Service Complaints Commissioner criticises complaint system

The military service complaints system is broken – or at least that’s the message from Dr Susan Atkins, who is the Service Complaints Commissioner for the Armed Forces. In the forward to the Commissioner’s 2012 annual report published recently, Dr Atkins pulled no punches in her current views in admitting that, “for the fifth year running, I am still unable to say that the service complaint system is working efficiently, effectively or fairly”. Pretty damning stuff.

Dr Atkins also criticises the government’s rejection of her earlier recommendations for a separate Armed Forces Ombudsman, which she said would give an opportunity to increase confidence in serving military personnel that the service complaints system was working fairly, and to optimise the use of limited resources.

Dr Atkins also criticised the delay that continues to bedevil the complaints system – pointing out that by the end of 2012, the army still had 430 cases which have been stuck in the system for over 24 weeks – 24 weeks being the target period in which complaints should be finalised.

The report confirms that in 2012, there were 646 separate complaints made to the Commissioner – up by 23% since 2011 and 49% since 2010. However, many of these complaints were not internally related – but were from members of the public who wanted to complain about behaviour of military personnel.

Amongst the other findings of the 2012 annual report were that although male service personnel, [who provide 90% of regular armed forces manpower], it was female personnel who were more likely to make a complaint with regard to discrimination, bullying, harassment or other improper behaviour. The report also ascertained that, depending on service and seniority, between 20 and 50% of all complaints were upheld – either in whole or in part.

All in all, a fairly negative report from the Commissioner – let’s hope she has something better to say about an improvement in the service complaints system next year.

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