When you submit a complaint to us, we go through the following procedure:

Is it eligible for investigation?

The first thing we do is to assess whether we can look at your complaint under our Terms of Reference. This is known as an eligibility assessment.

For example you must first have been through the prison, probation or immigration internal complaints procedure. There are also key time limits within which you must make the complaint.

If your complaint is not eligible, we will explain why and suggest what you should do instead.

The Ombudsman may decide not to accept a complaint otherwise eligible for investigation, or not to continue any investigation, where it is considered that no worthwhile outcome can be achieved or the complaint raises no substantial issue. We will let you know if this is the case.

If it is eligible, we will let you know and then pass your complaint to one of our Investigation Teams to begin the Ombudsman’s investigation.

Investigating the complaint

Your complaint will be allocated to an investigator who will write to you to introduce him or herself.

The investigator will first consider if there is a way of resolving the complaint without a full investigation. If so, the investigator will contact you, and the organisation you are complaining about, to try to negotiate a settlement. If a settlement is not possible, we will then start a full investigation.

The investigator will gather evidence about the events raised in the complaint. This may include:

  • telephoning or visiting the complainant
  • interviewing, by telephone or in person, the staff involved, or any other relevant witnesses for further information
  • a site visit to see the situation for themselves
  • researching relevant laws, policies, procedures and guidelines
  • looking at relevant papers produced by the prison, probation or immigration service.

Making a decision

The investigator will gather information about your complaint form from you, from the relevant organisation and from anyone else we think might be able to help. We will then try to settle your complaint in one of the following ways:

  • mediation – this means trying to find a solution that you and the prison or probation area or removal centre can both agree on. This is often the quickest way to deal with the complaint.
  • a brief report or letter – we use this when the two sides cannot agree. It can also be done quickly.
  • a full report – we also use this when the two sides cannot agree. It is more detailed than the brief report and takes longer to prepare.

We aim to deal with your complaint within 12 weeks of starting the investigation, although serious complaints may take longer. If we agree with your complaint, the report will also include a recommendation to the relevant organisation about what they should do to put things right.

A final decision is made by either an Assistant or Deputy Ombudsman.

If your complaint is not upheld, you’ll receive a letter with an explanation of the findings of the investigation and the specific reasons why we have not upheld your complaint.

If your complaint is upheld, the investigator will write to you, setting out the details, the findings and the conclusions. We may also make certain recommendations to the organisation you are complaining about to help them ensure the problem does not occur again.

If the complaint warrants it, we will write a full report. We will send a draft copy of this report to you, and to the organisation you are complaining about, to check that we have accurately described the details of the complaint. We’ll then send you a final copy of the report.

Making recommendations to prevent the problem happening again

The recommendations we make in reports are directed at the organisation you are complaining about and any other body we feel is relevant. Examples of the recommendations that the PPO can make to the prison, probation or immigration services include asking for an apology, suggesting compensation, quashing a punishment or recommending a review of a particular policy.  The PPO are not limited on the number of recommendations that can be made as part of a report.

The prison, probation and immigration services must tell us whether they accept our recommendations and let us know when they will implement them.

We then require written evidence from the organisations to show how they have implemented the recommendations. We have published a thematic report about the recommendations we make.

Learning Lessons from investigations

Since Nigel Newcomen came into office as the Ombudsman in September 2012 he has placed greater emphasis on learning lessons from collective analysis of our investigations, in order to contribute to improvements in the services we investigate and encourage the resolution of issues that might otherwise lead to future complaints. A wide range of Learning Lessons bulletins and thematic reports have been published and are available on the Learning Lessons page.