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Shadow Armed Forces Minister calls on MoD to review armed forces complaint system after annual assessment reveals more failings

For the fourth year running, the Ombudsman has found the armed forces service complaints system to be not ‘effective, efficient or fair’.

This has prompted Shadow Armed Forces Minister, Stephen Morgan MP to call on government to take measures to sort the system for serving personnel.

The Service Complaints Ombudsman for the Armed Forces provides independent and impartial oversight of the Service complaints system – the internal workplace grievance system for members of the UK Armed Forces.

In their annual assessment, the Ombudsman finds that the time taken to resolve complaints; the negative impact on an individual’s wellbeing; and the continued lack of confidence in the system was affecting personnel across the armed forces.

Shadow Armed Forces Minister, Stephen Morgan MP said:

“Our armed forces are exposed to pressure and conditions that would be unimaginable in other jobs. The demands of the role mean that if something is not quite right, it can affect every aspect of a person’s life.

 There must be an effective, clear and just grievance system that personnel can have faith in.

The fact the Ombudsman has ruled the complaints system is still not meeting acceptable standards for the fourth consecutive year means service people are at risk.

We must see leadership from Ministers in addressing this issue.”

Key findings within the report show in 2019:

  • 766 Service complaints were deemed admissible across the Armed Forces
  • The 3 largest areas of complaint concerned: career management (37%), bullying, harassment and discrimination (25%), and, pay, pensions and allowances (15%)
  • SCOAF (Service Complaints Ombudsmen Armed Forces) logged 754 contacts, made 144 referrals on behalf of current or former Service personnel and received 322 applications requesting an investigation
  • 82% of applications requesting an investigation were accepted by SCOAF
  • 50% of all SCOAF investigations found in favour of the complainant: review of admissibility decisions 42%; undue delay 53%; substance 68%; and, maladministration 51%

The Service Complaints Ombudsman for the Armed Forces, Nicola Williams, said:

“The reformed Service Complaints system still needs fundamental structural changes to ensure that Armed Forces personnel have the confidence to raise a formal complaint, in a system that operates efficiently, effectively and fairly as possible.

Currently, I am concerned that personnel are dissatisfied with the length of time taken to resolve a complaint; causing undue delay, including my office; which is having a significant impact on complainants’ wellbeing and mental health. 

Further work in this area is needed to address these issues, and with the support of the Ministry of Defence and the single Services, I am confident that we can build a better system for all Service personnel.”

Stephen Morgan MP also expressed concern that with the additional pressure on military personnel amid the coronavirus crisis, efforts need to be undertaken to ensure the system is fit for purpose.

On Covid-19 and the complaints system, Stephen Morgan MP added:

“13,000 service personnel are absent from duty due to Covid-19 and troops are being asked to go above and beyond their traditional spheres to assist with this pandemic.

The additional pressures endured this early into 2020 could mean that the complaints system is put under even greater strain. The system is not performing adequately now.

Immediate measures must be taken by Ministers to see to it service personnel have the opportunity to confidentially raise grievances as we emerge from this crisis.”

The Service Complaints Ombudsman for the Armed Forces can full annual report can be found here.