Making a complaint

phsothefacts-logo-D3.pngYou can complain to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) about any government body or public service.  This would include, the tax office, courts, jobcentre, UK border agency, Ofqual, all government departments and many, many more.  For a complete list see here: government organisations

For exempt organisations see here:  PHSO – what we can’t help you with

If you would like to check out the advice given by PHSO themselves about making an initial complaint see  here  but make sure you have the salt ready, you will need a large pinch.  I really can’t recommend making a complaint to the Ombudsman.  It will waste huge chunks of time only to disappoint with an investigation that bears little resemblance to the facts.  The Ombudsman acts as government’s clean up machine, burying evidence of wrong doing by denying the facts.  It is the Orwellian ‘Ministry of Truth’ where evidence goes to die.

Before you can complain to PHSO you must allow the organisation concerned the opportunity to deal with your issue.  The first tier of complaint therefore is the internal complaint process provided by each government body or public service.

Once you receive the organisation’s final decision you are free to complain to PHSO if you remain dissatisfied.  This is the second tier complaint process.  Complaints concerning government bodies and public services are required to go through an MP filter.  You must contact your MP within 12 months of the time you became aware of the issue.   You will have to provide your MP with all the details of your complaint and the supporting evidence.  This will then be passed onto the Ombudsman.   Your MP will receive a copy of any decisions made and you will be copied into that information.

If your complaint is in regard to NHS health services or dental services, then you can contact PHSO directly without going through your MP, but again you must complain within 12 months of the time you became aware of the issue.

PHSO advice given here:  PHSO – unhappy with the health service

If your complaint is regarding a serious NHS incident then you may find the Serious Issue Framework useful.  You need to know the rules because PHSO won’t tell   This framework is from 2010

In the Netherlands they practice ‘presumption of honesty’ which means that complainants are trusted to give valid accounts.  It is for the body complained about to produce the evidence to prove they have acted appropriately.  This takes all the pressure off the complainant to be the detective and prove a case against a very secretive public body who will keep evidence from you using delay, deny, defend tactics.

What happens to my complaint once it is received?

Ombudsman coverup

PHSO are very keen on time-bonded targets.  They will acknowledge your complaint within 2 days of receipt and attempt to close 90% of complaints within 40 days.  All closed cases are termed ‘resolved’ no matter how they are closed.

One problem you will have is that there is no definition of ‘maladministration’, ‘investigation’ or ‘remedy’.  These are determined on a case by case basis and open to different interpretation by different case workers.  As there is no definition you can’t hold them to account if their standard of investigation doesn’t meet your expectation.  You may find the PHSO updated manual useful but don’t expect them to abide by it.

PHSO have been running their ‘More Impact for More People’ initiative for the last two years.  They have increased their investigation rate from a few hundred to over 4,000.   In 2014/15   32% of formal complaints were denied an investigation due to ‘discretion’.  61% of formal complaints were reported on and 22% of all complaints submitted were upheld to some degree.  When you include the category ‘put right without formal investigation’ the number of postivie responses from PHSO rises to 30.8% of all formal complaints.  This still gives an approximate 70% chance of no successful outcome. Data Chart from 2012 – 2015.

With NHS complaints it is quite common for the hospital or other provider to have ‘lost’ important documents.  The Ombudsman will then decide that due to absence of documentation it would not be ‘worthwhile’ carrying out an investigation.  It does not seem to occur to them that the loss of these legal documents in itself, should be reason to investigate.   On the subject of losing paperwork, PHSO are also rather forgetful, so it is a good idea to number all the pages of any documents you send with your initials followed by page 5 of 25 etc, so that it makes it easier to identify the parts which have gone AWOL. It goes without saying that you keep a copy of everything.

Never fear though, because the Ombudsman has to give reasons why the case is not accepted for investigation.  The reasons given can be arbitrary and difficult to understand, particularly when you have taken such care to present your case logically and supply strong supporting evidence.  No worthwhile outcome was a common catch all, this term is now considered ‘insensitive’ and has been replaced with ‘what more can we reasonably achieve’ which is just another euphemism for case closed.  The Ombudsman however, due to the 1967 Parliamentary Commissioner Act  background   can use her discretion in any manner considered worthwhile for the Ombudsman.   You can forget about the principles of good complaint handling at this point because they are rarely applied, but worth taking a look so you can try to hold them to it. (See Misconduct in Public Office

PHSO work of fiction entitled Principles of good complaint handling

 So still want to take your chances?

If your case is selected for investigation, there is no guarantee that there will be a successful outcome.  The uphold rate is skewed by the fact that PHSO partially uphold for minor issues such as not responding in a timely fashion.  Once one aspect of your case is upheld it will be recorded as upheld data even though the main part of your complaint was dismissed as ‘reasonable behaviour’.

If you feel that you have the stamina to write more letters then you can always request a review and ask for your case to be looked at again.  Check out the review page first before you fire off those angry letters.  Before you compile your review request it is a good idea to see all the data PHSO hold on your case.  Make a Subject Access Request immediately you have the decision as it will take 40 calendar days for PHSO to deliver your paperwork and you have only a three month window to make your complaint.  It’s a good idea to ask for the information to be sent in paper format or you could spend a lot of time scanning papers and downloading them from your computer.  It also makes it easier to cross-reference the data.  You can see more on making a subject access request here.

Responding to a draft report:  

No matter how long it takes PHSO to produce your report, you will be given just 14 days to respond to the draft if you would like to make changes to the final report.  This is often insufficient time to identify and correct the many inaccuracies in the draft report.  You may also be too distressed to undertake this process, or have caring duties which prevent you from completing the task in time.  No matter, PHSO are very reluctant to give extensions, keen as they are to close the case and meet their targets.  If you don’t get your comments in within the 14-day deadline then the final report is issued anyway – and this is always set in stone.

David requested an extension to the time allowed due to his already identified disabilities.   PHSO refused the request so he put in a claim at the County Court for a court fee of £25.  He won the case that there had been a breach in the 2010 Equality Act and PHSO had failed to make reasonable adjustments.  If you feel that you have a valid reason to extend the time period for review of the draft David has kindly shared his paperwork with phsothefacts and you can see it here:  County Court Judgement

At the draft report stage you can also ask to see the evidence they have relied upon in making their decision.  Make sure, in advance, that they send both together as you have only 14 days to read, review and reply.  It will be of great value to you to see the evidence presented by the other side before the report is finalised, after all they have seen your evidence from the beginning.  If they refuse to supply this evidence then quote their words back at them.

  • The legislation that governs the Ombudsman’s work (The Health Service Commissioner Act 1993) says: ‘An investigation shall be conducted in private’. However the complainant and the organisation are able to see, at draft report stage, the information material to our decision to enable them to make comments about findings and recommendations (if any).   PHSO Advisor.