anonymous complaint. This is because the legislation requires a Service complaint to be made by an individual member of the Armed Forces who was subject to Service law at the time of the alleged wrong.

The Service Complaints Process

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I’m concerned that the Specified Officer handling my complaint is not impartial. What should I do?

Specified Officers have a duty to be impartial and to declare any potential conflicts of interest. If you have concerns about how your complaint is being handled, contact the complaints secretariat for your Service who will be able to provide advice.

My Assisting Officer (AO) does not contact me/has been posted, can the Ombudsman help me?

No, this isn’t something the Ombudsman can help you with.

However, it is important that both complainants and respondents have an AO  to provide help and support throughout the internal process. If the AO you have been assigned is unable to assist you or has been posted, you should inform the Specified Officer handling your complaint so that a new AO can be assigned.

I have been told that I need to follow a special-to-type (STT) process. Where do I find this information?

There are certain matters which are considered Special-to-type (STT) that have their own complaints processes such as healthcare, housing, pay and allowances. This list is not exhaustive.

Your complaint may have to go through a separate process first depending on what your complaint is about. Your chain of command or the complaints secretariat for your Service will let you know if this is the case and tell you who to contact.

To find our more information on STT processes and how it affects your service complaint read  JSP831, Part 2, Section 3 Paragraph 29.

How long will it take to be contacted about my complaint following a referral to my Service?

You should be contacted by the Specified Officer handling your complaint within 2 days of them receiving the referral. The Specified Officer then had two week to make a decision on the admissibility of the complaint.

How long will the process take?

A Service complaint should usually be completed within 24 weeks, starting from the date that the complainant is notified that  the complaint is admissible. For more information on timeframes read JSP831 (Part 1:10-11). 

My chain of command is implicated in my complaint. What should I do?

If your commanding officer is the subject of the complaint or implicated in the matter you want to complain about, you can either:

  • contact the complaints secretariat for your Service for advice on who to submit your complaint to; or
  • ask the Ombudsman to refer your intention to make a Service complaint to your chain of command.

If you want the Ombudsman to make a referral, click the button below to access the application form. Application for Referral

The Ombudsman Powers and Process

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If I make an application to the Ombudsman will my information be kept confidential?

Initial contact with SCOAF is confidential. However, we can’t make a referral or conduct an investigation without sharing some of your information with the relevant Service. If we conduct an investigation, this will include sending the Service a copy of the report so that any recommendations made by the Ombudsman can be implemented.

We never take any action or share any information without your consent, unless there is an immediate risk of self-harm or harm to others. We will never share your information publicly.

Why can’t the Ombudsman investigate my Service complaint?

The Ombudsman has no powers of own-initiative investigation. This means that the Ombudsman can’t investigate matters outside of their specific powers. This includes investigating matters instead of the Services. When your complaint has completed the internal process, if you are unhappy with the outcome you can make an application to the Ombudsman to ask for an investigation into the substance (merits) of your complaint.

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

Can the Ombudsman investigate historical complaints?

If the incident you want to make a Service complaint about happened before 1 January 2008 and your complaint was not submitted before 31 December 2015, the Ombudsman has no legal power to look at the matter.

This is because a Service person can only make a Service complaint if the matter they are complaining about occurred when they were subject to Service law.  Service law commenced on 1 January 2008. Prior to this, Service personnel were subject to the laws of their individual Services (Army Act 1955, Navy Discipline Act 1957 and the Air Force Act 1955.)  For incidents that occurred before 1 January 2008, personnel had until the 31 December 2015 to make a complaint and it is not possible to make a Service complaint now.  It may be possible to raise your historical complaint in another way.

Are you really independent?

Yes, the Ombudsman really is independent. As a public appointee, the Ombudsman is appointed by HM The Queen for a period of 5 years and is independent of the Ministry of Defence. To ensure this independence, the legislation requires that whoever holds the position must never have served in the Armed Forces.

The Service Complaints Ombudsman for the Armed Forces (SCOAF) was established on 1 January 2016 to provide independent and impartial oversight of the Service complaints system for all Service personnel in the UK Armed Forces. The Ombudsman reports annually to parliament on the work of the office and the complaints system. As part of this, the Ombudsman is required to make an assessment on whether the system is efficient, effective and fair and make recommendations for improvement.

Do you charge for your service?

No. The Ombudsman service is completely free. The Ombudsman is an independent and impartial body established by Parliament to provide oversight of the handling of Service complaints made by members of the UK Armed Forces.

Can the Ombudsman award redress after an investigation?

No. The Ombudsman does not have the power to grant redress. However, the Ombudsman can make recommendations about what redress the Service should provide if they find in favour of a complaint following an investigation.

For further information read what redress can the Ombudsman Recommend?

See also: SCOAF Financial Remedy Guidelines

I have received a decision from my Service that my appeal of the Decision Body’s decision cannot proceed, can the Ombudsman help?

If your Service decides that the appeal cannot proceed because the complaint is ruled out of time or it is not just & equitable for it to proceed, you can apply to the Ombudsman to review this admissibility decision. If the Ombudsman disagrees with the decision made the complaint will go back to your Service to appoint an Appeal Body.

However if the Ombudsman upholds the Service’s decision that the appeal can’t proceed this means that your Service Complaint is considered finally determined.  This means that you can only make a make a further application to Ombudsman for a substance and/or maladministration investigation. You will have 6 weeks and 2 days from the date of the appeal admissibility decision letter to submit your application to the Ombudsman.

I am not happy with the decision made by the Ombudsman. How do I appeal?

There is no way to appeal the decision of the Ombudsman. This is because all decisions are final and binding on all parties. The only way to challenge the decision of the Ombudsman is by judicial review.

Judicial review can be a costly legal process. You may wish to consider seeking legal advice about what the process entails and how much it is likely to cost before making a decision about whether to apply for judicial review. SCOAF is unable to provide this advice.

For more information read the Ombudsman's blog on Judicial Review.

Can SCOAF provide legal advice?

No, SCOAF can’t provide legal advice.

While you shouldn’t need legal advice for either the internal process or our process, if you decide to take legal advice you should find a firm that has a strong understanding of the Armed Forces and their complaints procedures.

Can a solicitor or third party make a referral to SCOAF on my behalf?

No. A Service complaint can only be made by a Service person. The same applies to applications to our office. A solicitor or third party can support a Service person to make an application, but it needs to be in their name.

Please note that we can only accept a completed application form from the Service person who wishes to make the complaint if they give us their consent to do so. The application form will need to be returned to us from their personal email address.

For more information read who can access the Ombudsman

I need assistance with my SCOAF application, should I ask a solicitor or third party?

This decision is entirely up to you. However, our Enquiries Team can help you access our service or complete our application forms.

If you do ask a solicitor or third party to assist you, we can’t talk to them about your Service complaint without your consent. You will need to confirm in writing that you are happy for the solicitor or third party to act on your behalf and whether you wish for us to correspond with them directly, or be copied into any correspondence.

Please note that if you do get legal advice or instruct a solicitor to represent you, this may cost money.

Read to find out your responsibilities as a complainant in the process.

Family Member of a Current or Former Member of the Armed Forces

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Can I make a complaint on my loved ones behalf?

No. The Service complaints process is an internal workplace grievance system. A complaint can only be made by Service person who feels they have been wronged in a matter relating to their Service life.

Why can’t the Ombudsman investigate my loved ones complaint?

The Ombudsman can only investigate in specific circumstances. The Ombudsman does not have the power to investigate the merits of a Service complaint before the relevant single Service has investigated.

The Ombudsman can only investigate a matter once the complaint has completed the internal system (including any appeal) and the complainant makes an application to SCOAF asking the Ombudsman to investigate.

For more information on the Ombudsman’s powers and processes read ‘What the Ombudsman can and can’t do’

I am concerned that nothing is happening with my loved ones complaint. What can s/he do?

Your loved one should ask the person who is handing the complaint what is happening and the reason for any delay.  They can ask their Assisting Officer (AO) to do this on their behalf, or contact the complaints secretariat for their Service who will be able to provide more information.

Judicial Review

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What is a Judicial Review?

Judicial Review is a legal process in which the High Court looks at the decision made and decides whether it was in the limits of the Ombudsman’s power to make that decision and whether the correct process was followed. Judicial Review is not a new investigation into your complaint.

You can find further information on Judicial Review and the timeframe to submit an application in the Administrative Court Judicial Review Guide.

How much does a Judicial Review cost?

Judicial review can be a costly legal process. You may wish to consider seeking legal advice about what the process entails and how much it is likely to cost before making a decision about whether to apply for judicial review. SCOAF is unable to provide this advice.

Do you still need an answer to a question?

Contact our Enquiries and Referrals Team who will be happy to help you. The team are available between 9.00 am – 4.30 pm Monday-Friday. You can contact SCOAF by email, post or phone. We aim to respond to all contacts within 2 working days.

Please note: You can contact us confidentially. But if you want the Ombudsman to be able to help you, you will need to give us permission to share some of what you tell us with your Service. We will never communicate with your Service without your agreement. The only exception to this is where we have immediate concerns about your safety or the safety of others. For information on who can make an application to the Ombudsman see How can we help you?

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