Action which the Ombudsman can investigate
Even where taken by bodies within the Ombudsman’s remit, there are certain types of action which she may not investigate. The Ombudsman cannot look at complaints which relate to the judicial or legislative functions of bodies within her remit.
There are also certain types of administrative action outside the Ombudsman’s remit. The most common types of such excluded action that people complain about are public service personnel matters, the commercial or contractual transactions of public bodies, administrative action taken on judicial authority, and the conduct or commencement by public bodies of legal proceedings.
To be eligible, a complaint must constitute a claim that the person aggrieved has suffered injustice due to maladministration. The Ombudsman cannot look at complaints that the law is wrong or unfair, that a public body has adopted an unpopular or unwelcome policy or has taken action which someone simply disagrees with, or where the complainant has not been adversely affected by the actions complained about.
Properly made by a suitable person
To be properly made, a complaint must have been made in writing to an MP who, with the consent of the complainant, has referred it to the Ombudsman and asked her to investigate it. There is no statutory requirement for an MP referral to be made in writing, although most such referrals are made in this way – as this ensures that the MP and the Ombudsman both have an adequate record of their actions on any complaint. The Ombudsman has standard complaint forms which may help you and the complainant present their case; these are available here.
In addition, the law does not require an individual to go through their own constituency MP. Any MP is able to refer any complaint, although as a matter of practice it is normally the case that MPs only become involved in complaints from people in their own constituency. Whether or not to refer any complaint is a matter solely for the MP concerned.
In general terms, complaints must also be made by the person directly affected by the action complained about – although, where that person has died or is unable to act for themselves, other suitable people can act on their behalf.
To be in time, a complaint must have been made to the MP within a period of twelve months since first the complainant knew about the matters they have complained about. The Ombudsman has discretion in special circumstances to waive this requirement, but normally only does so where good reasons for the delay in making a complaint have been provided.
A complaint is treated as premature if it has not already been put to the body or person complained about or if that body or person has not had a proper opportunity to respond to the complaint or, where appropriate, to put matters right. Where a public body has established a second-tier complaints handling body, the Ombudsman normally expects people to seek to resolve their complaints by contacting that body before coming to her. We will, however, sometimes look at otherwise premature complaints if the complainant provides good reasons for us doing so.
In order to focus our resources on those cases where we might best be able to help people, before taking on any complaint within the Ombudsman’s remit we ask three further questions: whether there is sufficient indication within the material provided to the Ombudsman by the complainant that the body complained about has acted improperly or unfairly, whether there is evidence that no remedy for any injustice or hardship claimed by the complainant has been provided, and whether any intervention by the Ombudsman is likely to produce the result sought by the complainant or another worthwhile outcome.
Where we decline to carry out an investigation we will explain the reasons for this. Detailed information about the approach we use for assessing and investigating can be found here.
We have also put together a checklist to make it easier for you to consider whether to refer a complaint to us. The checklist looks at some of the key questions that we consider before deciding whether or not to investigate a complaint. It also highlights what we need from you to ensure that we can deal with the complaint as quickly as possible. You can download the checklist (457kb) here.