How we handle complaints

The steps listed below shows what happens to your complaint when you decide to bring it to our office after being through an organisation's complaints procedure. If you have not yet completed this process, please see how to complain about a public service.

If you have any questions about any part of this process, or if you’re not sure whether we can look at your complaint, please feel free to contact us.

Step 1 You complain to us

Once you have gone through the organisation's complaints procedure you can then ask us to look at your complaint. You can do this by filling out our complaints form. Please also send us copies of any relevant paperwork, in particular the final response you received from the organisation.

If you bring us a complaint, we will normally share information with the organisation you complained about. If you have concerns about this, please contact us as soon as possible.

Step 2 First checks

When we get your complaint we will make some checks to confirm:

  • it is about a subject and organisation we can look at
  • it has gone through the right complaints procedure
  • it has enough detail and paperwork for us to get to work on it

Step 3 Early assessment

A complaints reviewer will carry out an early assessment of your complaint to check that the matter is one we are allowed to look at and that it is in our jurisdiction. They will check that your complaint has arrived at our office within 12 months of when the matter happened. They will assess whether your complaint is one that we will prioritise. For example, we may prioritise a complaint from somebody who is homeless, or is terminally ill.

Even when a complaint is one that we could investigate, sometimes we may make a decision not to. That could be, for example, because:

  • we decide to send the complaint back to the organisation for further work/ action
  • we believe appropriate action has already been taken or offered, or where we think pursuing the complaint would achieve little benefit
  • the outcome sought is considered unreasonable or unachievable
  • the matter has been, or could be, investigated by another public body
  • we are able to agree a resolution

Each complaint is assessed on a case-by-case basis and we will tell you as soon as we can what action we can and will take on a complaint. If we decide not to take your complaint further after an early assessment of your complaint, we will write to you and explain why.  We will send the organisation a copy of our decision.

Step 4 Further assessment & investigation

If we think that your complaint is one which requires further assessment, one of our complaints reviewers will then contact you (please note there may be a delay before your complaint can be allocated to a complaints reviewer and we will inform you if this is the case when we acknowledge your complaint). Sometimes at this stage we carry out enquiries and/ or get independent advice, but not always. After further assessment of your complaint, we may still decide not to investigate for the reasons listed at step 3. If we decide not to take your complaint further we will write to you and explain why.  We will send the organisation a copy of our decision.  

If we decide to carry out an investigation, we will agree on the issues that will be looked into. The complaints reviewer will collect information from both yourself and the organisation you have complained about in order to reach their decision on the complaint. They will get any independent advice needed. They will keep your complaint private and will only tell the people who need to know about it. 

Step 5 Investigation Decision

Before we make our final decision on your complaint, we will either send you and the organisation our provisional decision or share a draft of our public investigation report. This is your opportunity to tell us if we have relied on inaccurate information, or if you have new information that you think changes our provisional views. We will make a final decision taking into account any comments.

We are likely to publish information about it, to share learning, but this won't include your name or any other information which may identify you. Examples of our published decisions can be found here. 

Review requests

If you are unhappy with our decision there are very specific circumstances where you can request a review.  The Ombudsman generally looks at all review request.  She will only change a decision if you:

  • send new information, and/or
  • demonstrate information we used was wrong, and/or
  • demonstrate we made a mistake


  • it has an impact on the original decision

She will not change a decision simply because you disagree with it.  If we have issued a public report these review rights will not apply.

Your information 

We are committed to protecting your privacy. We use information given to us about you and your complaint for its intended purpose and in line with the Data Protection Act 2018 and the SPSO Act 2002. We may need to collect and share information with a number of sources to carry out our investigation and we may do this orally, in hard copy or by email. We may publicly report on the outcome of the investigation. When we do so we do not name individuals. We may also use information we collect to compile statistics and undertake research and analysis. There may be public interest benefits in reusing information for these purposes. Information is completely anonymised.

Your views are valuable to us, and we may contact you again to invite you to take part in our surveys for research purposes.

To find out more about how we handle your information and your rights, see our privacy notice. If you have any concerns about what we do, please let us know straight away.

Customer service complaints

If you are unhappy with our service, please tell us.  You have the right to complain if you feel we are not meeting our customer service standards. We take complaints about our service very seriously and have a special procedure for dealing with them. 

Related reading

Working with us: respecting each other

We are committed to providing a fair and accessible service. We believe that everyone who contacts us has the right to be treated with respect and dignity.

We will do our best to engage with you positively and use the best method for you.  

Tell us if something is going wrong

  • We want to fix problems and to know if you are unhappy. 
  • Please tell us; we will check what we have done against our standards and make changes if we can.

Remember we are people too

  • Our staff have the same rights to be treated with respect and dignity as our users, and we must provide a safe working environment for them.
  • We must also provide a service to all our customers.

This means we need to handle any situation or actions which could have a negative impact on our staff or our ability to work. We may need to speak with you about this or we may need to change the way we engage with you. If this happens, we will explain what we are doing and why. Details of our policy about this can be found here, or we can send you a copy of this policy on request.

Updated: January 25, 2023