How to use an ombudsman in Wales
An ombudsman is someone who has been appointed to look into complaints about an organisation. The ombudsman is usually a lawyer and investigates from an independent standpoint.
There are a number of ombudsmen:
- the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman who investigates complaints about government departments and certain other public bodies
- the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales who investigates complaints about public services in Wales. This includes complaints about the health service in Wales
- the Financial Ombudsman Service
- the European Ombudsman
- the Legal Ombudsman
- the Property Ombudsman and The Property Redress Scheme
- the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman
- the Ombudsman Services: Energy
- Telecommunications ombudsman.
For information about the Ombudsman Services: Energy, see Gas supply and Electricity supply.
There is no charge for the investigations made by an ombudsman. Any money you spend in making the complaint, for example, travel expenses, should be claimed back from the office of the relevant ombudsman.
Even where the ombudsman agrees that the complaint is justified, in most cases they can't order the organisation to do anything to compensate you. In addition, the investigation by the ombudsman can take a long time. Complaining to the ombudsman should therefore only be considered as a last resort.
The ombudsman’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 can also investigate complaints that a member of a local government body, including councillors and members of fire and police authorities, has broken their code of conduct. This might be, for example, if a councillor has brought the council into disrepute or used their position to gain an advantage for themselves.
The ombudsman 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 the organisation. The complaint must be brought by the person who has suffered this injustice, hardship or loss.
The ombudsman cannot look into a decision made by an organisation. It can only look into the way in which a decision was reached. For more detailed information about the type of complaint an ombudsman could take up, see the information which follows.
You should seek advice from an experienced advice worker, for example at a Citizens Advice Bureau, or the office of the relevant ombudsman on whether an ombudsman could take on a particular complaint. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
You should complain to the ombudsman only if you have given the organisation an opportunity to comment on the complaint and sort out any problems. For more information about what you should do before you complain to the ombudsman, see the information which follows.
The ombudsman will not look into a case if it is about to go to court or if court action is being considered. In some cases the ombudsman will not look into cases which could be dealt with by a court or tribunal.
The procedure for starting the investigation by the ombudsman depends on which ombudsman you are complaining to. Most of the offices of the ombudsmen provide an application form for making a complaint. However you do not need to use an application form. You can send a letter containing the following information:
- your name and address
- the name and address of the organisation you are complaining about
- details of what the complaint is about, that is, what did the organisation do wrong or fail 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 before you contacted the ombudsman
- the date when you first identified the event you are complaining about.
You should also send copies of any paperwork relevant to the complaint.
You can get help in contacting the ombudsman and starting the complaint procedure from an experienced adviser, for example, at Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
What sort of complaint can the Parliamentary and Health Service 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 ombudsman will look into 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 or misleading information and advice given by government officials
- refusal of government officials to give information
- rudeness, discrimination or unhelpfulness of government officials
- failure to follow reasonable rules in procedures and administration.
The ombudsman cannot investigate the following types of complaint:
- complaints about nationalised industries
- complaints about the health service in Wales
- problems which can usually be taken to court
- complaints about the way legal action is carried out, for example, complaints about the administrative staff of courts, unless the staff acted on the authority of the judge or magistrate
- complaints about the police
- complaints about things which have not caused you hardship or suffering
- complaints about government policies
- complaints reported to an MP more than twelve 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. You should send a letter setting out the problem 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, consider making a complaint to the Ombudsman.
How to complain
The ombudsman can only help if asked to do so by an MP. First, you should write a letter setting out the problem to any MP asking them to refer the case to the ombudsman. You should send the MP all relevant paper-work. The MP may wish to look into the problem before referring it to the ombudsman and may decide not to pass on your complaint. See under heading How to complain to the ombudsman for information about what you should put in the letter. You can approach the office of the ombudsman directly for advice about whether the case is one which they could take up.
The address of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman is:
What can the ombudsman do
If the ombudsman agrees to look into the complaint, there will be a private investigation. Someone from the ombudsman’s office may interview you at home.
If the ombudsman agrees that the complaint is justified, the government department will be asked to put the problem right. 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 put a problem right, There is no appeal against the findings. However, where the ombudsman agrees with the complaint and asks the public body to put the problem right, the public body will usually respond. The ombudsman could ask for:
- an apology
- repayment of money due, for example, tax or benefits
- compensation, for example, for delays
- improved procedures
- better administrative procedures at the department.
What sort of complaint can the Public Services Ombudsman deal with
The Public Services Ombudsman can deal with complaints of maladministration in public services in Wales. These include services provided by the following organisations:
- local authorities
- joint boards of local authorities
- police and fire authorities (not complaints about individual police officers)
- the National Assembly for Wales
- the Welsh Government
- local health boards
- NHS trusts
- GP services
- Community Health Councils
- housing provided by housing associations and by local authorities
- national park authorities
- Education Appeal Panels
- Natural Resources Wales
- school governing bodies (admission matters only).
The ombudsman can only look into complaints of maladministration which cause injustice, suffering or hardship. This means that they can only take up complaints about the way an organisation has done something or not done something it should have done. Examples of the type of complaint it can investigate are:
- delay or neglect in responding to enquiries or providing a service
- failure to follow the agreed policies, rules or procedures of the organisation
- rudeness, discrimination or unhelpfulness of officials
- incorrect and/or misleading information and advice by officials
- failure of officials to provide advice and information.
The ombudsman can also investigate complaints that a member of a local government body has broken the code of conduct of the body. This might be, for example, if a councillor has brought the council into disrepute or used their position to gain an advantage for themselves. The ombudsman can consider a complaint about a person who is a member of:
- a county or county borough council
- a community council
- a fire, police or national park authority.
By law, the ombudsman cannot investigate complaints about some things, including:
- most staff matters such as pay or discipline (however they can consider complaints about recruitment or appointment procedures)
- teaching, curriculum, conduct, discipline and management in schools and colleges
- the rent and service charges set by a social landlord
- a complaint where you have, or had, a legal right of appeal or the right to take the matter to court, unless they are satisfied that in the particular circumstances it is not reasonable to expect you to have done so
- complaints about the behaviour of individual employees of an authority. However, if their behaviour led to you being unfairly treated, or receiving a bad service, then you can complain about the authority itself.
What to do first
Complain first to the organisation concerned. Write a letter to the department setting out the problem. If you do not get a satisfactory response or you do not get an answer within a reasonable time, ask the ombudsman to look into the complaint.
How to complain
You can send your complaint directly to the ombudsman or you can ask a local councillor to do this for you. If you are not sure about how to go about complaining to the ombudsman, you can get help from the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, Complaints Advice Team on 0300 790 0203.
The address of the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales is:
Public Services Ombudsman for Wales
1 Ffordd yr Hen Gae
What the Public Services Ombudsman can do
If the Public Services Ombudsman thinks it is appropriate, they will look into the case. Someone from the ombudsman's office may visit you. The ombudsman will then make a report which will be sent both to the organisation concerned and to you. You will not be named in the report. In most cases, the organisation complained about must make the report available to the public. Complaints are sometimes sorted out before the end of the investigation.
If the ombudsman finds that the organisation is responsible for causing the problem, the ombudsman will include their recommendations for a suitable solution to the problem in the report. The actions the ombudsman might ask for include:
- an apology
- improved administrative procedures
- putting the problem right.
The ombudsman has no power to force the organisation to take any of these steps, but organisations do usually agree to do what they say. If an organisation does not take the action recommended by the ombudsman, it must publish its reasons in the local press.
What sort of complaint can the European Ombudsman deal with
The European Ombudsman can look into maladministration in the activities of the European community 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 should be given the opportunity to look into the problem and try to sort it out.
How to complain
There is a time limit for complaints. This is two years from the date when you knew the facts of the problem. You do not need to refer the problem through an MEP. There is no fee for making a complaint to the European Ombudsman. You must make the complaint in writing. There is a form that you can download from the European Ombudsman website. You can fill it in and send it by e-mail. However, you do not need to use this form to make your complaint.
The address of the European Ombudsman is:
1, Avenue du President Robert Schuman
F-67001 Strasbourg Cedex
What can the European Ombudsman do
The European Ombudsman will look into the complaint. 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.
The European Ombudsman will try to find a solution through conciliation to put matters right and satisfy the person making the complaint. If the attempt at conciliation fails, the European Ombudsman can make recommendations to the organisation to put the problem right. If the organisation does not accept the ombudsman's recommendations, the ombudsman can make a special report on the matter to the European Parliament.
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
- personal pension plans
- building society services
The Financial Ombudsman Service is impartial and free of charge. It can mainly deal with consumer complaints about companies which are authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority. However, it, can also deal with some 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 you complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service, you must complain to the company using its formal complaints procedure. If you are not happy with the outcome, you can make a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service. There is a time limit. This is six months from when you get a final decision from the company about how it is going to deal with the matter. You can get a complaint form from the Financial Ombudsman Service website or from the consumer helpline. You can 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
South Quay Plaza
183 Marsh Wall
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) (Mon-Fri 8.00am-6.00pm; Sat 9.00am-1.00pm)
What the Financial Ombudsman can do
The Financial Ombudsman Service will look at the complaint and advise how it could be sorted out. If a satisfactory outcome is not achieved, the Financial Ombudsman Service will start a formal investigation. The final decision given at the end of this investigation is binding on the company. However, if you do not agree with it, you can take the complaint to court.
What can the Legal Ombudsman deal with
The Legal Ombudsman deals with complaints about services provided by legal advisers. Legal advisers include:
- legal executives
- licensed conveyancers
- law costs draftsmen
- patent attorneys
- probate practitioners
- registered European lawyers
- trade mark attorneys
- any business responsible for these people.
What to do first
You must first try to resolve the complaint by discussing it with your legal adviser. All legal firms must have a written complaints procedure and the firm will tell you who to contact if you have a problem with the legal adviser handling the case. The legal adviser must give you a copy of the complaints procedure if you ask for it.
How to contact the Legal Ombudsman
If this does not resolve the matter, you should contact the Legal Ombudsman. The Legal Ombudsman has a telephone help-line which can advise you about whether they can deal with your complaint.
You must contact the Legal Ombudsman within six months of your last contact with your legal adviser. You must provide:
- details of the name and address of your legal adviser
- the date you told your legal adviser about your complaint
- details of the response you received.
What can the Legal Ombudsman do
The Legal Ombudsman will first try to resolve your complaint informally. If this is not possible, the Legal Ombudsman will investigate your complaint formally and you will have a chance to put your case in writing.
If you accept the Legal Ombudsman's decision, it will be final and binding on you.
If the Legal Ombudsman agrees that your legal adviser's service has been unsatisfactory, they can ask your law firm to do any of the following:-
- apologise to you
- give you back any documents you might need
- pay you compensation for loss, inconvenience or distress (up to £50,000)
- to put things right if possible.
- refund or reduce legal fees.
If the legal adviser has broken any rules of professional conduct, the Legal Ombudsman may refer your complaint to the appropriate regulatory body. In extreme cases, the legal adviser could be disciplined or struck off which would mean they could no longer work as a legal adviser.
If your legal adviser has discriminated against you, you may be able to take legal action against the legal adviser as well as complaining to the Legal Ombudsman. You will need to get legal advice. You may be able to get legal aid for this.
You can contact the Legal Ombudsman at:
PO Box 6806
You can find more information about how to make a complaint on the Legal Ombudsman website at: www.legalombudsman.org.uk.
The Property Ombudsman deals with disputes involving estate agents, letting agents, residential managing agents, valuers, auctioneers 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 scheme which is run by 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.
There is currently no requirement for letting agents, residential managing agents, and other property professionals to register as members of a redress scheme.
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 that firm 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:
43-55 Milford Street
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.
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.
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 scheme which is run by The Property Ombudsman.
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
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.
What complaints can the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman deal with
The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman can consider complaints about most aspects of a prisoner’s treatment in prison, including disciplinary hearings. It also deals with complaints by people on probation. The ombudsman can consider whether a decision taken by the Prison Service or National Probation Service was correct and whether the proper procedures were followed in making the decision. This includes action taken by prison staff employed by private companies, probation officers and members of the Independent Monitoring Board. The ombudsman is also responsible for investigating the deaths of all prisoners and residents of probation hostels and immigration detention accommodation.
What complaints is the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman unable to deal with
The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman cannot look into complaints about the actions of other agencies, for example, the police, courts or the Immigration Department.
What to do first
Before you make a complaint to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, you must first have used the internal complaints procedures. If you are not satisfied with the reply or if the Prison Service Headquarters or Area Probation Board has not replied within six weeks, you can make a complaint to the ombudsman.
How to complain
There is a time limit to make a complaint. This is one month from getting a reply from the Prison Service Headquarters or Area Probation Board. If you have not received a reply, you can make a complaint any time after six weeks. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman has discretion to investigate complaints made outside the time limit, for example, if you were ill and unable to make the complaint earlier.
To complain, send a letter to the ombudsman. If you are a prisoner, you should send the letter in a sealed envelope marked ‘Prisoners' confidential access’. A prisoner should include their prison number in the letter of complaint. Help and support can be given by a friend, relative or adviser. The complaint should be sent to:
Prisons and Probation Ombudsman
2 Monck Street
What the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman will do
The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman will usually get copies of any relevant papers from the Prison Service or National Probation Service. They will treat the complaint as confidential as far as is possible. However, in some cases, they will interview you and the other people.
The ombudsman will send the decision and the reasons for it in writing to both you and the Prison Service or National Probation Service. You will usually get a reply from the ombudsman within eight weeks of making the complaint. If the investigation takes longer than twelve weeks, you will get monthly progress reports from the ombudsman.
If the ombudsman upholds your complaint, the ombudsman will recommend action that the Prison Service or National Probation Service should take.