The Service Complaints Commissioner's Office has released a statement in response to the MoD announcement about changes affecting the service complaints system. The statement makes the point that the changes will not be immediate as legislation is required. Service personnel with complaints already made, and those who wish to make complaints before these changes are introduced, can approach the SCC exactly as they have done in the past and she can refer their complaint into the system. The statement reads:
"The Secretary of State for Defence announced today that the Service Complaints system will be reformed and the Service Complaints Commissioner (SCC) given new powers as the Service Complaints Ombudsman.
Once the required legislation has passed, the new approach will make it possible for a complainant, after one level of appeal, to ask the independent Service Complaints Ombudsman to review the handling of their complaint if they are not satisfied that it has been dealt with correctly. The Service Complaints Commissioner has not previously had any legal powers in relation to individual complaints.
These changes will ensure that the Services and the Chain of Command, up to and including the highest levels, are held to account. Those in command have a duty of care to those who serve under them, which should include dealing with problems and any complaints quickly, effectively and fairly.
Servicemen and Servicewomen need to have confidence to speak out when things go wrong, especially if they are being mistreated, without fear of adverse consequences. These changes will mean that, if their complaint is not handled properly, they will have an independent ombudsman to turn to who will review the handling of their case and make recommendations to correct any failings.
These changes will also strengthen the Commissioner’s role in helping the Services identify where they need to make improvements in their organisations.
These changes will not be immediate as legislation is required. Service personnel with complaints already made, and those who wish to make complaints before these changes are introduced, can approach the SCC exactly as they have done in the past and she can refer their complaint into the system.
Commenting on the Ministry of Defence’s written ministerial statement today, Service Complaints Commissioner Dr Susan Atkins said:
“I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement today that the Service Complaints system will be reformed and the Service Complaints Commissioner given new powers as the Service Complaints Ombudsman.
“Three years ago I said that the Service complaints system was failing, and the powers of the Service Complaints Commissioner should be strengthened and changed to that of an Ombudsman. Last year my call for reform was wholeheartedly endorsed by the House of Commons Defence Committee.
“I am pleased that the MOD has now accepted that a simpler, faster and more accountable system is now needed, in line with ACAS best practice for workplace grievance schemes. They have also agreed that the powers of the Service Complaints Commissioner need to be increased.
“The proposed Service Complaints Ombudsman will act to assure Service personnel, and the Services themselves, that individuals are being treated properly and to enable corrective action to be taken where necessary.
“It is important now that these proposals are implemented as speedily as possible.”
About the Changes
The proposed reforms aim to get any complaint quickly to the person who has the authority to investigate and resolve it without delay.
There will be a right to have one internal appeal in most cases, after which, if the Service person is not satisfied, he or she can ask the independent Ombudsman to review the handling of their complaint. If the Ombudsman finds that it has not been handled properly, the Ombudsman can refer it back and make recommendations as to how it should be dealt with again.
The Ombudsman’s recommendations will not be legally binding but the Service will need to give good reasons for not following them.
The Service Complaints Ombudsman will be totally independent of the Services and will have the right to review how all complaints have been handled, including those taken at the highest levels by the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force Boards.
The Ombudsman will also hear appeals against decisions not to accept a matter as a Service complaint and have the power to direct that a complaint should be accepted if the decision was wrong."
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