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What the Ombudsman can and can’t do

The Ombudsman can

The Service Complaints Ombudsman provides independent and impartial oversight of the handling of the Service complaints system. The Ombudsman achieves this through three main functions:

  • Helping Service personnel access the complaints system

    The Service Complaints system is an internal workplace grievance system for members of the UK Armed Forces.

    Personnel can make a Service complaint if:

    • They believe they were wronged in a matter relating to their Service life; AND
    • The wrong happened while they were subject to Service law

    In most cases personnel will go to their chain of command directly to make a Service complaint. But if they don’t want to, they can ask the Ombudsman to refer their intention to make a Service complaint. No reason needs be given for going to the Ombudsman instead of the chain of command in the first instance.

    Request a referral

  • Investigating

    The Ombudsman has the power to:

    1. Review decisions to not accept a complaint or appeal for investigation (Admissibility Decisions)
    2. Investigate allegations of undue delay
    3. Investigate allegations of maladministration in a Service complaint that has been finally determined
    4. Investigate the substance of a Service complaint that has been finally determined

    The Ombudsman is not a second level of appeal and does not accept all substance (merits) and maladministration cases for investigation.

    The role of the Ombudsman is to consider whether the investigation of a Service complaint was reasonable. That means whether the:

    • correct process was followed
    • the decision reached was reasonable, fair, proportionate and justified based on the evidence available

    Any new applications for an investigation into alleged maladministration and/or the substance of a Service complaint will be assessed prior to being accepted. If your application is not accepted, because it is out of time or the Ombudsman is unable to make a material difference to the outcome, you will be informed of this and the reasons for that decision.

    To find out more information and make an application click the button below.

    Types of Applications

  • Reporting to parliament

    The Ombudsman oversees the Service complaints process. As part of this she must report to the Secretary of State for Defence each year on:- how the Service complaints system is operating

    • the work undertaken by the Ombudsman, and
    • any other issue the Ombudsman believes it is appropriate to report on

    You can find links to past Annual Reports here

    Past Annual Reports

The Ombudsman can’t

The jurisdiction of the Ombudsman is limited to the functions outlined above. The Ombudsman can’t:

  • Deal with enquiries or complaints that fall outside of the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction. This includes complaints from members of the public or family members’ matters.
  • Monitor ongoing Service complaints or intervene in the handling of ongoing complaints. The only exception to this is where the Ombudsman investigates potential undue delay.
  • Investigate alleged maladministration if the Service complaint has not been finally determined.
  • Investigate substance (merits) of a Service complaint that has not been finally determined
  • Accept an application made by a third party e.g. a family member or friend. The only exception to this is where the third party has the legal power to act on behalf of the Service person.