What we can and can't help with

​This page tells you which organisations we can and can't look into. It also explains what we can and can't do as an independent decision-maker on complaints. It explains our time limits and some of the things you need to know if you are considering legal action.

Organisations we can investigate

We can investigate complaints about the NHS in England and UK government departments and some other public organisations. You need to complain to the organisation first.

You can check whether we can investigate the organisation you want to complain about by using our complaint checker.

You can also find a full list of the government organisations we can investigate here.

Organisations we can't investigate

There are some things we can't generally look at, usually because somebody else is in charge of investigating complaints about them. They include:

You can find a list of organisations we can't investigate on this page. If we can't look at your complaint, this page tells you who may be able to help. Or please ring us on 0345 015 4033 and we will point you in the direction of an organisation which can.

What you can expect

You can complain to us if an organisation has not acted properly or fairly or has given you a poor service and not put things right. If we decide that the organisation got things wrong that have had a negative effect on you, we can recommend what it should do about this.

Table of what you can expect
What we can recommendWhat we can't recommend
We can ask an organisation to take action to put things right for you (or somebody else affected). This could mean getting the organisation to acknowledge its mistakes, apologise to you, or pay you back if you have been left out of pocket because of what happened.

We can’t make an organisation:

  • fire or ‘strike off’ someone
  • pay compensation, in the way that courts and tribunals can.
We can ask an organisation to look again at a decision it has made, but only if it is clear that it made mistakes, acted unfairly, or didn’t follow its process when making it.We can’t make an organisation cancel or change a decision it is entitled to make as part of its responsibilities (for example, a claim for benefits or other entitlements), or replace its decision with our own.
We can ask an organisation to improve its services to avoid the same things happening again. This can include asking an organisation to review its policies or procedures, guidance or standards.We can’t make an organisation change its policies or procedures, guidance or standards, or replace these with our own.

Time limits

It's a good idea to get your complaint to us as soon as possible after you have had a final response from the organisation you’re not happy with. This is because there are time limits for making your complaint to us, and these are set out in law:

  • If your complaint is about the NHS, make sure you get it to us within a year of when you became aware of the problem you are complaining about.
  • If your complaint is about a UK government department or another UK public organisation, you need to make your complaint to an MP within a year of when you became aware of the problem. The MP then needs to pass your complaint to us for you.

Normally, if we receive a complaint outside these time limits, we cannot investigate it. However, the law does give some flexibility on this. In some circumstances, we may still be able to investigate even if you complain outside of these time limits.

If you were not able to complain to us in time, we will talk to you about what happened, so we can understand why you did not complain sooner. We will look at how much time has passed, and whether that means it is still possible for us to carry out an investigation.

If you are not sure about this, ring us on 0345 015 4033, Monday to Thursday 8:30am to 5:00pm, and Friday 8.30am to 12pm.

Legal action

We need to look at whether you could get an answer to your complaint by taking legal action - like going to court or a tribunal about the problem. This is because the law says we cannot investigate a complaint if you have (or had) the option to do this. However, the law also says we can be flexible, and so we will look at what the right option should be to get an answer to your complaint.

If we can see that there is (or was) a possible legal route to answer your complaint, we will talk to you to get a detailed understanding of your concerns and what you want to happen. We make sure we take into account factors such as how much it might cost you to take legal action, and how long it might take.

If it looks to us like legal action would fully answer your concerns, or be able to give you all the results you are looking for, we may decide this is a better option for you.