In what way is PHSO accountable to Parliament?
The 1967 Commissioner Act made the Parliamentary Commissioner, now Ombudsman accountable to Parliament and not to Government. see act here This was in order to hold ‘the executive’ to account ie. the decision makers in government. However, parliament holds PHSO to account via a select committee (PACAC) which is prevented by law from the examination of individual cases. Consequently, the annual scrutiny meeting focuses on value for money, data and managerial matters, not the poor investigation process which lets so many people down every year.
The Ombudsman is independent of ministers, MPs and civil servants allowing them to walk away with clean hands if you appeal to them for justice following a flawed investigation process. It would appear that no-one can interfere with the Ombudsman’s decision which makes this body dangerously unaccountable.
Contacting Your MP.
If you have a parliamentary complaint then you will have to contact your MP in order to submit your evidence to PHSO. If you are not sure who your MP is then you can look them up here: theyworkforyou You can use this site to see how many times your MP has voted and which way they voted on key debates which can be very interesting.
It should be possible to make an appointment with your MP so that you can see them at their next surgery. There is, however, no requirement for MPs to have regular surgery times, nor to advertise them in advance, so this may prove to be a little more difficult than first anticipated. It is also possible that your MP decides your case is not appropriate and will consequently fail to send your papers onto PHSO. If this happens your are unable to submit a parliamentary complaint directly. If you don’t have an MP in the UK you can submit a complaint via Bernard Jenkin, Chair of PACAC. It is likely that the MP filter will be removed when the new Public Service Ombudsman legislation is passed by the house but this draft legislation is currently on hold.
If you are making a complaint which concerns the NHS or other health-related matter then you can go directly to the Ombudsman using their website. www.ombudsman.org.uk, In either case, it would be useful to have your MP on board as he/she can push your case in parliament and ask questions in the house if they feel the urge to do so. If you are fortunate enough to have a proactive MP then you stand a much better chance of success.
You must approach your MP within 12 months of becoming aware there was an issue or your case will not be considered by PHSO. Your MP will ask you to submit all your evidence to them in advance and will write a covering letter to the Ombudsman. The outcome of your claim will be delivered to your MP by the Ombudsman and you will be sent a copy of that letter. If you wish to ask for a review of the initial decision you can do that independently using the links on the PHSO website. PHSO – how to complain
The chances are that your MP will be keen to wash their hands of the matter as soon as your case has been closed by PHSO. They will rarely fight on your behalf if you feel that there has been an injustice, using the fact that the Ombudsman is an independent body, so, unfortunately, their hands are tied.
There is no point complaining about your MP as the only body available to complain to ‘The Select Committee on Standards’ are unable to investigate ‘the way an MP has handled an individual case or problem.’ (See page 2 parliament.uk/document)
If you contact anyone who is not your own constituent MP you will get one of three responses, starting with the most likely:
- Nothing. No acknowledgement, no reply, nothing.
- A short letter telling you that due to Parliamentary protocol, it is not possible for anyone other than your constituency MP to deal with your concerns.
- A longer letter spouting party political propaganda which fails to address any of the points you raised.
PHSO protects all parliamentarians on both sides of the House so there is little appetite to rock the boat and start asking awkward questions on your behalf.
If you want to actually receive a reply from anyone in parliament then you stand a much better chance if you ask your question as a FOI request to the relevant department using the online site ‘What do they know’. whatdotheyknow.com If your question is in the public domain they are less likely to ignore you or send you drivel. You can also use this site to find out who else has been worrying public bodies with irritating questions.
In answer to the original question, the Ombudsman is technically accountable to parliament via PACAC but they have such limited powers it amounts to nothing more than general oversight. More information on PACAC here.