SCOAF publishes its Annual Report 2022

3 May 2023


  • Improvements have been made to the efficiency and perceived independence of the system.  

  • However, the system lacks flexibility, and concerns remain over various aspects of the system. 

  • The Ombudsman has made five new recommendations to deliver lasting change to the system.

The Service Complaints Ombudsman for the Armed Forces (SCOAF), Mariette Hughes, has assessed that the Service Complaints system continues to operate in a way that is not efficient, effective or fair in her 2022 Annual Report that was laid in Parliament today.

This is the seventh year in a row that this assessment has been reached.  

Key issues which continue to affect the operation of the Service Complaints system include the effect of changes to the appeals system, a lack of flexibility in dealing with the nuances of individual Service Complaints, the system not dealing with complaints at the lowest level and the persistent view that the system will disadvantage or discriminate against Service personnel who raise complaints.  

However, the Ombudsman does welcome improvements made to the system this year. The independence of the system has improved following the removal of the Chain of Command from the Service Complaints process. There have also been improvements to the efficiency of the system, with the Armed Forces closing 66% of Service complaints on time on average, their best performance to date.  

The Ombudsman has made five new recommendations to the Ministry of Defence that will deliver lasting improvements to the system. These include working with the MOD and Single Services to professionalise the system, improving awareness of the system and increase SCOAF’s ability to assess the performance of the system.  


The Service Complaints Ombudsman for the Armed Forces, Mariette Hughes, said:  

“Whilst it is disappointing to find once more that the system is not efficient, effective or fair, I am positive about the improvements that have been made in 2022. The level of engagement from the Services has been extremely encouraging, and with renewed focus and commitment to driving forward recommendations, I am satisfied that real and lasting change is possible”.  


The full report can be found on our website under Annual Report

Highlights of the Report include: 

The performance of the Service Complaints system   

In 2022:   

  • 935 Service Complaints were ruled admissible. 

  • 66% of complaints were closed within 24 weeks (tri-Service target). 

  • The average Service Complaint takes 35 weeks to process. 

  • 43% of Service Complaints are upheld (partially or fully) in favour of the complainant.   

  • The 3 largest areas of complaint concerned:   

    • Career management (39%). 

    • Bullying, harassment or discrimination (24%). 

    • Pay, pensions and allowances (9%).   

  • Female Service personnel remain overrepresented in the Service Complaints system, making up 21% of complaints but only 12% of the Armed Forces.  

The work of SCOAF   

In 2022:   

  • SCOAF made 214 referrals to help current or former Service personnel access the Service Complaints system, of which 100% were made within the time target. 

  • SCOAF received 356 applications for investigation, of which 91% were eligible for investigation. 

  • SCOAF completed 94% of investigations within the time target (received in 2022).  

  • SCOAF continued to reduce the backlog, despite an increase in the number of Maladministration and/or Substance (merits) applications.    

The Ombudsman’s recommendations  

  • The MOD and Armed Forces commits to reviewing case handling processes with a view to achieving standardisation and professionalisation.  

  • The MOD develops a dedicated area on their intranet to provide information and signposting on Service Complaints.  

  • The MOD and Armed Forces establishes a formal process of quality review allowing for oversight of the Service Complaints system.  

  • The MOD agrees with the Ombudsman that when changes occur within the Service Complaints system, the purpose of these are captured fully. 

  • The MOD seeks to amend the allowable grounds of appealing a Service Complaint to include material error of reasoning and to require that personnel exhaust the internal process in full before a complaint is deemed finally determined.  



Contact the SCOAF Press Office

Read the full report here