What happens when I ask for a review?
You can ask for a review if your initial complaint is turned down, or if you are unhappy with the outcome of an investigation. For PHSO asking for a review is synonymous with making a complaint and you need to do this within three months of the decision. PHSO euphemistically term this ‘feedback’ and their Customer Care Team can be contacted by following this link. Unhappy with our service You can see the new Customer Care Guidance manual here. Always interesting to compare theory to practice. Customer Care Guidance April 2015
The purpose of the review is not to look again at your original complaint, but to look at how PHSO handled that complaint. You therefore have to submit the reasons why you believe the Ombudsman failed to handle your complaint correctly. Your review request must identify one or more of the following criteria:
- we made our decision based on inaccurate facts that could change our decision or
- you have new and relevant information that was not previously available and which might change our decision or
- we overlooked or misunderstood parts of your complaint or did not take account of relevant information, which could change our decision.
This brings us to the first catch 22 situation which PHSO use to turn down review requests. If you say that the facts were inaccurate and supply correct ones, they will say that this does not alter their decision = no review. If you say they have overlooked or misunderstood parts of your complaint they will say that they took all relevant information into account = no review. The only full-proof way to ensure the chance of a review is to provide new and relevant information that was not previously available. They cannot deny that it is new, but they can deny that it is relevant so you are in with half a chance.
The review basically looks are whether the assessor followed procedure and ignores the logic or illogic of their decision making process. Regardless of how carefully you construct your review request PHSO will fail to understand the nature of your complaint and will ask you for further clarification. Your response may look something like this:
The discredited Review Team who simply closed your complaint and binned all your correspondence have been replaced with the new warm and friendly Customer Care Team. You can contact the Customer Care Team as many times as you like and they never get tired of hearing from you. Unfortunately, they don’t have the powers to assist you with your complaint and cannot put you in touch with anyone else who does. So if you just want to have a chat about stuff go ahead and call.
Your case should be allocated to a case worker within two weeks of receipt and 75% of cases will be ‘resolved’ (closed) within 20 working days. FOI response April 2017
Many people report that they wait a lot longer than that for a response from the Customer Care Team who appear to have something of a backlog to deal with. Not surprising seeing that on any given day they are dealing with over 500 complaints. In December 2014 the CCT consisted of 5 staff members and by April 2017 that had risen to 21. FOI response April 2017 It rather begs the question as to why so many people disagree with the decision (1,969 in 2015/16) or complaint about the service they have received from PHSO.
Many review requests are simply turned down on the basis that they don’t meet the criteria and the all encompassing ‘nothing more we could do’ excuse. Even if your case is fortunate enough to be reviewed there is just a 1% chance that the Ombudsman will find any mistakes have been made as you can see from this table. FOI response March 2017
This chart does not include service complaints but expect the same sort of success ratio. PHSO review all their own work and in 2017 stopped using external reviewers altogether. So if they say that they have a 1% error rate then there is no-one to argue with them.
The second catch 22 is that you can only have one review. It is, therefore, impossible to make a complaint about the review process itself. So if the review team completely miss the point in their analysis of your case any complaint you make about them will be rejected on the grounds that you have already received a review and to carry out another would take scarce resources away from other users of the service. This makes the review team totally unaccountable.
You can see here that there has been a steep decline in the use of external reviewers which has now fallen to zero.
1 April 2011 – 31 March 2012: 261 reviews undertaken by external
1 April 2012 – 31 March 2013: 202 reviews undertaken by external
1 April 2013 – 31 March 2014: 25 reviews undertaken by external reviewers;
1 April 2014 – 26 October 2014: 25 reviews undertaken by external
reviewers. FOI on external reviews
2017 – no external reviewers. Guess it’s best to keep all that dirty washing in-house.
Be wary of words such as ‘transparent’, ‘accountable’, ‘robust’ and ‘customer focused’ as PHSO use their own definitions for these terms. If you manage to get a review the initial decision is often upheld using arbitrary or illogical reasons and ignoring the evidence you have sent in. Now you are at the end of the road. It is impossible to challenge the review process, even if you have clear evidence of manipulation of the facts. The Ombudsman is omnipotent and unaccountable. Unless you want to take them to judicial review, of course, phsothefacts.com/judicial-review/ or join us with taking a complaint to the Met Police of ‘Misconduct in Public Office’. phsothefacts.com/misconduct-in-public-office/
In order to ‘embed good customer service’ into their practice, the assessors and reviewers will telephone you just before they provide you with the unsatisfactory outcome of your investigation or review. By the timing of this call the decision has already been made, so anything you say is practically worthless at this point. Typically they are then out of the office for some time after they drop the ‘no uphold’ bombshell.
If they are investigating your case they will ask you what you would like as the outcome and specifically how much you would like to be awarded in compensation. This can take you off guard as you would expect them to have some type of sliding scale appropriate to the misdemeanour. Be careful what you say. If you ask for too much, they will dismiss your case on the grounds that your demands are unreasonable. So don’t request a big fat cheque and the CEO’s head on a plate, because you won’t get it. In fact even if you are among the fortunate few who have a case resolved in their favour, you are likely to get nothing more than an apology or a small sum in compensation that probably doesn’t even cover the costs you incurred making the complaint.
You can use this phone call to ask any difficult questions though as this will be the only time they will engage with you. If you try to speak to your caseworker following your review you will be told that the case is closed and they can’t discuss it. They will pass you onto the Customer Care Team for a cosy chat.