What happens when I ask for a review?
You can ask for a review if your complaint is turned down at assessment stage, 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’. You can see the 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 – the process. You, therefore, have to submit the reasons why you believe the Ombudsman failed to follow the correct process. 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 loophole 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 at whether the assessor followed procedure and ignores the logic of the decision-making process. Regardless of how carefully you construct your review request PHSO will fail to understand the nature of your complaint and will likely 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 Customer Care Team. This team will never close your complaint but use time and inactivity to deter you from persisting. They appear to be always working under a severe backlog despite their promises of a timely response.
Your case should be allocated to a caseworker within two weeks of receipt and 75% of cases will be ‘resolved’ (closed) within 20 working days. FOI response April 2017
You can see from this FOI response that the (award-winning) customer care team are struggling to cope. The comment referring to ‘without the need for formal review’ simply means that PHSO close down the request without carrying out any further work (once it gets to the top of the queue).
Many review requests are 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
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 loophole 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.
A recent FOI request has provided evidence that in 2016-17 only 8 reviews led to a new investigation from a total of 2,352 review requests and even then none of the new investigations led to a change in the decision. customer_care_appeals
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. Your only option now is to challenge the decision via Judicial Review