The aim of this page is to give you a better understanding of our internal process and how to make an application. This starts from making a complaint to your Service, when to bring your complaint to our office, and how we investigate and make decisions.
What should I do first?
If you feel you have been wronged in a matter relating to your Service life, you have a right to make a complaint. First, you need to make a complaint to your Service through the internal complaints system to give them the opportunity to determine if the wrong occurred and if it did, to make things right. You can make a complaint directly to your chain of command or you can ask the Ombudsman to refer a potential complaint. For more information read application for referral.
You don’t need to pay a professional person, like a solicitor, to complain for you. When you make a complaint, you will be offered the opportunity to have an Assisting Officer who will assist and guide you through the Service complaints process.
Please note that some matters need to go through a specific complaints process before they can form the basis of a complaint. These are called Special-to-Type (STT) complaints and they include, but are not limited to medical complaints, pay and housing.
If you have a pre-application query, please refer to our Frequently Asked Questions page, where you can find answers to our most commonly asked questions. Alternatively, you can send a message to our Enquiries Team, or phone 0300 369 0689, and we will be more than happy to help you.
What should I do next?
If your complaint has completed the internal complaints system and you’re unhappy with the way your complaint was handled, or you feel the complaint was wrongly excluded from the process by your Service, you can ask the Ombudsman to investigate or review the decision received. You can ask the Ombudsman to:
- Review decisions to not accept a complaint or appeal for investigation (admissibility decisions)
- Investigate allegations of undue delay
- investigate allegations of maladministration in a Service Complaint
- Investigate the substance (merits) of a Service Complaint
To find out if you’re eligible read the next section.
Are you eligible?
To check if you are eligible to apply to our office use our interactive ‘how can we help you’ tool. It takes less than 5 mins to complete and allows you to navigate through our processes by responding to simple yes and no questions. By answering a few questions, you will find out if we can help you and direct you to the right application form to complete.
If we can help, you will need to complete an application form and send us documents related to your complaint. If you do not want to complete an online form, you can also download it here and return it by email or post.
To find out what we can’t look at read what the Ombudsman can and can’t do.
When to get in touch:
You can approach the Ombudsman throughout the course of your Service Complaint if you feel that that the time taken to resolve your complaint has been unwarranted or excessive. Before you ask the Ombudsman for help, you should try to resolve the issue yourself. Contact the person handling your complaint and ask why there has been a delay, and when you can expect your complaint to be resolved.
Admissibility / Substance and Maladministration
When you receive the final decision letter for your complaint it will outline the timeframe for you to approach the Ombudsman to request an investigation or a review of your complaint.
- For a review of an admissibility decision, the time limit to make an application is 4 weeks and 2 days.
- For an investigation of substance (merits) and/or maladministration it is increased to 6 weeks and 2 days.
These limits run from the date that the decision was posted or emailed to you. But you are advised to apply as early as possible. If you don’t, you will need to provide reasons why your application is late and why you were unable to apply within the time limit. We will consider a number of factors before we make a decision to accept an application outside of the time limit. If you don’t have a good reason for not making the application in time we will decide that it is not Just and Equitable to accept it out of time. For more information read just and equitable.
Please note that the decision to accept applications outside the time limit is an exception and not the rule and will be assessed on a case by case basis.
How we will deal with your complaint
When an application is received by our office, our Enquiries Team will check to ensure you have provided the information required before your application is considered complete. For more information read How to complete our application forms. Your application will be assigned to one of our investigators in the order of the date it was received by our office. The investigator will conduct an initial case review to determine whether we can accept the matter for investigation. Depending on what you have asked for in your application, we will review the documents you provided to assess whether you have met the following eligibility requirements:
- The application was made within the time limit (unless there are just and equitable reasons)
- The application is not deemed frivolous, vexatious, or malicious
- The complainant was subject to Service law at the time the ‘wrong’ occurred
- The complaint relates to an on-going Service Complaint or the handling of a Service Matter
- There is an indication of significant delay
- The application is not deemed frivolous, vexatious, or malicious
Maladministration / Substance
- The complaint is finally determined
- Whether the application was made in time
- There is a reasonable prospect a new investigation would result in a different outcome
- An investigation would be a proportionate use of the Ombudsman’s powers
- The redress requested can be achieved
- There is a public interest in conducting an investigation
If the application is accepted following the initial case review and triage, we will conduct an investigation on either your entire complaint, or a part of it, before we reach a decision. The investigators first task is to ask the Service that handled the complaint to provide a number of key documents from their complaint file. We ask for these documents because we want to see what was investigated and how the investigation was conducted. The investigator will then contact the relevant parties involved, including respondents and witnesses (if necessary and proportionate) and seek further information to clarify the complaint or redress. At the end of an investigation, we will give you a clear and reasoned decision letter that sets out what we have done and why we have reached that decision. To find out who’s involved in your application read the role of our Operations Team.
What to expect
In line with our customer charter, we will ensure that we treat every application to our office in a fair and impartial manner. We are not pro-complainant or pro-Service. This means that we do not take sides. When we conduct an investigation we will take into account all the facts of the complaint within the timeframe of legislation and guidance.
We will always communicate with you via email. But if you prefer for us to communicate with you by post or you have particular needs in the way we communicate with you, please let us know and we will do our best to help. We will keep you updated on key stages as your complaint progresses through the investigation process. We will give everyone time to comment on information and tell you deadlines for responses. But it is important that you help us investigate effectively by being open, honest and providing all of the information we request in a timely manner. We will do everything we can to make it as easy for you to access our services. But it is important that you let us know if you need us to do more to address your individual needs. For more information read our factsheet on reasonable adjustments.
Sharing your information
How long the process takes for us to deal with a complaint will depend on what you are asking the Ombudsman to do. Some complaints can be dealt with fairly quickly while others may take longer to resolve as we may need to make several requests for information from your Service to establish the facts of the complaint. Timeframes could be longer if we are dealing with a high volume of applications. Your acknowledgement email will outline any expected delays in allocating your application to an investigator. For information on our timescales from the start of a completed application to our office see how long will it take? Please note that due to staff shortages there may be a delay in handling your investigation. We are working hard to reduce waiting times. You will be given a revised timeline for the allocation of an investigator and subsequent completion of any investigation. For the latest update on our backlog see latest news.
We expect you to be polite and courteous in your dealings with us. We understand that the complaints process may have been distressing or upsetting and in a small number of cases, people pursue their complaints in a way that is unreasonable. But we will not tolerate aggressive, unreasonable demands or persistent behaviour. We will make every effort to minimise unacceptable conduct without affecting a complainant’s access to the Ombudsman’s services. In exceptional circumstances, a decision may be taken to restrict a complainant’s access to the Ombudsman’s office. For more information read how we handle unreasonable behaviour.
If you need support throughout the course of your complaint, we will signpost you to an appropriate service or organisation if we cannot help. For more information read where can I get welfare support during a Service Complaint?
The final stage of the complaints process is the Ombudsman’s decision. Following the investigation process, the Ombudsman will decide whether the complaint should be upheld or partially upheld. A recommendation for redress will be made to determine what the appropriate action should be taken to address the wrong. The recommendations that are made will depend on the type of investigation that has been carried out and the specifics of the individual case and the wrong that has been found. For more information read the factsheet what redress can the Ombudsman Recommend?
- If undue delay has been found in the handling of a Service complaint we might recommend that the investigation is completed by a specific date. If there have been no updates given to the complainant, or they have been of poor quality throughout the process then a recommendation might be made that timely and informative updates are provided to the complainant until the complaint is resolved.
- If the investigation concerns maladministration, we might recommend that an apology is given to the complainant for errors in handling or a consolatory payment is an appropriate remedy.
- For more examples see our Case Summaries
When the Service Secretariat receives the Ombudsman’s decision they are required to consider the recommendations and provide an update to the Ombudsman and you on any action that will be taken. If a recommendation cannot be implemented, the Service is required to explain the reasons for this and provide an alternative proposal for the Ombudsman to agree. Some recommendations are easy to implement and can be done so in a short space of time, whereas others require a longer period to implement. We will monitor to ensure that recommendations are carried out, but the Services are required to keep the Ombudsman updated until the recommendations have been implemented in full. Please note the Ombudsman has the power to recommend redress as quantifiable or non-quantifiable consolatory payments to the Services. But the onus will always be placed on the Services to decide the amount; not the Ombudsman. Further approval of any proposed payments will need to be sought in-line with guidance on managing public money. For more information read SCOAF Financial Remedy Guidelines (298 KB) See also:
If you’re unhappy with our decision
All decisions made by the Ombudsman are final. This means that you cannot appeal the decision or submit a further application on the same grounds. But if you disagree with a decision that we have made, the only way to challenge this is by making an application for Judicial Review. If you do decide to pursue this route you should do this within 3 months of the date of our final decision.
Please note that a 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. For more information read Judicial Review.