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Complain to an ombudsman or commissioner in Scotland

This advice applies to Scotland

This information applies to Scotland

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

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.

Using an ombudsman or commissioner is a way of trying to resolve a complaint without going to court.

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

There are a number of different ombudsmen and commissioners:

  • the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman deals with complaints about public services in Scotland, including, for example, councils, the NHS, housing associations, colleges and universities, prisons, most water authorities, the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament
  • the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission deals with complaints about lawyers in Scotland
  • the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland investigates complaints about the conduct of councillors, members of devolved public bodies and Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) 
  • the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman investigates complaints about UK Government departments and the NHS in England
  • the European Ombudsman investigates complaints about the institutions and bodies of the European Union
  • the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) sorts out problems with banks, insurance, PPI, loans, mortgages, pensions and deals with other money and financial complaints
  • the Property Ombudsman deals with complaints about estate agents, letting agents and other property professionals that are a member of its redress scheme
  • the Property Redress Scheme deals with complaints about estate agents, letting agents and other property professionals that are a member of its redress scheme
  • the Energy Ombudsman can help if you have an unresolved complaint about a gas or electricity company. Read our advice about how to complain to the energy ombudsman
  • the Communications Ombudsman might be able to help if you have a complaint about your internet or telephone provider
  • the Consumer Ombudsman might be able to help if you have a complaint about goods or services bought in the UK after 1 January 2015 (and online purchases within the EU)
  • the Motor Ombudsman may be able to help with complaints about businesses that have signed up to one of its codes of practice
  • Ombudsman Services: Home Improvements can help with complaints about members of the Double Glazing and Conservatory Ombudsman Scheme (DGACOS) or Home Insulation and Energy Systems (HIES)
  • the Pensions Ombudsman investigates complaints about pensions administration - they can look into complaints about the actions and decisions of the Pension Protection Fund and some decisions made by the Financial Assistance Scheme
  • the Furniture Ombudsman can sort out problems when you've bought furniture or other items, for example, clothes. The Ombudsman can also deal with complaints when home improvements, such as a new bathroom, go wrong.

An ombudsman should be a member of the Ombudsman Association (OA). Commissioners are usually members of the OA. Visit the Ombudsman Association website to check if an ombudsman or commissioner is a member.

When to complain to an ombudsman or commissioner

You can complain to an ombudsman or commissioner if:

  • an organisation hasn't followed its own policies or procedures
  • you've experienced rudeness from an organisation's staff
  • there's been a delay in taking action or a failure to take action
  • you've been treated unfairly compared to others
  • you were given wrong or misleading information.

An ombudsman or commissioner will only look into a case if:

  • you've suffered personal injustice, hardship or financial loss because of the action, or lack of action of an organisation.
  • you've already given the organisation an opportunity to resolve your complaint.

In most cases, the ombudsman or commissioner can't investigate a decision made by an organisation just because you disagree with it but it can investigate the way in which a decision was reached. 

An ombudsman or commissioner will not investigate your case if it's 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 an ombudsman or commissioner

Check the ombudsman's or commissioner's website for details about how to make a complaint - most of them have an online form.

You might need to send copies of any paperwork that's relevant to your complaint.

If you'd like help in contacting the ombudsman or commissioner and starting a complaint, you can get help from a Citizens Advice Bureau.

What happens next

If an ombudsman or commissioner finds that your complaint is justified, they'll 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. You should be able to find details of likely timescales on the ombudsman or commissioner's website.

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