Service Complaints Commissioner issues 1st report

Service Complaints Commissioner for the Armed Forces submits first Annual Report

The Service complaints system is well designed but needs some significant improvements in practice if it is to achieve its purpose - according to the Service Complaints Commissioner’s first Annual Report laid before Parliament today.

The Report found that, although the complaints system meets the basic principles of a good complaints system, there were issues around accessibility, timeliness, communication and management information. Too few Service men and women have confidence in the system and do not come forward when things go wrong – for example, for fear of being seen as a ‘trouble maker’.

These are just some of the issues identified by Dr Susan Atkins, following a successful year as the first Service Complaints Commissioner for the Armed Forces. Her first Annual Report, submitted today to the Secretary of State for Defence, covers the setting up and operation of her Office, an analysis of how the new complaints system is working and comments on the performance of both.

Dr Atkins said: “My aim is to ensure that all Service men and women and their families have confidence in the complaints system and are treated properly. This first year has been very much about taking stock and establishing a baseline on how the Services are handling complaints, what is being done well and what needs to improve for complaints to be dealt with fairly, efficiently and effectively.

“I have found a genuine commitment by leaders of all three Services to tackle and root out all forms of improper and unacceptable behaviour and an understanding of the contribution an effective complaints system can make to achieving this. But at present the process generally takes too long and complainants are not always kept informed as the system requires. When this happens, it is neither fair on the complainants or those complained about and affects team as well as individual performance and morale.”

Last year saw Dr Atkins establish her roles and responsibilities as an independent point of contact, get to understand how complaints are being dealt with by the Services and identify where weaknesses have appeared in the system.

Dr Atkins said: “Although the report provides some examples of good practice, there needs to be a step-change in thinking about complaints. Currently, the focus is on individual redress not organisational improvement. It needs to be about both. A complaint needs to be seen as a warning light on a Commanding Officer’s dashboard - an indication that something needs to be investigated and if necessary fixed to ensure his or her team can perform smoothly.”

Over half of the 172 people who contacted the Commissioner’s Office with potential complaints about their treatment at work alleged they had suffered some sort of unacceptable behaviour including bullying, harassment and discrimination. The Commissioner referred most of these to the chain of command to be investigated under her oversight. Very few of these cases have been concluded internally during the year.

Dr Atkins added: “Around 19% of those who contacted my Office were parents or other family members. I am convinced from listening to all those who have contacted me and those I’ve met on visits throughout the year, that my role meets a real need. Bullying, harassment and discrimination have no place in today’s Armed Forces. People need to have confidence to speak out in the knowledge that action will be taken.

“Where an investigation reveals things have gone wrong, it needs to be put right swiftly and effectively and lessons shared to prevent others suffering in the same way in future. A shift in attitude and improved management information will be key. It’s a long haul, not a short fix, but there are steps that the Services should and can take immediately. I look forward to working with the Services and the MOD to deliver these improvements.”

The report makes 17 recommendations for action and sets out objectives for the Services and the Commissioner’s Office to achieve significant improvements, particularly to reduce the gap between levels of bullying and harassment Service men and women report in surveys and the numbers of complaints they make.

A full list of the Commissioner’s findings can be found in Chapter 7 of the Annual Report (starting on page 82). The Report can be accessed on the website at:
These are the Service Complaints Commissioner's conclusions, generating 17 recommendations as listed in her report.

Conclusion 1: Timeliness of handling
and communication are key measures.
There are exceptions but current
performance is generally poor. Poor
communication is a common causal
factor across all Services.

Conclusion 2: There is a need for more
ownership and proactive management
of complaints at the heart of command.

Conclusion 3: The Service Complaints
System is focused on individual redress
not on organisational improvement.
It should be about both.

Conclusion 4: The new system is
working and complaints are being made
to the SCC. However a significant
number of Service men and women did
not know or were unsure about how to
make a complaint. Visits across the
Services indicate that knowledge about
the SCC and her role is still very limited.

Conclusion 5: There is inconsistency of
practice across and within Services. Lack
of expertise in complaint handling is a
cause of common failings.

Conclusion 6: A system centred around a
chain of command works best when the
complaint is about a matter within the
scope of command.

Conclusion 7: The complaints system is
geared around top levels and not the
lowest appropriate level.

Conclusion 8: The complaints system
is accessible in theory but there are
barriers in practice. Personal and
prompt communication by the CO and
the chain of command are key to a
successful outcome.
Unsurprisingly, most of today's media coverage of this story gives prominence to the 'bullying' angle.

eg Guardian - 'Armed forces criticised over bullying'

The armed forces need a "step change" in the way they deal with allegations of bullying and harassment, and too few come forward when things go wrong, often for fear of being seen as a troublemaker, the services' new complaints watchdog warned yesterday.

In her first annual report, Susan Atkins, the service complaints commissioner, said armed forces personnel lacked confidence in the system for dealing with claims of abuse. She warned commanding officers their careers could be on the line if they failed to investigate complaints effectively.


I may be "Old School" being that i joined in 1989 but what we call bullying these days is different to what bullying is I know of a case of a Single one who was AGAI'd for completing a job to a poor standard. She asked for a review and then asked for another review both upheld the AGAI, she then got a lawyer (with her dad's her) and said it was Corporate Bullying because she was a single Mum.

Its complete kak, gone have the days of "Duty beatings" but now everyone has to wear "cotton gloves" around people. With regards to parents or other family members contacting her Dept, that also is a nitemare as they only have one side of a story, and the investigation takes days if not weeks, surely there is more important things we could spend our time on.

With regards to the incident i mentioned above that took 3 weeks of investigation and included 2 different investigations and went all the way up to the SO2, and what was the outcome.......... Soldier On the AGAI was correct, Ref the Corporate Bullying this was laughed at by Div Legal and the SO2, outcome of this Soldier is awaitng posting some time Mid Jul to somewhere not so nice....

**Puts Soap Box Away**


No confidence in the system, no wonder. How the hell do you complain, outside of the CoC (I love that abbreviation, its often so apt 8) ), when your concerns are not even allowed to be discussed? There is no real, protective whistleblower system in the MoD as you always have to go through the CoC :?

Bit of a problem when its the CoC that is the problem you wish to address :x


I am out of the army now,I was medically discharged with chronic PTSD back in 2006.

In 2003, my PTSD was triggered off again, I started to see a psychiatrist arranged from the medical centre, I'd been seeing a psychiatrist around two months, the problems were getting harder to deal with so the psychiatrist and my MO arranged that I should have two weeks on the sick.

After coming back into work after two weeks on the sick, I was confronted by one of the Cpl telling me I had lost my job, and the Commanding Officer had made him up, because I couldn't be bothered with the job. So from June 2003 until September 2003 I was suspended from my job as a senior NCO.

I tried to get interviews with the commanding officer but was just given a load of cock and bull from him and the adjutant.

In September, I had had enough, so I placed a formal complaint in against the commanding officer and the way I've been treated, at the unit.

My formal complaint got all the way up to a board of officers and was heard in the October 2005, a week after I was medically discharged.

Remember when you get medically discharged you have ninety days to start your administration before you are out.

The board of officers was a whitewash, they couldn't even produce any of my witnesses. During the day of the board of officers, each time they had a break the commanding officer & the board of officers would meet up to get a coffee together in a separate room. where's I was told I'd have to go to another building, for a drink.

I got so fed up with it I threatened the commanding officer's in front of the board of officers, the outcome from this was nothing. I must have been one of the only soldiers to threaten the Commanding Officer in front of a Brigadier, and nothing was done about it.

The complaints system in the armed forces should be totally independent from the chain of command.

I personally feel that by having it independent of the chain of command there will be greater transparency and junior ranks & senior ranks, would probably feel that they've been treated better than they had under the old system from the chain of command. I was not even informed of the outcome of the board of officers, until I applied for a copy of the board of officers about a year and a half after the board of officers.

I had to take them to a civilian court, before I felt I got any justice at all.
"My door is always open" advice from an OC. Fortunately I never did make a complaint because:
There was no system to do so.
My main complaint was that my OC was a total cutn.

What is it today, " a complaints NCO"? Maybe a room next to the guardroom office headed Complaints Dept

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