The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has clear guidance on how it deals with complaints.

Our role is to investigate complaints that individuals have been treated unfairly or have received poor service from government departments and other public organisations and the NHS in England.

PHSO’s aim is to provide an independent, high quality complaint handling service that rights individual wrongs, drives improvements in public services and informs public policy.

The process explained

This section explains how we deal with complaints.


We receive a large number of enquiries from the public. These can be by telephone and email, in person as well as in writing. All of them have first to be appropriately assessed. We are not able, and are not required, to accept them all for investigation.

When we receive your complaint, we will acknowledge your complaint within two working days. You will be given a reference number which should be quoted in any future contact with the Ombudsman.

Our first step will be to look at whether the complaint is one that we can handle, because we can only investigate complaints where we have the legal power to do so.

We will carry out a series of simple, preliminary checks to ensure that the complaint is one which falls within the terms of our legislation. If it does not, then we aim to explain why, and if possible, help you resolve your complaint effectively by a different route.

You do not have an automatic right to have your complaint investigated but if we decide not to do so, we will let you know why we have made that decision. We are committed to keeping you informed about progress and will be in touch regularly to update you.

Local resolution

Once we are clear that the complaint is one that falls within our jurisdiction, we need to check whether it has completed the local complaints process.

It is important that public organisations get the opportunity to put things right before we consider the matter. If they have not had that opportunity, we will generally decline to investigate it at that point and ask you to make full use of the local complaints process. That would include putting the complaint to an arms-length departmental complaint handler such as the Department for Work and Pensions' Independent Case Examiner.

Putting things right

Once a complaint has satisfied preliminary checks, we then move on to investigate it.

We may find that we can get  your problem resolved quickly by talking to the organisation you're unhappy  about.
In other cases, we will  carry out an investigation and we will look in detail at what's happened.

  • We'll look at all  the facts.
  • We might need to  gather additional evidence and information by speaking to you and the  organisation concerned.
  • We might need to  get expert advice.

Every complaint is different and the steps we take in our investigation  will vary.

How we can help resolve complaints

Clear explanation

We might decide that the  organisation have acted correctly or that there was a problem but they've  already done enough to put things right.

We'll explain why we've decided  this. Often that means sharing any expert advice we've had.

Getting things put right

If we find that the organisation  have done something wrong that needs to be put right, we'll work with them to  get that done. This could mean acknowledging their mistake, apologising, paying  compensation and/or preventing the same mistake happening again. We always  follow up to see they do this.

Find out more

Every  investigation must be focused on the specific complaint. Every investigation is  different and can have different implications. For examples of some of the  cases we have completed, please see our published reports.

‘I dealt with a warm person; completely unbiased with a lot of humanity and sensitivity.’

Someone who complained about the poor service and lack of care that their mother received.


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