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ombudsman facts - For information purposes only


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What is a recognised Ombudsman?


An Ombudsman scheme has to meet four key conditions to be recognised by the Association. Those conditions are independence of the Ombudsman from the organisations the Ombudsman has the power to investigate; effectiveness; fairness and public accountability. It is independence which above all distinguishes recognised Ombudsman schemes from other complaints procedures. Those who head the internal complaints procedures of their own organisations, even if described as Ombudsmen, are not wholly independent.

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What are Ombudsmen for?

The Ombudsmen exist to deal with complaints from ordinary citizens about certain public bodies or private sector services.



What does it cost to use an Ombudsman?

Nothing. The service is provided free of charge.



Who are the Ombudsmen?

The majority of recognised Ombudsman schemes are set up by statute. Others are voluntary non-statutory schemes set up on the initiative of the service sectors concerned.


Each scheme varies in the type of complaint it handles, the powers it has and the procedures it uses. In each case there is a free explanatory booklet available giving details of the scheme and advice about how to make a complaint.


In most schemes there is an individual Ombudsman. In other schemes decisions are made by a collective body.



When the Ombudsman acts

An Ombudsman will not normally consider a complaint unless the organisation, business or professional standards body concerned has first been given a reasonable opportunity to deal with it. Most organisations have their own complaints system and many complaints can be satisfactorily resolved through such systems. The Ombudsman is a last resort.



Time limits

All schemes require that complaints must be sent in within a reasonable time. Usually there is a fixed time limit.




Informal resolution

In some schemes the Ombudsman will first try to achieve an agreed solution by acting as a mediator between the complainant and the organisation concerned.




Formal investigation

After conducting an investigation the Ombudsman usually issues a written report. This normally sets out the evidence considered by the Ombudsman and suggests how the dispute should be resolved. Often the report will also include recommendations about the improvement of procedures or practices for the future.




What the Ombudsman does

In most schemes - though not all - the Ombudsman cannot intervene simply because the complainant does not like a decision. Usually the Ombudsman's job is to consider whether something has been badly or unfairly handled. Examples are unreasonable delay, neglect, inaction, inefficiency, failure to follow policy or proper procedures, unfair discrimination, discourtesy, inconsistency, mistakes of law and giving inaccurate information or advice. In some schemes the Ombudsman provides an alternative to action through the courts.




If the complaint is upheld the Ombudsman will expect the organisation to provide a suitable remedy. Remedies may include an apology, publicity for the Ombudsman's decision, provision of the service desired, putting right what went wrong and financial compensation.


In some schemes the Ombudsman makes a recommendation which the organisation is expected to follow and usually does. In other schemes there is provision for the Ombudsman to make a monetary award which is legally binding on the organisation.




All the Ombudsman schemes have a carefully defined jurisdiction. In all of them some kinds of complaint are excluded. Typical exclusions are complaints which are being dealt with or have been dealt with by a court or tribunal; and complaints by employees about their own jobs.




Differences in schemes

This is a broad description of what the Ombudsmen do. The precise details of each scheme vary. Anyone thinking of making a complaint to an Ombudsman can contact the relevant office for further information and guidance on how to proceed.

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