Are you a respondent in a Service complaint, or have you supported a respondent in a Service complaint? Then we’d like to hear from you about your experiences and whether having access to the Ombudsman would’ve helped. For more information click here.

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 her 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 her 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.


  • 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.

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.