Complaints about UK government bodies and other public organisations
The Parliamentary Ombudsman was established in 1967. In 1973 we gained powers to look at complaints about the NHS in England, and clinical matters came under our jurisdiction following further legislative changes in 1993.
We are the UK Parliament’s Ombudsman. This means we are independent of government and support the work of Parliament in holding public organisations to account. We report directly to Parliament through the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC).
Although complaints in our parliamentary jurisdiction are the most longstanding part of our work, they currently make up only a small percentage of our casework. This is due to an outdated law where the Ombudsman can only look at complaints that have been referred by a person’s MP. This is called the MP filter.
The MP filter is an unnecessary restriction on people’s ability to access justice by complaining to the Ombudsman. It was part of the original 1967 law that set up the office, and the Government at the time committed to review it after the office had been established for a few years. This review never happened, and we are left as one of the few Ombudsman schemes in the UK and internationally with this barrier to accessing our service. In 2016, the Government published a draft bill that would have established a single Public Service Ombudsman. This draft bill would have removed the MP filter, but no progress has been made on introducing this legislation.
Before the recent general election, we asked party leaders to make progress on Ombudsman reform in the new Parliament and commit to improving the draft legislation produced three years ago. We called for significant, modernising changes to the draft, including the addition of complaints standards and own initiative powers that are increasingly commonplace across other UK and international ombudsmen. Since the legislation was produced, the Council of Europe’s Venice Principles for the protection and promotion of Ombudsman institutions have also been published and adopted. Any legislative proposals now need to be tested against these principles in pre-legislative scrutiny by a joint committee in Parliament.
The cases presented in this report are a selection of the types of complaints we receive. Although we cover over 300 public organisations, most of the complaints we receive in our parliamentary jurisdiction are from four central government departments and their public-facing agencies. These are the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), the Home Office (HO) and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
- Child Support Agency failed to ensure a parent got £10,000 in child support arrears
- Communication of changes to inflation of state pensions
- Failures in communication caused lost income for sea bass fishers
- UKVI wrongly rejected a visa application for a child, causing three years of distress and uncertainty
- Poor record keeping and supervision of staff left a family with significant emotional impact and uncertainty around decisions made about a child’s care
- British Embassy failed to support and protect a person detained overseas
- Poor communication and delays left people not knowing whether they could drive
- Family suffered prolonged nuisance and stress after Environment Agency failed to take enforcement action against
- Ofgem reviewed its earlier decision to claim back £20,000 after a mistake in paperwork by renewable heat supplier