Making a complaint
Should I make a complaint? Will it be accepted?
If you are unhappy about something that has happened in your Service life then you can make a Service complaint about it. The decision to make a complaint is yours.
The staff at the OSCO can’t advise you, or tell you whether your complaint will be accepted by your Service. This is because the OSCO needs to remain impartial in case you need to ask us to investigate at a later stage.
If you are unsure whether you should make a complaint or want advice about an existing complaint you can:
- Speak to your unit Welfare Officer or Equality and Diversity Advisor who may be able to provide advice.
- Contact one of the Service charities for support and help.
Can I be treated unfairly for making a Service complaint?
No. The Service complaints process makes it clear that no one should be treated unfairly or unfavourably as a result of having made a complaint or as a result of providing information that supports a complaint. If you are, this is victimisation and it is unlawful.
I want to raise the same issue as my colleague. How do I do this?
You will need to submit your own Service complaint. Service complaints can only be made by an individual and not as a group. So even if the issue that you want to complain about is the same, or a similar, issue to another person, you can’t “join” their complaint or make a joint complaint. You will need to raise separate complaints which will be investigated as separate complaints.
I don’t want to be identified. Can I make an anonymous complaint?
No you can’t make an anonymous complaint. This is because the legislation requires a Service complaint to be made by an individual member of the Armed Forces who was subject to Service law at the time of the alleged wrong.
The Service Complaints Process
I’m concerned that the Specified Officer handling my complaint is not impartial. What should I do?
Specified Officers have a duty to be impartial and to declare any potential conflicts of interest. If you have concerns about how your complaint is being handled, contact the complaints secretariat for your Service who will be able to provide advice.
My Assisting Officer (AO) does not contact me/has been posted, can the Ombudsman help me?
No, this isn’t something the Ombudsman can help you with.
However, it is important that both complainants and respondents have an AO to provide help and support throughout the internal process. If the AO you have been assigned is unable to assist you or has been posted, you should inform the Specified Officer handling your complaint so that a new AO can be assigned.
I have been told that I need to follow a special-to-type (STT) process. Where do I find this information?
You should speak to the person handling your complaint or the complaints secretariat for your Service who should be able to give you information about these procedures or tell you who to contact.
To find our more information on special-to-type processes and how it affects your service complaint read JSP831 (Part 2, 1:29).
How long will it take to be contacted about my complaint following a referral to my Service?
You should be contacted by the Specified Officer handling your complaint within 2 days of them receiving the referral. The Specified Officer then had two week to make a decision on the admissibility of the complaint.
How long will the process take?
A Service complaint should usually be completed within 24 weeks, starting from the date that the complainant is notified that the complaint is admissible. For more information on timeframes read JSP831 (Part 1:10-11).
My chain of command is implicated in my complaint. What should I do?
If your commanding officer is the subject of the complaint or implicated in the matter you want to complain about, you can either:
- contact the complaints secretariat for your Service for advice on who to submit your complaint to; or
- ask the Ombudsman to refer your intention to make a Service complaint to your chain of command.
If you want the Ombudsman to make a referral, click the button below to access the application form.
The Ombudsman Powers and Process
If I make an application to the Ombudsman will my information be kept confidential?
Initial contact with the OSCO is confidential. However, we can’t make a referral or conduct an investigation without sharing some of your information with the relevant Service. We never take any action or share any information without your consent, unless there is an immediate risk of self-harm or harm to others. We will never share your information publicly.
Why can’t the Ombudsman investigate my Service complaint?
The Ombudsman has no powers of own initiative investigation. This means that the Ombudsman can’t investigate matters outside of her specific powers. This includes investigating matters instead of the Services. When your complaint has completed the internal process, if you are unhappy with the outcome you can make an application to the Ombudsman to ask for an investigation into the substance (merits) of your complaint.
For more information on the Ombudsman’s powers and processes read ‘What the Ombudsman can and can’t do’.
Are you really independent?
Yes, the Ombudsman really is independent. As a public appointee, the Ombudsman is appointed by HM The Queen for a period of 5 years and is independent of the Ministry of Defence. To ensure this independence, the legislation requires that whoever holds the position must never have served in the Armed Forces.
The Office of the Service Complaints Ombudsman (OSCO) was established on 1 January 2016 to provide independent and impartial oversight of the Service complaints system for all Service personnel in the UK Armed Forces. The Ombudsman reports annually to parliament on the work of her office and the complaints system. As part of this the Ombudsman is required to make an assessment on whether the system is efficient, effective and fair and make recommendations for improvement..
I am not happy with the decision made by the Ombudsman. How do I appeal?
There is no way to appeal the decision of the Ombudsman. This is because all decisions are final and binding on all parties. The only way to challenge the decision of the Ombudsman is by judicial review.
Judicial review can be a costly legal process. You may wish to consider seeking legal advice about what the process entails and how much it is likely to cost before making a decision about whether to apply for judicial review. The OSCO is unable to provide this advice.
For more information read our factsheet on Judicial Review.
Can the OSCO provide legal advice?
No, the OSCO can’t provide legal advice.
While you shouldn’t need legal advice for either the internal process or our process, if you decide to take legal advice you should find a firm that has a strong understanding of the Armed Forces and their complaints procedures.
Family Member of a Current or Former Member of the Armed Forces
Can I make a complaint on my loved ones behalf?
No. The Service complaints process is an internal workplace grievance system. A complaint can only be made by Service person who feels they have been wronged in a matter relating to their Service life.
Why can’t the Ombudsman investigate my loved ones complaint?
The Ombudsman can only investigate in specific circumstances. She does not have the power to investigate the merits of a Service complaint before the relevant single Service has investigated.
The Ombudsman can only investigate a matter once the complaint has completed the internal system (including any appeal) and the complainant makes an application to the OSCO asking the Ombudsman to investigate.
For more information on the Ombudsman’s powers and processes read ‘What the Ombudsman can and can’t do’
I am concerned that nothing is happening with my loved ones complaint. What can s/he do?
Your loved one should ask the person who is handing the complaint what is happening and the reason for any delay. They can ask their Assisting Officer (AO) to do this on their behalf, or contact the complaints secretariat for their Service who will be able to provide more information.