You 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, all government departments and many, many more. For a complete list see here: government organisations You can also complain about NHS trusts, GPs and dental services.
Making a complaint to the Ombudsman will waste huge chunks of time as you gather all the evidence and continually chase them for a decision only to disappoint you with an investigation report that bears little resemblance to the facts. The Ombudsman acts as government’s clean up machine, burying evidence of wrongdoing by denying the facts and abides by the admit only what is harmless mantra
It is the Orwellian ‘Ministry of Truth’.
Before you can complain to PHSO you must allow the public body concerned the opportunity to deal with your issue. The first tier of complaint therefore is the internal complaint process provided by each government body, public service or NHS Trust you are complaining about. During this phase, all sorts of important records and information can go missing or be altered to hide the truth. It is a good idea to gather your own evidence before making a formal complaint using Freedom of Information requests. Details here
Once you receive the first-tier closedown 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 pass this onto you. Make sure you keep copies of anything you send to anybody. Things get lost so easily!
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.
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 you. england.nhs.uk/serious+incident+guidance
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. But here in the UK, it is for the complainant to find all the evidence, join the dots and basically do the investigation themselves. While the public bodies can provide unsubstantiated accounts denying wrong-doing which are perfectly acceptable to PHSO.
What happens to my complaint once it is received?
Once a caseworker is free (PHSO generally work with a backlog of cases) your case will be assessed to see if it meets the criteria for investigation. Here is the current advice from the PHSO website.
We take a closer look at your complaint to decide if we should investigate. We look at several things, including:
whether you have been affected personally by what happened
whether you complained (to us or an MP) within a year of knowing about the issue
whether you have (or had) the option of taking legal action instead
whether there are signs that the organisation potentially got things wrong that have had a negative effect on you that hasn’t been put right
On average PHSO receive about 30,000 complaints each year. Many of these (it is decided) have not completed the first tier process. Basically, PHSO contact the body under complaint and they agree to take another look. As you can see from the table below, PHSO assess approximately 25% of the complaints received, investigate 14% and uphold to some degree a mere 5% of cases. You have to ask yourself whether it is worth all the time and trouble and I have to tell you as someone who has gone through this process the answer is NO. If you have a strong case find a solicitor and take the public body to court.
PHSO are supposed to investigate according to their own Principles of Good Complaint Handling and they measure their success by quarterly performance checks against their Service Charter. These scores are formulated entirely internally and any organisation which regularly gives itself a 99% success rating is not to be trusted.
What happens at investigation?
If your case is selected for investigation, then this is largely a desk exercise where your caseworker looks at the evidence you have supplied and that provided by the public body. No-one is interviewed and on the whole, the narrative sent via the solicitor for the public body is not challenged by PHSO even when there are discrepancies with the evidence you have presented. The uphold rate is skewed by the fact that PHSO partially uphold for minor issues such as not responding in a timely fashion. They will even find a minor issue to uphold that was not part of your original complaint. If any aspect of your case is upheld it will be recorded as upheld data even though the main part of your complaint was dismissed. PHSO share all your evidence with the body under investigation so that they can ‘respond’ to it. They do not share the evidence from the public body with you until after the final decision has been made. Mr Behrens, the new Ombudsman has promised to change this and let’s hope that he does so that the complainant can challenge the often flawed account provided.
Responding to a draft report:
No matter how long it takes PHSO to produce your draft report, you will be given just 14 days to respond. 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. You can show the draft report to your advocate if you have one but otherwise, it must be kept under wraps.
At the draft report stage, you can ask to see the evidence PHSO 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.
Even if you carefully bullet point all the errors and supply evidence to support your claims the chances are that PHSO won’t take any notice and the final report will be issued within days with hardly an alternation. Once the final decision is made your only option is to ask for a review and this request will be sent off to wait in the queue at the Customer Care Team. See more here: Review stage