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Frequently asked questions

Making a complaint

  • 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

The Ombudsman Powers and Process

  • 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 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

Judicial Review

  • 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.

020 7877 3450
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contact@scoaf.org.uk
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Service Complaints Ombudsman, PO Box 72252, London SW1P 9ZZ

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?

Other types of enquiries