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The Ombudsman’s Casework Report 2019

Foreword

Welcome to the first annual Ombudsman’s Casework Report. This report covers decisions we made in 2019. 

I am publishing this report as part of our commitment to becoming more transparent. We can only get the best value from the Ombudsman service when our findings are shared widely. I want public services to learn from the experiences and findings we have set out here. 

The Ombudsman service is vital in achieving justice for people who have suffered harm or hardship as a result of failures in public service. This is particularly so for the most vulnerable in society whose voices might not otherwise be heard. 

Complaints are essential feedback for public services. It is crucial that public services have a culture of learning, one that values complaints as a driver of improvement. 

Leaders have a responsibility to lead by example, creating an environment where complaints are a way to listen to service users, build trust and provide better services. Leaders at every level and in every public service should set the tone for complaints to be valued to ensure delivery of the quality service our citizens expect and deserve. Although many of the complaints we receive reflect very serious and sometimes life-changing failings, public services can and do also change lives for the better.

The Ombudsman is the final step in the complaints process. We are here to achieve justice for those who have been failed. When we uphold a complaint, people have not just been failed by a public service, but also by failings in the complaints system.  

The complaints system can be too long, complicated and overly onerous on the complainant. People bringing complaints to us may have persevered with their complaint for considerable lengths of time, negotiating what is sometimes a convoluted and confusing process. The stress this puts on people seeking answers cannot be underestimated. 

People need to understand what to expect if they want to complain. It is the lack of this shared understanding of good practice that makes the process of complaining so stressful and puts the burden on the complainer. In March 2020, we will be consulting on a Complaint Standards Framework which will provide a common set of expectations.

Complaints can also have a significant impact on the public servants involved too. This is why complaints should be seen as an opportunity to learn and improve, not to blame individuals who may work in challenging and stressful situations. The Complaint Standards Framework will help public services deliver a better complaints service and make sure complaints are integrated into the culture of the organisation. 

The best organisations use every opportunity to embrace complaints to deliver a better service. This report is a way to share that learning across public services and help drive wider improvements.

Rob Behrens, CBE
Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman