Service Complaints Ombudsman Annual Report Front cover screenshot.

The 2021 Service Complaints Ombudsman for the Armed Forces (SCOAF) Annual Report was laid in Parliament today (11 May).

The 2021 Annual Report covers the work of the Service Complaints system and the Ombudsman’s office. For the sixth year, the Ombudsman finds that the system is still not operating in a way that is efficient, effective, or fair. To address this, the Ombudsman made four additional recommendations to the Ministry of Defence to deliver real change to the system; including the need to drive forward with their commitment to progressing with all outstanding recommendations made in previous reports.

The full report can be found on our website under Annual Report. Highlights from the report include:

The work of the Service Complaints system

In 2021:  

  • 749 complaints were ruled admissible into the Service Complaints system
  • The 3 largest areas of complaint concerned:
    • career management (34%)
    • bullying, harassment or discrimination (31%)
    • pay, pensions and allowances (11%)
  • female personnel remain overrepresented in the Service Complaints system, and are twice as likely to raise a Service Complaint
  • 47% of complaints were closed within 24 weeks (tri-Service target)
  • The average Service Complaint takes 36 weeks to be resolved
  • 32 Service Complaints ruled admissible on or before 2019, were still open at the end of 2021
  • 50% of Service Complaints are upheld (partially or fully) in favour of the complainant.

The work of SCOAF

In 2021, SCOAF:  

  • logged 1,056 contacts from individuals making an application or an enquiry about the Ombudsman’s powers
  • made 160 referrals to help current or former Service personnel access the Service Complaints system
  • made 97% of referrals within 7 working days, exceeding the 90% target
  • received 338 applications for investigation, of which 91% were eligible for investigation
  • completed 83% of all investigations within the time target
  • completed 91% of admissibility reviews within 17 working days, exceeding the 90% target
  • Continued to reduce the backlog, despite an increase in the number of maladministration and/or substance applications. As of 31 December 2021, the backlog was 22 substance and maladministration cases.

The Ombudsman’s recommendations 

  • The Ministry of Defence (MOD) should engage with SCOAF to amend JSP (Joint Service Publication) 831, particularly the Annex F form.
  • The Services should submit a quarterly progress report to SCOAF to explain what steps are being taken to reduce delays and progress older cases.
  • The MOD should reframe the Annex F form to be a single point of entry for all grievances.
  • The MOD should commit to concluding all open and accepted recommendations made by the Ombudsman prior to Annual Report 2020.

The Service Complaints Ombudsman for the Armed Forces, Mariette Hughes, said:  

“I am disappointed with the overall progress made to date on Service Complaints reform. As the overall time to resolve complaints is still a key concern; trust and confidence remains low, and personnel are not yet comfortable in engaging with the system. To that end, further work is needed before the system can be reported to be efficient, effective, and fair. However, I am confident that with renewed passion and dedication, further significant improvements can be made to the Service Complaints system – and I look forward to playing an active role in moving this forward”.

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