New data on complaints about government departments published

New data on complaints about government departments and their agencies in 2016-17 was published by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) today.

  • The report shows the Ombudsman handled almost 7,000 complaints about central government last year and completed a total of 524 investigations into 655 organisations, upholding on average 34% of complaints.
  • Almost three-quarters of the Ombudsman’s investigations were into four government departments and their respective agencies: the Home Office; Department for Work and Pensions (DWP); Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs (HMRC); and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
  • Of the cases investigated, the Ombudsman upheld 60% of at least part of the complaints about the Home Office, 31% about the MoJ, 29% about the DWP, and just 3% about HMRC.

The top four reasons for complaints about government departments were incorrect decisions, the complainant wanting a proper apology or action to put things right, poor communication and making a wrong assessment.

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, Rob Behrens, said:

Government departments successfully handle thousands of complaints every year, but where mistakes are made it’s important that they learn from them.

‘This report shows that, when things go wrong, the impact on people can be very serious.

‘I hope that public sector leaders will read this report carefully to see if there are ways they can learn from each other to improve the services they provide.’

Examples in the report where the Ombudsman helped resolve complaints include:

  • UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) and Border Force apologising to a woman who was provided incorrect advice about her immigration status and agreeing to pay over £2,000 to cover the fees incurred during the case and the distress she suffered;
  • an apology and payment made by HM Courts and Tribunal Service to a couple who suffered stress for two years as a result of errors which resulted in a visit from bailiffs, threatening letters and unlawful deductions from one of the couple’s benefits; and
  • an apology from DWP’s Independent Complaint Examiner for failing to properly deal with woman’s complaint about her right to her carer’s allowance that also saw The Pension Service agree to right off a pension credit overpayment of nearly £10,000.

The report also highlights some of the Ombudsman’s landmark cases from the last 50 years as the PHSO celebrates its 50th anniversary. 

This includes the 1967 case that ensured the Foreign Office paid compensation to the former British servicemen held in the Nazi Sachsenhausen concentration camp during the Second World War and the almost 1 million eligible Equitable Life policyholders who were paid over £1 billion in compensation following the Ombudsman’s 2009 report.

For the first time, the report includes good practice examples of what Government Departments and their agencies have been doing to learn from mistakes and improve their complaint handling.

Download Complaints about UK government departments and agencies and other UK public organisations 2016-17 (PDF 521KB)

Notes to Editors:
1.    The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman provides an independent and impartial complaint handling service for complaints that have not been resolved by the NHS in England and UK government departments. We look into complaints where someone believes there has been injustice or hardship because an organisation has not acted properly or has given a poor service and not put things right. We share findings from our casework to help Parliament scrutinise public service providers and to help drive improvements in public services and complaint handling.
2.    The Ombudsman service completed 524 investigations about UK government departments and their agencies and other organisations in 2016-17 and 3,715 about the NHS in England. It fully or partly upheld 33% (221) of the 524 unresolved complaints it investigated about UK government departs and their agencies.