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How to use an ombudsman or commissioner in Scotland

This information applies to Scotland

What is an ombudsman or a commissioner

An ombudsman or commissioner is a person who has been appointed to investigate complaints about an organisation.

There are a number of different ombudsmen and commissioners:-

  • the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman
  • the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission
  • the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland
  • the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman who investigates complaints about Westminster government departments and certain other public bodies. They can also look into complaints about NHS hospitals or community health services in England.
  • the European Ombudsman
  • the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS)
  • the Property Ombudsman
  • the Ombudsman Services: Energy.

For Information about the Ombudsman Services: Energy, see Complain to the energy ombudsman.

An ombudsman is a member of the Ombudsman Association (OA). Commissioners are usually members of the OA. To check whether an ombudsman or commissioner is a member of the OA, visit the OA website at www.ombudsmanassociation.org.

Ombudsmen and commissioners are independent, free of charge and impartial- that is, they don't take sides with the person who is complaining or the organisation being complained about.

In most cases, you must complain to the organisation first, before you make a complaint to the ombudsman or commissioner.

If you need to spend money making a complaint to an ombudsman or commissioner, for example, travel expenses to their office, you may be able to claim this back.

If an ombudsman or commissioner finds that your complaint is justified, they will recommend to the organisation what it should do to put things right. They can't force an organisation to go along with their recommendations but organisations almost always do.

Investigations by an ombudsman or commissioner sometimes take a long time.

What type of complaint can be investigated

The ombudsman’s or commissioner's job is to investigate cases of maladministration. This means the way in which an organisation has dealt with a situation, for example, whether the procedures used by the organisation were fair or reasonable.

The ombudsman or commissioner will only investigate a case where an individual (or in some cases group of individuals) has suffered personal injustice, hardship or financial loss because of the action, or lack of action of a particular organisation. The complaint must be brought by the person who has suffered this injustice, hardship or loss or a third party, with written consent from the person to act on their behalf.

The ombudsman or commissioner cannot investigate a decision made by an organisation, only investigate the way in which a decision was reached. More detailed information on which type of complaint an ombudsman or commissioner could take up is provided below.

You should seek advice from an experienced advice worker, for example at a Citizens Advice Bureau, or the office of the relevant ombudsman or commissioner on whether they could take on a particular complaint - where to get advice.

You should complain to the ombudsman or commissioner only if you have given the relevant organisation the opportunity to resolve the complaint. Details of what you should do before complaining to the ombudsman or commisioner are provided below.

The ombudsman or commisioner will not investigate a case if it is about to go to court or has been considered in court. In some cases the ombudsman or commissioner will not investigate cases that could be dealt with by a court or tribunal.

How to complain to the ombudsman or commissioner

The procedure for starting the investigation by the ombudsman or commissioner differs slightly depending on which ombudsman or commissioner the complaint is being made to. Most of the offices of the ombudsmen and commissioners provide a form for making a complaint. It is not necessary in most cases to use a form but some commissioners do require it. You can also send a letter containing the following information:-

  • name and address of the person making the complaint
  • name and address of the organisation the complaint is being made about
  • details of what the complaint is about, that is, what the organisation did wrong or failed to do
  • what personal injustice, financial loss or hardship was suffered
  • what the organisation should do to put the situation right
  • details of how the complaint has been followed up prior to contacting the ombudsman or commissioner
  • date when you first identified the event you are complaining about.

Copies of any correspondence relevant to the complaint should also be sent.

You can seek help in contacting the ombudsman or commissioner and starting the complaint procedure from an experienced adviser, for example, at Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

Scottish Public Services Ombudsman

What can the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman deal with

The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) is the final stage for complaints about:-

  • the Scottish Parliament and its administration, known as the Scottish Government
  • the National Health Service in Scotland
  • local authorities
  • Scottish public bodies
  • housing associations and housing co-operatives
  • cross-border public authorities (where complaints relate to devolved Scottish matters)
  • colleges and universities
  • the administrative action of staff of some tribunals.

The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman can investigate complaints about maladministration or service failure where this has resulted in you suffering an injustice or hardship. It is independent, impartial and free. There is more information about how to complain on the SPSO website at www.spso.org.uk.

If the complaint is about the conduct of an MSP, then you should complain to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland.

For more information about complaining about the conduct of an MSP, see The Scottish Parliament.

The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman cannot deal with a complaint until it has been dealt with by the organisation complained about. If the complaint is about a councillor it has to be made to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland.

 The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman is also responsible for carrying out independent reviews of Scottish Welfare Fund decisions on applications made to the Fund on or after 1 April 2016. The Scottish Welfare Fund is a national scheme, delivered by local authorities, which pays out crisis grants and community care grants. The information about independent reviews is in the pages about crisis grants and community care grants. If you do not want to challenge the decision about your application to the Scottish Welfare Fund, but you are not happy with the way your application was handled, you can make a complaint to the local authority, and then to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, as described on this page.

More about challenging a crisis grant decision
More about challenging a community care grant decision

What to do first

You must take your complaint first to the organisation complained about. If you feel that an organisation has provided a poor service, delivered a service badly, or failed to provide a service you should complain to them in writing heading your letter ‘formal complaint’ and asking them to consider it within their formal complaints procedure. They should make a copy of this procedure available to you.

How to complain

You must put your complaint in writing to the Ombudsman and should include any letters to and from the organisation you are complaining about. See under heading How to complain to the Ombudsman for details of what to include in the letter or ask the SPSO office for a standard form. Send your letter to:

Scottish Public Services Ombudsman
4 Melville Street
Edinburgh
EH3 7NS

Freephone: 0800 377 7330
Fax: 0800 377 7331
Online: contact form available on the website
Website: www.spso.org.uk

If you find it difficult to put your complaint in writing, you can telephone the Ombudsman; s/he may be able to help or to recommend someone who can. Generally you have to send your complaint about the Ombudsman within a year from when what you are complaining about happened or from when you found out about it. If there are special circumstances, the Ombudsman may be able to extend the time limit.

When the Ombudsman has made a decision, both parties will be informed.

If the Ombudsman agrees that there are grounds for complaint, the Ombudsman may:-

  • make recommendations to the organisation on the specific complaint
  • make recommendations to the organisation on the handling of complaints in general.

If the Ombudsman does not uphold the complaint or the recommendations are not complied with, you can take further action if you wish, for example, through a court.

Other languages

The SPSO welcome new enquiries and complaints in languages other than English.

If you would like to speak to the SPSO in a language other than English please telephone 0800 377 7330 and request the language of your choice and give them your telephone number. SPSO will call you back using an interpreter within minutes.

Some publicity material is available in other languages at www.spso.org.uk.

We can also take complaints in other formats, such as large print and Braille.

Visiting SPSO

The address for SPSO is:

4 Melville Street
Edinburgh
EH3 7NS

  • office opening hours are – 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday, with the exception of a Tuesday when the office opens at 10am
  • the office has been designed to be as barrier free as possible – they have a wheelchair accessible ramped front entrance, a wheelchair lift at the back entrance to the building, an internal lift, accessible meeting rooms and toilet facilities
  • there is always a duty Complaints Investigator available to speak with members of the public who visit – no prior appointment required
  • instant telephone interpretation support is available
  • SPSO have a portable loop induction system for hearing aid users.

The SLCC provides a single gateway for complaints about the service and conduct of legal practitioners in Scotland including solicitors, advocates and commercial attorneys.

The Commission will not normally deal with a complaint if:-

  • you have not first raised your complaint with the legal practitioner or firm involved
  • you are raising the matter over a year after the end of the service provided or when you became aware there was a problem
  • the complaint is about a judge or sheriff. There is a separate complaints process to use for these legal practitioners at www.scotland-judiciary.org.uk.

If you have a complaint about the way a complaint has been handled by one of the English and Welsh professional bodies, you should contact the office of the Legal Services Ombudsman for England and Wales at www.legalombudsman.org.uk.

Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland

The Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland (formerly the Public Standards Commissioner for Scotland) is an independent investigator who can investigate complaints against councillors, members of devolved public bodies or Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) who are alleged to have broken their Code of Conduct. The Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life works with the Standards Commission for Scotland. See www.standardscommissionscotland.org.uk.

The Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland has information on how to make a complaint about misconduct by councillors and members of public bodies on it's website at www.publicstandardscommissioner.org.uk. You can also download and complete the complaint form from this link.

To find out more about the complaints process, you should contact the office of the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life at:-

Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland
39 Drumsheugh Gardens
Edinburgh
EH3 5HX
Tel: 0300 011 0550
Email: investigations@ethicalstandards.org.uk
Website: www.ethicalstandards.org.uk

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

What sort of complaint can the Ombudsman deal with

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman can take up complaints about the way an individual has been treated by a government department or other public body. The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman deals with complaints about the Westminster Parliament and government departments governed by Westminster. The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman also handles complaints about the NHS in England. In Scotland, complaints about issues to do with the Scottish Parliament and Scottish government departments, such as health, housing and education, are dealt with by the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman. For more information about the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman see under heading Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman is concerned about maladministration by a public body, for example, how procedures are used. Examples of the type of complaint the Ombudsman could deal with are:-

  • slow and unsatisfactory responses to letters to government departments
  • incorrect and/or misleading information and advice given by officials of government departments or refusal to give information
  • rudeness, discrimination, unhelpfulness of staff of government departments or refusal to give information
  • failure to follow reasonable rules in procedures and administration.

What complaints is the Ombudsman unable to deal with

The Ombudsman cannot investigate the following types of complaint:-

  • complaints about consumer issues, including gas, electricity and water
  • problems which can usually be taken to court
  • complaints about the way legal proceedings are conducted, for example, complaints about the administrative staff of courts, unless the staff acted on the authority of the judge, magistrate etc.
  • complaints about the police
  • complaints about things which have not caused the complainant hardship or suffering
  • complaints about government policies
  • complaints reported to an MP more than 12 months after you became aware you had reason to complain.

What to do first

You should complain first to the government department or other public body concerned, as they must be given an opportunity to look into the problem. Ask for details of the complaints procedure from the organisation you are complaining about.

A letter setting out the problem should be sent to the relevant department. You should always keep copies of any letter sent and any replies received. If the government department or public body does not make a satisfactory response then consider a complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

How to complain

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman can only help if asked to do so by an MP. You must set out the problem in writing and ask her/him to refer the case to the Ombudsman. The MP should be sent all relevant correspondence. The MP may wish to investigate the matter before referring it to the Ombudsman and may decide not to pass on your complaint. A form which you can use to send to you MP is available on the ombudsman’s website at www.ombudsman.org.uk. See under heading How to complain to the Ombudsman for information on what the letter should contain.

The office of the Ombudsman can be approached directly for advice on whether the case is one which they could take up.

The address is:-

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman
Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration
Millbank Tower
Millbank
London
SW1P 4QP
Helpline: 0345 015 4033
Textphone: 0300 061 4298
Fax: 0300 061 4000
Email: phso.enquiries@ombudsman.org.uk
Website: www.ombudsman.org.uk

What can the Ombudsman do

If the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman agrees to investigate the case there will be a private investigation. You may be interviewed at home by someone from the Ombudsman’s office.

If the Ombudsman agrees that the complaint is justified, the government department concerned will be asked to remedy the situation. The Ombudsman’s report will be sent to the department, the MP and the person making the complaint.

The Ombudsman cannot force a government department or other public body to remedy an injustice, and there is no appeal against the findings. However, where the Ombudsman agrees with the complaint and asks for a specific remedy from a public body, the public body will usually respond. The Ombudsman could ask for:-

  • an apology
  • repayment of money due, for example, tax, benefit
  • compensation, for example, for delays
  • improved procedures
  • better administrative procedures at the department.

European Ombudsman

What sort of complaint can the Ombudsman deal with

The European Ombudsman can investigate maladministration in the activities of the European Union (EU) institutions and bodies. These bodies include the European Commission, The Council of the European Union and the Court of Justice. Examples of the problems that can be investigated by the European Ombudsman include administrative delay, refusal of information, discrimination and abuse of power.

What to do first

Before you can make a complaint to the European Ombudsman, the European institution concerned should be given the opportunity to investigate and try to resolve the matter.

How to complainYou have two years from the date when you knew the facts of the problem within which to complain to the European Ombudsman. It is not necessary for a complaint to be referred to the European Ombudsman by an MEP. There is no fee for making a complaint to the European Ombudsman, which should be in writing. There is a form that you can download from the European Ombudsman website, which you can complete and submit by e-mail. However, it is not necessary to make a complaint using the form.

The address of the European Ombudsman is:-

1, Avenue du President Robert Schuman
CS 30403
F-67001 Strasbourg Cedex
France
Tel: 00 33 388 172313
Fax: 00 33 388 179062
Email: eo@ombudsman.europa.eu
Website: www.ombudsman.europa.eu

What can the Ombudsman do

The European Ombudsman examines complaints and conducts enquiries. Complaints are not usually handled confidentially, but if you ask for your complaint to be treated confidentially this will be respected in individual circumstances, if at all possible.

If a case is not resolved satisfactorily, the Ombudsman will try to find a solution through conciliation to put matters right and satisfy the complainant. If the attempt at conciliation fails the European Ombudsman can make recommendations to the institution to solve the case. If the institution does not accept the Ombudsman's recommendations, the Ombudsman can make a special report on the matter to the European parliament.

Financial Ombudsman Service

What can the Financial Ombudsman Service deal with

The Financial Ombudsman Service can deal with consumer complaints about most personal financial matters including:-

  • financial advice
  • banking services
  • endowment policies
  • mortgages
  • personal pensions plans
  • building society services
  • insurance.

The Financial Ombudsman Service is impartial and is free of charge.

The Financial Ombudsman Service can mainly deal with consumer complaints about companies which are authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority, although it can also deal with a number of unauthorised companies. You should contact the Financial Ombudsman Service consumer helpline directly to find out if it can deal with your complaint.

How to complain

Before complaining to the Financial Ombudsman Service, you must complain to the company using its formal complaints procedure. If you are not happy with the outcome a complaint can be made to the Financial Ombudsman Service within six months of receiving the final decision from the company about how it is going to deal with the matter. A complaint form can be obtained from the Financial Ombudsman Service website or from the consumer helpline. You should contact the Financial Ombudsman Service directly for information on how to make a complaint.

The address of the Financial Ombudsman Service is:-

Financial Ombudsman Service
Exchange Tower
London
E14 9SR
Consumer helpline: 0800 023 4567 (free for people phoning from a landline) or 0300 123 9123 (free for mobile-phone users who pay a monthly charge for calls to numbers starting 01 or 02) (Monday to Friday from 8.00am to 8.00pm; Saturday from 9.00am to 1.00pm)
Email: complaint.info@financial-ombudsman.org.uk
Website: www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk

What the Financial Ombudsman can do

The Financial Ombudsman Service will look at the complaint and advise how it could be resolved. If a satisfactory outcome is not achieved, the Financial Ombudsman Service will undertake a formal investigation. The final decision given at the end of this investigation is binding on the company, but if you do not agree with it, you can take the complaint to court.

The Property Ombudsman

The Property Ombudsman deals with disputes involving estate agents, letting agents, residential managing agents, valuers, auctioneeers and other property professionals.

All estate agents must belong to an approved redress scheme for dealing with complaints about the buying and selling of residential property. There are three approved schemes, one of which is run by The Property Ombudsman. You should check if your estate agent is a member of this scheme. If it isn't, you should check if it's a member of the other approved schemes which are run by The Ombudsman Services: Property and the The Property Redress Scheme.

If an estate agent has not joined one of these schemes, it can be fined. You can report an estate agent who hasn't joined a scheme to the local Trading Standards office.

What complaints can The Property Ombudsman deal with

The Property Ombudsman will investigate complaints about registered firms (scheme members) if you have lost money or suffered inconvenience because a member company has:

  • gone against your legal rights
  • treated you unfairly
  • been guilty of maladministration (including inefficiency and delay).

What complaints is The Property Ombudsman unable to deal with

The Property Ombudsman cannot deal with complaints if:

  • the complaint is not against a registered firm (scheme member)
  • the complaint is being or has been dealt with by a court
  • the complaint has not been raised in writing with the registered firm
  • the event you are complaining about happened more than twelve months before you formally complained to the firm or before the firm registered as a member of the scheme.

What to do first

You should first make a formal written complaint to the registered firm to start their internal complaints procedure.

If, at the end of this procedure, you are still not satisfied, you can contact The Property Ombudsman giving details of your complaint. You must do this within six months of the firm completing their internal complaints procedure.

How to complain

You can contact The Property Ombudsman giving full details of the complaint. The address of the Property Ombudsman is:

Milford House
43-55 Milford Street
Salisbury
Wiltshire
SP1 2BP
Tel: 01722 333 306
Fax: 01722 332 296
Email: admin@tpos.co.uk
Website: www.tpos.co.uk

What can The Property Ombudsman do

After considering the information provided by you and the registered firm, the Ombudsman will send a decision to both sides. The Ombudsman can grant compensation of up to £25,000. You can accept or reject the decision. If you accept it, legally the registered firm has to accept the decision.

If you decide to reject the Ombudsman’s decision, you can decide what other action (including legal action) you may wish to take.

Ombudsman Services: Property

The Ombudsman Services: Property deals with complaints from consumers about estate agents, letting agents, residential managing agents, chartered surveying firms, surveyors and other property professionals.

All estate agents must belong to an approved redress scheme for dealing with complaints about the buying and selling of residential property. There are three approved schemes, one of which is run by the Ombudsman Services: Property. You should check if your estate agent is a member of this scheme. If it isn't, you should check if it's a member of the other approved schemes which are run by The Property Ombudsman and the The Property Redress Scheme.

If an estate agent has not joined one of these schemes, it can be fined. You can report an estate agent who hasn't joined a scheme to the local Trading Standards office.

What complaints can the Ombudsman Services: Property deal with

The Ombudsman Services: Property deals with complaints about unfair treatment, avoidable delays, failures to follow proper procedures, poor or incompetent service amongst other things. It can only look at your problem if one of its members is involved so it is important that you check this first. A list of its members is available on its website at www.ombudsman-services.org.

What complaints is the Ombudsman Services: Property unable to deal with

The Ombudsman Services: Property will not deal with complaints that:-

  • are against a firm that is not a member
  • would be better dealt with by the courts or a dispute resolution scheme
  • involve a claim for more than £25,000
  • have been made more than six months after the company complained about has made its final offer
  • happened more than nine months before you complained to the company
  • are about a chartered surveyor or firm in England, Wales or Northern Ireland if the problem occurred before 1 June 2007
  • about a chartered surveying firm or surveyor that provided a service to you in Scotland before 1 October 2003
  • are about an estate agent if the problem occurred before 1 October 2008
  • are about a residential managing agent if the problem occurred before 1 November 2009.

What to do first

You should first use the internal complaints procedure of the member firm. There is a time limit to make the complaint. This is nine months from the event about which you are complaining.

If, at the end of this procedure, you are still not satisfied, you can complain to the Ombudsman Services: Property giving details of your complaint.

How to complain

You can contact the Ombudsman Services: Property at:

PO Box 1021
Warrington
WA4 9FE

Tel: 0330 440 1634 or 01925 530 270
Fax: 0330 440 1635 or 01925 530 271
Email: enquiries@os-property.org
Website: www.ombudsman-services.org/property.html

What can the Ombudsman Services: Property do

After considering the information provided by you and the member firm, the Ombudsman Services: Property will send a decision to both sides. The Ombudsman can grant compensation of up to £25,000. You can accept or reject the decision. If you accept it, the member firm will keep to the final decision and take the action that the Ombudsman has asked for.

If you decide to reject the Ombudsman’s decision, you can decide what other action (including legal action) you may want to take.

The Property Redress Scheme

The Property Redress Scheme deals with complaints from consumers about estate agents, letting agents, residential managing agents, chartered surveying firms, surveyors and other property professionals.

All estate agents must belong to an approved redress scheme for dealing with complaints about the buying and selling of residential property.

From 1 October 2014, lettings and property management agencies must belong to a government approved redress scheme for dealing with complaints about letting and managing private rented accommodation.

There are three approved schemes, one of which is run by the The Property Redress Scheme. You should check if your estate agent is a member of this scheme. If it isn't, you should check if it's a member of the other approved schemes which are run by The Property Ombudsman and the Ombudsman Services: Property.

If you have a complaint which hasn't been resolved using the agency's own complaints procedure, you can complain to the scheme that the agency belongs to.

What complaints can the Property Redress Scheme deal with

The Property Redress Scheme deals with complaints about unfair treatment, avoidable delays, failure to follow proper procedures, poor service amongst other things. You must have suffered financial loss, distress or inconvenience as a result. It can only look at your problem if the agent or professional is a member of the Scheme. It is important that you check this first on its website at www.theprs.co.uk.

What to do first

You should first make a written complaint to the member firm and allow eight weeks for a response.

If you're not happy with the member's firm final response to your complaint, or it has been eight weeks since you made your complaint, you can make a complaint to the Scheme. You must make a complaint to the Scheme within six months of your original complaint.

How to complain

You can contact The Property Redress Scheme at:

The Property Redress Scheme
Premiere House
1st Floor
Elstree Way
Borehamwood
WD6 1JH

Tel: 0333 321 9418 (Monday to Friday from 9.00am to 5.00pm)

Email: info@theprs.co.uk
Website: www.theprs.co.uk

You can find further information on how to make a complaint on the Scheme's website at www.theprs.co.uk.

What can The Property Redress Scheme do

After considering the information provided by you and the registered firm, the Ombudsman will send a decision to both sides. The Ombudsman can grant compensation of up to £25,000. You can accept or reject the decision. If you accept it, the member firm will keep to the final decision and take the action that the Ombudsman has asked for.

If you decide to reject the Ombudsman’s decision, you can decide what other action (including legal action) you may want to take.

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