Scottish Public Services Ombudsman

Call us on 0800 377 7330

We look at complaints about most organisations providing public services in Scotland.  These include councils, the National Health Service, housing associations, water providers, prisons, the Scottish Government, colleges and universities and many other Scottish public organisations. This list provides information about who we can look at complaints about (PDF 32KB).

If after reading the list you aren't sure if we can look at a complaint about an organisation, please call us on our Freephone number above.

Yes. If no-one complains, other people may share the same experience and things may not improve.

When we make a decision on a complaint, we may make recommendations.  We expect organisations to carry these out and we check to make sure they do.  These are real outcomes for the people concerned, and so our complaints investigations can lead to wider improvement across a council, health board etc and sometimes across a whole sector.  You can search the reports of our investigations here, and you can find more information about how we put things right here.

Yes it is, and we have a Freepost and Freephone number for our customers. See the Contact us section for details.

Approach the organisation that you are unhappy with and ask them to sort out the problem.   They should have a complaints procedure and we normally expect you to have used all the stages of that procedure before we consider a complaint.  This is so that the organisation has the chance to put things right for you.  

Click here to find out more about making a complaint to a public organisation.

You normally need to complain to us in writing.  You can do so using our online form, in person, by fax or to our Freepost address.

There's an online complaint form on this website or you can print off a complaints form (PDF 81KB).

If you need advice or have difficulty with the forms or with access to our website, please tell us.  Our contact us section will help you get in touch with our advice team and our accessibility section has information about what you can do if you have any special needs.

Yes they can.  You will have to give them permission to do that, which you can give on our complaint form or in a letter.  We can send you the complaint form or a letter to sign if you contact us.  If your complaint is about the National Health Service, we may also ask for your permission to access your health records.

We aim to be accessible to all, and will make reasonable adjustments to assist you wherever possible, if you tell us what you need us to do.  You can read more information here about how we may be able to help you access our service.

 

Yes.  We're open from 9.00 until 5.00 Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. On Tuesdays we open at 10.00 and close at 5.00.

During these times, you can come in and talk to us about a complaint that you are thinking of bringing here.  The person you talk to won’t be able to give you a decision there and then, but he or she will listen to what you have to say and may be able to offer advice.

Please visit the contact us section of our website for more information about where we are and how to contact us.

Yes. We do not normally investigate complaints if you have known about the problem for more than 12 months before complaining.  We may, however, decide to look at the complaint if certain circumstances stopped you from making it earlier.

You can read our guidance about these time limits here.

It's really helpful if you send us your complaint on our complaints form.  You can complete it online or download a copy to fill in (PDF 82 KB). You can also ask us to send you a paper copy by calling our Freephone number (0800 377 7330).  We need to see :

  • your name, address and telephone number, and email address if you have one
  • whether you are complaining on behalf of someone else (if so, we usually need them to say in writing that they want you to act for them - they can do that on the form)
  • the organisation you are complaining about
  • a short explanation of what led to the problem, saying who was involved, what happened and when, and why you think the situation is unfair or wrong
  • what you've done to try to sort out the complaint and the result of that (including a copy of the letter from the organisation giving their final decision about your complaint)
  • copies of other paper work that we need to see to understand the complaint (please only send the most relevant information, if we need more we'll ask for it)
  • why you're unhappy with the response you have received and what you would like to happen as a result of your complaint to us.

You may find SPSO information leaflet 1 (PDF 440KB)  helpful - it gives some advice about complaining to us.

We will look at your complaint to see whether it should be investigated. See 'How we handle complaints' for more detailed information.  We may contact you for more information, or call you to discuss the complaint.

If we decide not to take your complaint further we will tell you why. If we decide to investigate it we will write to you, and to the organisation about which you are complaining, to explain what we are investigating.  If we decide to look at your complaint it's on the understanding that you accept the way in which we work and that we have the authority to make a final decision on the complaint.

If we investigate your complaint, at the end of the investigation we will either write to you and the organisation involved with our decision, or the results will be set out in a public interest report.  Most investigations end in a letter, and we publish short summaries of most of those decisions on our website.  You can look for summaries that we have published in the Decision Reports section of the website.

If we prepare a public interest report, we will send you a draft of it to give you a chance to comment on how your evidence is used.  The final report will be sent to you, the organisation about which you complained and Scottish Ministers.  A copy will also be laid before the Scottish Parliament.  At this point it becomes a public document and will be available on our website.  You can look for investigation reports we have issued in the Investigation Reports section of the website.

If we find that a complaint is justified we usually make recommendations about what should be done to put things right.  This may be an apology or an explanation or other appropriate action.

We usually make recommendations where we find that something has gone wrong, to help put things right and to try to stop the same thing happening to someone else. We always follow these up to make sure that they are carried out. You can search our reports and recommendations here.

You can complain if you think that we have not met our service standards.  See the page Unhappy with SPSO for more information.

We will look at your complaint to see whether it should be investigated. See 'How we handle complaints' for more detailed information.  We may contact you for more information, or call you to discuss the complaint.

If we decide not to take your complaint further we will tell you why. If we decide to investigate it we will write to you, and to the organisation about which you are complaining, to explain what we are investigating.  If we decide to look at your complaint it's on the understanding that you accept the way in which we work and that we have the authority to make a final decision on the complaint.

If we investigate your complaint, at the end of the investigation we will either write to you and the organisation involved with our decision, or the results will be set out in a public interest report.  Most investigations end in a letter, and we publish short summaries of most of those decisions on our website.  You can look for summaries that we have published in the Decision Reports section of the website.

If we prepare a public interest report, we will send you a draft of it to give you a chance to comment on how your evidence is used.  The final report will be sent to you, the organisation about which you complained and Scottish Ministers.  A copy will also be laid before the Scottish Parliament.  At this point it becomes a public document and will be available on our website.  You can look for investigation reports we have issued in the Investigation Reports section of the website.

If we find that a complaint is justified we usually make recommendations about what should be done to put things right.  This may be an apology or an explanation or other appropriate action.

We use professional advisers when looking at some of our complaints.  This happens most often in the areas of health and planning.  We may also ask for advice in other areas - for example in complex social work cases, or on technical matters in water complaints.  We have local advisers, for example in planning, mental health, care of the elderly, nursing and GP services, with whom complaints reviewers can discuss issues face-to-face. We also access the English Health Ombudsman’s panel of advisers, which covers a wide range of specialisms.

Advisers provide us with independent expert advice on what it was reasonable to expect in the  circumstances of a case. They may explain technical terms and information or point us to relevant guidance and legislation.  We take their advice into account along with all other evidence and information in deciding whether to uphold a complaint.

Yes, the person who made the complaint and the organisation involved can ask us to review the decision.  However, the grounds on which you can ask for this are limited. We will not accept a request for review on the basis that someone simply disagrees with the outcome of  their complaint.

 

We sometimes receive multiple complaints about a council's decision to close a school or public facilities, or where members of a local community strongly oppose a planning application.  If we decide to investigate how such a decision was made, we're very likely to take one generally representative complaint, investigate that and let the other complainants know the outcome. This is what we did with a complaint on which we reported in May 2010. It was about the closure of leisure facilities in South Ayrshire and is typical of this kind of complaint.

No - we treat each complaint on its own merits. And our Act does not allow us to accept petitions or other broad based community representations.

We take the view that a single complaint made by an individual carries just as much weight as a group of people making a complaint. So when we get a large number of complaints about a particular issue, such as building a school or the closure of public facilities, we don’t treat the subject matter any differently from when someone brings us a complaint that only affects them.

Ombudsmen deal with complaints from ordinary citizens about certain public bodies or organisations providing services on their behalf.

The SPSO looks into complaints about most organisations providing public services in Scotland.  Our job is to give an independent and impartial decision on complaints and we also have a statutory role in improving complaints handling by organisations under our remit.

Most of the work of considering complaints is done by SPSO staff called Complaints Reviewers.  We receive around 4000 complaints every year. The SPSO Act 2002 allows the Ombudsman to delegate functions, which means that he can ask other people to do things on his behalf, such as look at complaints.

The Our Process section of this website explains how we look into complaints.

Any person or organisation who is a member of the public for the purposes of Section 5 (6) of the SPSO Act 2002.  This excludes a number of public authorities, including local authorities.  We can, however, take complaints from any customer of a licensed water or sewerage provider within our jurisdiction.

You can make a complaint on your own, or jointly with someone else but we investigate  specific individual complaints, not petitions or general representations from groups.  We can't take complaints from Community Councils.

If you want to, you can ask an independent advocate or adviser, an MSP or MP, a friend, relative or neighbour to bring your complaint to us. If you do that, we'll need your written confirmation or consent that you want them to do so.  You can confirm this on our complaint form (online).

Anonymous complaints
It is very unlikely that we could act on an anonymous complaint.  If you are concerned about the implications of making a complaint and want to discuss this with us please contact us.

We cannot accept complaints from community councils on their own behalf.  Section 5 of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman Act 2002 defines a ‘member of the public’.  We took legal advice on this, and were advised that a community council is not a member of the public under the terms of the Act.   A Scottish Parliamentary committee has also looked at this and confirmed that a community council cannot complain directly to us.

So we do not accept complaints made directly by community councils, although they may act on behalf of a member of the public or help a person complain to us. In that case, we simply need the person's written consent for the community council to act on their behalf.

We sometimes receive multiple complaints about a council's decision to close a school or public facilities, or where members of a local community strongly oppose a planning application.  If we decide to investigate how such a decision was made, we're very likely to take one generally representative complaint, investigate that and let the other complainants know the outcome. This is what we did with a complaint on which we reported in May 2010. It was about the closure of leisure facilities in South Ayrshire and is typical of this kind of complaint.

No - we treat each complaint on its own merits. And our Act does not allow us to accept petitions or other broad based community representations.

We take the view that a single complaint made by an individual carries just as much weight as a group of people making a complaint. So when we get a large number of complaints about a particular issue, such as building a school or the closure of public facilities, we don’t treat the subject matter any differently from when someone brings us a complaint that only affects them.

Organisations usually comply with our recommendations, and we always follow up rigorously to make sure this happens.  However, if an organisation did not comply, the Ombudsman can take action to draw attention to this.

Section 16 of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman Act 2002 says that we can lay a special report before the Scottish Parliament when an investigation report finds that someone suffered injustice or hardship because of maladministration or service failure, and this has not been, or will not be, remedied.

Since the SPSO was set up in 2002, we have not needed to issue a special report.  If we did do so, it would be for Parliament to decide what, if any, action to take.

You can search our reports here.

Our legislation says that we must carry out our investigations in private. We cannot comment on ongoing investigations and when we make reports public at the end of an investigation, we take care to anonymise individuals.

We put reports on our website to make the learning from complaints available to as wide an audience as possible. The aim is to help organisations pick up good practice from one another, and to decide whether they need to take action that may prevent the same issue from arising elsewhere. This also helps members of the public understand what we can and cannot look at, and the kind of recommendations we make.

We publish a small number of investigation reports in full (these are complaints that meet our public interest criteria) and we also publish the outcomes of 70-80 decisions a month (decision reports). These are on the our findings section of our website and can be searched by sector, organisation, subject and so on. We usually publish decision reports about six weeks after the complainant and the organisation concerned have received the final decision from our office.

The Ombudsman's terms of appointment are in the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman Act 2002.  The Ombudsman is nominated by the Scottish Parliament, and appointed by the Queen, for a period of not more than five years. The Ombudsman may be re-appointed for a second term, and re-appointment for a third is allowed only if this is in the public interest due to special circumstances.  The Ombudsman may be relieved of office by the Queen on request or following a resolution of Parliament which, if passed on a division, must be voted for by at least two thirds of members.

In the exercise of the SPSO’s statutory functions, the SPSO is not subject to the direction or control of any member of the Scottish Government or the Parliamentary corporation.

The 2002 SPSO Act  provides for the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB - also referred to as the Parliamentary corporation) to pay the salary and expenses of the Ombudsman and any expenses incurred in the exercise of the Ombudsman’s function. 

The Ombudsman provides an estimate for funding for the next financial year to the SPCB, within a prescribed template. The SPCB is required to provide a provisional expenditure plan to the Parliament’s Finance Committee and the Scottish Government by 1 March each year and in the first week of November each year puts forward a further expenditure plan reflecting any changes. The Finance Committee will consider the SPCB’s provisional expenditure plans and produce a report for Parliament, which can be debated. The SPCB’s final expenditure proposals (including the Ombudsman’s budget) will then appear in the annual Budget Bill which will be voted upon by the Parliament.

Yes. If no-one complains, other people may share the same experience and things may not improve.

When we make a decision on a complaint, we may make recommendations.  We expect organisations to carry these out and we check to make sure they do.  These are real outcomes for the people concerned, and so our complaints investigations can lead to wider improvement across a council, health board etc and sometimes across a whole sector.  You can search the reports of our investigations here, and you can find more information about how we put things right here.

We usually make recommendations where we find that something has gone wrong, to help put things right and to try to stop the same thing happening to someone else. We always follow these up to make sure that they are carried out. You can search our reports and recommendations here.

Organisations usually comply with our recommendations, and we always follow up rigorously to make sure this happens.  However, if an organisation did not comply, the Ombudsman can take action to draw attention to this.

Section 16 of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman Act 2002 says that we can lay a special report before the Scottish Parliament when an investigation report finds that someone suffered injustice or hardship because of maladministration or service failure, and this has not been, or will not be, remedied.

Since the SPSO was set up in 2002, we have not needed to issue a special report.  If we did do so, it would be for Parliament to decide what, if any, action to take.

You can search our reports here.

Our complaints reviewers always check with organisations to make sure that they have done as we recommended.   We expect to see firm evidence that our recommendations have been implemented.  If we find that they have not, we will go back to the organisation until we are satisfied that what we recommended has been done.

Every month we publish reports of our investigations.

We publish detailed sectoral complaints reports, an annual report and statistics.  We also publish annual letters to councils, health boards, water authorities, the Scottish Prison Service and the Scottish Housing Regulator.

There may be information about your organisation in any or all of our publications. 

When we publish our detailed investigation and decision reports, we normally identify the organisation involved. Where, however, we think that doing so could identify an individual, for example, in a small GP practice or in a complaint about school bullying, we are likely to anonymise the organisation. We also reserve the right to exempt some reports from publication, usually to prevent the possibility of someone being identified.

You can search our published investigation reports and decision reports here.

Please contact our communications team on 0131 240 8849 if you can't find what you're looking for.

You must make arrangements for an investigation report to be publicly available for at least three weeks (unless the Ombudsman directs otherwise).  This is to allow any person to inspect it at any reasonable time, and to obtain a copy of it, or any part of it.  You must also publicise those arrangements.  In practice, this can simply mean publishing the report on your website and letting people know it is there.  It is, however, for you to decide how to publish these and you may use other relevant methods should you choose to do so.

Section 15(4) of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman Act 2002 sets out this requirement.