How we work

Our primary purpose is to investigate if there has been fault

We are here to make fair decisions on individual complaints through robust, probing investigations. This is the bedrock of all we do, and everything else is drawn from this core work. We do not investigate all cases that come to us. We have clear criteria setting out what we will investigate to ensure we are consistent and to focus our limited resources on the areas where we can be most effective and help the most people. To decide if we will investigate, we consider if we believe:

  • there is a wider public interest in us investigating
  • there has been a significant injustice caused to the individual or others
  • we can achieve a worthwhile outcome

We act independently and impartially, in the public interest

We do not do deals, engage in negotiation or compromise to close a case. We must be clear about what has gone wrong, so the same problem can be avoided in future and the organisation responsible can be held to account.

We are proud to operate a system of lay justice based on common sense

Our expertise is investigation and decision making. We do not need to be lawyers or experts in any particular field, nor do we routinely need to rely on external expert advice. We are unique because we can make sound and sensible ‘balance of probability’ decisions on a wide range of issues, based on a proportionate analysis of complex and contested facts.

We look at institutional fault, not individual professional competence

Our focus is on public administration and service failure at a corporate level, not on individual error. We do not second-guess professional decisions made without fault, but we will challenge flawed policies and practices.

We deal with people’s objective rights, not consumer relationships. We are not a public advocate or consumer champion

We do not carry out ‘reviews’ to establish the story of events. Our investigations establish a clear statement of complaint, then focus on objective benchmarks to make a dispassionate assessment of whether there are any gaps between what happened and what should have happened.

Our remedies are for injustice, we do not offer compensation or hand out punitive fines

When someone has suffered because of fault, we try to put them back in the position they would have been if that error had not happened. We focus on restoring services that have been denied and recommending practical steps to put things right.

Our investigations provide valuable insights to help improve public services

We share externally the learning from individual complaints to help make things better for wider society. We try to set out succinctly what “good” looks like and make practical recommendations about how the organisations we investigate can make meaningful, tangible improvements, and avoid the mistakes of others.

Open data, public accountability and transparency are defining features of our work

Although our investigations are conducted in private, our decisions are published for all to see. Similarly, we share insight from our work to enable public and institutional scrutiny of performance and service delivery.

We are not an enforcement agency

We work by listening, investigating robustly, and getting it right. Our decisions have moral force because they represent a credible and compelling analysis. And we achieve effective outcomes by operating in partnership with others as part of a wider system of democratic accountability.

We are the “end-of-the-line”

Ideally no complaints would ever have to come to the Ombudsman for independent investigation. It is always better for the public if their concerns can be resolved swiftly and fully when they are first made to the organisation they are dealing with. We offer a free, accessible and reasonably quick route to justice when local complaint systems have not worked. But we are not just another stage of the complaints process. We are the independent, final decision-maker that brings closure to seemingly intractable problems.

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