The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has now fully considered the findings of the report and the formal response has now been issued. It addresses the eight new recommendations which were made in the report by the Service Complaints Commissioner (SCC), Nicola Williams.
The SCC assessed the performance of the Service complaints system during 2014 and was unable to report that the system was working efficiently, effectively or fairly. The SCC gave delay as the main reason why she couldn’t report that the system was working as it should. For example, the report states that none of the Services has met the target of resolving 90% of new cases within 24 weeks.
The SCC did however report that there is acceptance within the three Services that radical improvement in the way complaints are handled is required and that this work is underway.
Reform of Service complaints
MOD worked with Dr Susan Atkins, the previous SCC, on issues such as shortening the complaints process and increasing the powers available to the Commissioner role. It was in response to these specific issues that the Armed Forces (Service Complaints and Financial Assistance) Act 2015 addresses. The Act provides for a reformed complaints system as well extending the powers of the Commissioner and changing the role to a Service Complaints Ombudsman.
These changes are set to increase confidence in the use of the system by Service personnel of all levels. The changes planned for the process will make it shorter, by reducing the levels of appeal to one, and give the Ombudsman increased powers.
Some of the new powers available to the Ombudsman include being able to investigate whether an individual’s complaint was handled correctly or whether there was any undue delay in the process. The Ombudsman will also be able to investigate the complaint itself provided the internal complaints process has already been completed.
It is planned that the Ombudsman will add a strong, independent voice to the Armed Forces Service complaints system, holding the Services to account and giving confidence to personnel that any concerns they raise will be properly and fairly considered.
The current Service complaints process will continue to operate until the proposed reforms are put in place, and MOD welcomes the news that in her annual report for 2014 the SCC acknowledges that the process is improving.