Journey from Service Complaints Commissioner to the Service Complaints Ombudsman

The Service Complaints Ombudsman replaces the position of Service Complaints Commissioner (SCC).

The SCC was established by the Armed Forces Act 2006 as part of significant reforms to the Service complaints system. This followed recommendations made by Nicholas Blake QC in his Review of the circumstances surrounding the deaths of four soldiers at Princess Royal Barracks, Deepcut. The first Commissioner was Dr Susan Atkins, who held the post until December 2014.

Dr Atkins consistently reported to Parliament that the Service complaints system was not yet effective, efficient or fair and that her powers were not strong enough for her to effect the necessary change. She particularly emphasised the need for the system to work more quickly, arguing that undue delay in resolving cases (many Service complaints take longer than a year to resolve and some considerably longer) was unfair and damaging not only to complainants but to people being complained about, their colleagues and the Armed Forces as a whole.

In January 2013, the Commissioner set the Armed Forces a new target to resolve 90% of new Service complaints within 24 weeks. So far, the three Services have not managed to achieve this. Their performance against this target is reported in the Commissioner’s Annual Reports since 2013.

In 2014, partly as a result of Dr Atkins’ reporting, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) announced substantial reforms to the Service complaints system. This would involve the change of the Commissioner’s role to that of an Ombudsman, with additional powers. These reforms were formalised in the Armed Forces (Service Complaints and Financial Assistance) Act, which completed its journey through Parliament in March 2015.