Pre-appointment hearing for the Service Complaints Commissioner - Defence Committee Contents

2  Background to the post

The role of the Service Complaints Commissioner

2. The current Service complaints process was introduced by the Armed Forces Act 2006 and came into effect on 1 January 2008, replacing the separate single Service legislation and processes that had previously existed. The 2006 Act also established the office of the Service Complaints Commissioner. The Commissioner's role in the complaints process has two functions:

·  To provide an alternative point of contact for Service personnel, or someone acting on their behalf, such as a family member, a friend or MP, who for whatever reason does not have the confidence, or is not able, to raise allegations of bullying, harassment, discrimination or other improper behaviour directly with the chain of command; and

·  To providence independent assurance on the fairness, effectiveness and efficiency of the service complaints system to ministers, the Services and Parliament by way of an annual report.[1]

3. In each of her Annual Reports, the current Commissioner, Dr Susan Atkins, has stated that she was unable to give "an assurance that the Service complaints system is working efficiently, effectively or fairly". Following our February 2013 report on the work of the Service Complaints Commissioner, the MoD and the Commissioner began discussions on reforming the Commissioner's role. On 13 March 2014, the Government set out plans to establish a new Service Complaints Ombudsman in place of the Commissioner and to reform the complaints system.[2] The new Ombudsman would be appointed by the Queen on the recommendation of the Secretary of State for Defence. The key features of the Ombudsman's role will be:

·  the power, unlike now, to consider whether a Service complaint has been handled properly (once it has completed the internal complaints process);

·  where the Ombudsman considers that there has been maladministration and injustice or potential injustice in the handling of a case, the Ombudsman would make formal recommendations to the Defence Council for a Service complaint to be reopened and reconsidered;

·  complainants will accordingly gain a new right to apply to the Ombudsman if they believe that the handling of their complaint has been subject to maladministration. This right can be exercised once the internal stages have been completed, which will normally mean after one level of appeal, and will replace the right to pursue further appeals within the internal complaints process; and

·  at an earlier stage of the complaints procedure, where a decision is made not to allow a complaint to be considered within the Service complaints system (because it is out of time or excluded on other grounds), a Service person could ask the Ombudsman to determine whether that decision was correct. The Ombudsman's decision will be binding.[3]

4. The Ombudsman will retain the role of providing an alternative route for Service personnel (or someone acting on their behalf such as a family member, friend or MP) who do not wish to approach the chain of command directly to have allegations fed into the system. The requirement on the Service Complaints Commissioner to produce an annual report on the fairness, efficiency and effectiveness of the Service complaints system will also transfer to the Ombudsman.[4]

5. On 5 June 2014, the Armed Forces (Service Complaints and Financial Assistance) Bill was introduced in the House of Lords to provide the legal basis for the proposed changes.[5] During the House of Lords' consideration of the Bill we undertook a short inquiry into the provisions of the Bill and published our report on 23 October 2014 to assist the House of Commons in its scrutiny of the legislation. Our report included recommendations regarding the appointments process for the Ombudsman and his or her powers.[6] We are awaiting the Government response to our report. The House of Lords has completed its consideration of the Bill and it is currently awaiting consideration by the House of Commons. The MoD envisage that the successful candidate for the post of Service Complaints Commissioner will in the first instance take on the role and powers of the Commissioner, and once the legislation has come into force, the new role of the Service Complaints Ombudsman with its increased powers.[7]

6. The current Commissioner works three days per week while the Ombudsman will be appointed on a full time basis for a non-renewable five year term with a salary of £130,000.[8] The person specification for the post set out the following skills and experience for the role:[9]

Essential criteria:

·  Proven senior level record of achievement within dynamic medium to large organisations, particularly in leading the management of change.

·  Excellent oral communication and inter-personal skills with an ability to communicate effectively with people at all levels including Ministers, the most junior to the most senior of those serving in the Armed Forces and other interested parties, such as MPs, the House of Commons Defence Committee, Service charities and families.

·  Excellent analytical skills with an ability to examine complex and detailed information and make sound, evidence-based judgements and recommendations.

·  Excellent written communication skills with experience of producing reports which include evidence based recommendations.

Desirable criteria:

·  Experience of design and implementation of quasi-judicial or publicly scrutinised processes.

·  Proven ability to work in an environment of close parliamentary, media and public scrutiny.

1   Defence Committee, Eighth Report of Session 2012-13, The work of the Service Complaints Commissioner for the Armed Forces, HC 720 Back

2   HC Deb, 13 March 2014, cols 35-36WS Back

3   Ministry of Defence (PRE0001) Back

4   Ministry of Defence (PRE0001) Back

5   Armed Forces (Service Complaints and Financial Assistance) Bill [Lords] [Bill 003 (2014-15)] Back

6   Defence Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2014-15, Armed Forces (Service Complaints and Financial Assistance) Bill, HC 508 Back

7   Ministry of Defence (PRE0001) Back

8   Ministry of Defence (PRE0001) Back

9   Ministry of Defence (PRE0001) Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2014
Prepared 28 November 2014