News story

First Service Complaints Ombudsman to be created

The independent commissioner whose role it is to ensure armed forces complaints are fairly and properly dealt with is to receive new powers.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Dr Susan Atkins [Picture: Richard Watt, Crown copyright]
Dr Susan Atkins, the Service Complaints Commissioner

Although many service complaints are already handled well, too many are subject to delay. After extensive consultation with the current Service Complaints Commissioner, today’s proposals mean that the new Service Complaints Ombudsman will, for the first time, have direct powers to make a real difference to individual complainants.

The office will also continue to offer a vital alternative route for those who do not wish to approach their chain of command directly with their concerns in the first instance.

The new powers of the Service Complaints Ombudsman will include:

  • the power to overturn a decision to exclude a complaint
  • the power to review the handling of a complaint if at the end of the process the complainant is not satisfied
  • the power to recommend action formally to the Defence Council to put matters right if it is found that there has been a failure of process

Under the proposals, instead of having to appeal again to the Defence Council after an initial appeal, service personnel will have a new right to apply directly to the Service Complaints Ombudsman if an appeal is rejected and they feel that the chain of command has not handled their complaint correctly.

These changes will create a system that will lead to a higher proportion of complaints being decided more quickly, ensuring that the system is fair and effective for all personnel.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said:

A fair, effective and efficient system for handling complaints is crucial. No serviceman or woman should lack confidence in seeking redress through the current system. However, we can do better, and I believe, in particular, that we can resolve complaints more quickly.

We have worked closely with the Service Complaints Commissioner to ensure our personnel have the protection and support they need. The role is an essential safeguard and that is why I want to increase its powers to create the armed forces’ first Service Complaints Ombudsman. We will legislate at the earliest opportunity to deliver this change.

The Service Complaints Commissioner, Dr Susan Atkins, said:

I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement today that the service complaints system will be reformed and the role of Service Complaints Commissioner given new powers as the Service Complaints Ombudsman.

Once implemented these changes will provide service personnel with the reliable means of redress they deserve. I am delighted that the Secretary of State will be seeking an early opportunity to introduce the necessary legislation.

The new proposals build on improvements that have already been made to the way service complaints are managed. This has seen an increase in informal resolution and a reduction in appeal rates.

Last January a new 24-week timeline and monitoring process was introduced to help focus on dealing with complaints as swiftly as possible.

Published 13 March 2014