COVID-19 update

Our office is currently not open to visitors. We are responding to emails; however, our response times will be affected.  We are operating a limited telephone service for complaints related enquiries. Our Scottish Welfare Fund review service is still available by telephone as normal.  Please read our information for customers and organisations

Frequently Asked Questions - How we decide cases

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.

For an example of this, please see our decision summary about the closure of leisure facilities in South Ayrshire which 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.

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 will look at your complaint to see whether it can and 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.  We will explain to them what we are investigating.  We will also give you and the organisation contact details for the Complaints Reviewer who is handling your complaint.  If we decide to look at it further 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 your complaint is complex, we may need to transfer it to our Investigation Team for further investigation.  We will tell you if we do this and give you the contact details for the new Complaints Reviewer.

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 we will issue 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 to give you a chance to comment on the factual accuracy of the report. The final report will be laid before the Scottish Parliament and sent to you, the organisation about which you complained and Scottish Ministers.  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, an explanation or other action needed to put things right.

We use independent professional advisers when looking at some of our complaints. 

Our professional advisers provide us with independent advice on health matters, including specialist advisers in: medicine, midwifery, mental health, obstetrics and gynaecology, dentistry, nursing, psychiatry and GP services. There are also advisers who specialise in social work, planning, equalities, environmental health and water services.

Our advisers are experienced professionals with relevant and current expertise in their field of practice. They are all registered with their professional body or regulator and are selected on the basis of their knowledge and skills. Advisers receive induction and training for their role from us. and attend an annual seminar as part of their continuing professional development. The advice they provide is subject to quality assurance checks.

Most of our advisers are based in Scotland. The benefit of this is that they are fully aware of the Scottish context, which can be different from other parts of the UK. It also allows us to get advice directly and quickly.  In health cases, we also sometimes use the English Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s panel of clinical advisers, most usually where we don’t have an adviser with a particular specialism.

Advisers provide us with independent expert advice on what, in their professional judgement, it was reasonable to expect in the circumstances of a case. They explain technical terms and information and point us to relevant guidance and legislation. 

The Ombudsman (and her investigators acting on her authority) are responsible for making decisions about complaints.  We will take the advice we receive from our advisers into account along with all other relevant evidence and information.

We aim to close 95% of our cases within 12 months of receiving the complaint, although many are completed in less time. 

It is difficult to predict how long an individual investigation will take, as each case is different.  Generally, they take longer where they are complex, involve a lot of written material, where we need to make detailed enquiries, or if we need to get professional advice.  We will contact you and the organisation regularly, to update you on progress.