Today is Reserves Day – an annual day that aims to showcase the important contribution Reservists make to the UK Armed Forces.  Therefore it is only fitting that my blog this month looks at Reserve Forces and why they are a particular area of focus for my office this year.

Each year, in addition to the day to day work carried out by my office, I pick key areas that I would like to place particular emphasis on in that twelve month period.  There are a number of reasons for this but in general it’s usually because it’s an area that:

  1. I am keen to learn more about;
  2. I want to make sure my office is responsive to;
  3. is a growing cause for concern; or
  4. some combination of the above!

This year one of the areas I have chosen to focus on is the Reserve Forces (for reason d) as outlined above).

The Reserve Forces make up approximately one sixth of the UK Armed Forces and play an integral part in defence.  What being a Reservist looks like is not straightforward – some Reservists have a civilian role alongside their Reserve activity, some will be deployed for a period of time and others will hold a full-time Reserve Service post – there is even the Cyber Reserves! But whatever form a person’s Reserve commitment takes, they are a part of the Armed Forces and I want to understand whether their experiences of Service are different and what challenges it may bring.

Without a strong understanding of the experiences of members of the Armed Forces I can’t carry out my role effectively. The conversations I have had during the visits I have conducted in my time in post, the matters that come to my office and the feedback I receive support this idea of a different experience – particularly in relation to the Service complaints process.

The majority of members of the Armed Forces will have long and fulfilling careers in which they do not have an experience that requires them to make a formal Service complaint. But when they do it is important that the system works. As the Service Complaints Ombudsman I find it unacceptable that there could potentially be a lack of parity for members of the Reserve Forces who seek to make a complaint about a wrong they have suffered in their Service life and this is an issue that I will be focusing on over the coming year.

In doing this I will endeavour to get out and meet as many Reservists as possible – to learn more about their roles and experiences.  I will be speaking with key senior Service personnel to hear their perspective on how the Service complaints process can respond better to reservists and how our messaging can reach more people. My office will also be looking at our own internal processes to ensure they meet the needs of reservists and that we act on any feedback received.

On this Reserves Day we of course join with the community at large to thank members of the Reserve Forces for their Service, but the specific message from my office is unequivocal – the Office of the Service Complaints Ombudsman exists for all members of the UK Armed Forces, whether it is their full time job or not, and we will continue to work to improve the Service complaints process for all.