Who can complain to the Ombudsman?


All prisoners - sentenced and on remand, men and women, adults, young offenders and juveniles, whether in public or private prisons - can complain to us about their treatment.

Anyone supervised by the probation services

If you are on supervision or licence, or if you have had a Pre-Sentence Report written about you, you can complain to us if you feel you have been treated unfairly by the National Probation Service or a Community Rehabilitaion Company.

Immigration removal centre detained individuals

Anyone detained in an immigration removal centre can complain to us if they feel they have been treated unfairly.

Although we can’t normally accept complaints from third parties, a lawyer can complain to us on your behalf.

What can I complain about?

Those in prison or on probation can complain about almost anything to do with the way the Prison Service, a contracted prison, or the National Probation Service has treated you, except for parole decisions and a few other circumstances that rarely apply. (We will tell you if they do.)

Immigration detained individuals can complain to us about their treatment in detention, but not about the reasons for detention or their immigration status.

When can I complain to the Ombudsman?

You must have tried to use the internal complaints system of the prison, probation services, immigration removal centre or STC/YOI, before applying to the Ombudsman. If you are not satisfied with the final reply after any appeals you have made, you can then complain to us. You must do this within 3 months of receiving your reply.

If you have not had a reply from the prison, probation services or immigration removal centre within six weeks you can complain to us then.

How do I make a complaint to the Ombudsman?

Please see the How to submit a complaint page

Can I submit a complaint on behalf of a relative in prison?

We can only accept complaints from the person directly affected by the complaint (although the Ombudsman has discretion to accept complaints from third parties on behalf of individuals who are unable to act on their own behalf). You can help them if they have difficulties in reading or writing.

What happens after I have complained?

We will read your complaint and aim to write to you within 10 working days, telling you whether or not we can accept your complaint. If we do not accept your complaint we will explain why.

Why won't the Ombudsman investigate my complaint?

The Ombudsman may decide not to accept a complaint or not to continue an investigation, where it is considered that no worthwhile outcome can be achieved or the complaint raises no substantial issue.

How does the Ombudsman investigate my complaint?

Please see the What to expect when you make a complaint page

How does the Ombudsman decide whether he agrees with my complaint?

We deal with all complaints by taking a fresh look at the evidence and then reaching a judgement about what is the right thing to do. Whatever the outcome of your complaint, we will always tell you the reasons behind our decision.

Who gets to see the Ombusdman's report about my complaint?

A report will only be produced if the Ombudsman is making recommendations following your complaint. If there are no recommendations it is likely that you will receive a letter and in some cases a record of the investigation. This will also be sent to the organisation you are complaining about. 

Before a full report is issued, a draft report will be sent to the person making the complaint and to the prison, probation or immigration service. If any member of staff is criticised in the report, they will also be provided with a copy.

The draft report is issued to allow everyone the opportunity to highlight factual inaccuracies or sensitive information that should not be disclosed. This allows the Ombudsman to ensure that the full report is as accurate as possible. After we have considered any comments on the draft report it will be finalised and issued to you and the service you are complaining about.

Who does the Ombudsman make recommendations to?

The Ombudsman regularly makes recommendations to the prison, probation or immigration service. However, the Ombudsman can make recommendations to the Secretary of State for Justice, the Home Secretary, the Secretary of State for Education or to any other body or individual that the Ombudsman considers appropriate given their role, duties and powers.

What recommendations can the Ombudsman make?

Examples of actions that the Ombudsman can recommend include:

- Awarding compensation for the loss or damage of property due to the negligence of the prison, probation or immigration service.

- Obtaining an apology from the prison, probation or immigration service.

- Quashing an unfair punishment.

- Proposing a change of or a review of a prison, probation or immigration service policy.

Do the recommendations have to be accepted?

No. However, as the Ombudsman is highlighting situations where the person making the complaint has been treated unfairly or where a policy has been followed incorrectly, they are usually accepted and implemented.

What does it cost to complain to the Ombudsman?

Nothing. The service is provided to you free of charge. If you are in prison or in an immigration removal centre then the postage will be paid by them.

What if I am unhappy with the Ombudsman’s decision?

Our job is to make judgements on complaints, but you may not always agree with our decisions. This applies to decisions on whether we can accept your complaint (what we call its eligibility) and also decisions at the end of an investigation.

You may wish to write back if you receive a letter rejecting your complaint, or following a draft report, to say that you do not agree that we have investigated properly. You may feel that we have missed the point or that we have failed to obtain sufficient information before making our decision.

If you do raise something that suggests that our original conclusions were wrong, we will do some further work (and, in the case of rejected complaints, re-open the case). Whenever we decide to do so, we will inform you straightaway.

If we are still not persuaded that it would be right to alter the original conclusions, we will write to you to explain why.

If you still remain dissatisfied and have been unable to resolve the matter with us, you can contact the Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman (PHSO) and complete a complaint form. The PHSO can investigate complaints by people who consider they have suffered injustice as a result of maladministration by the PPO. The complaint must be signed by a Member of Parliament, who will then refer the complaint to the PHSO. You can find MP’s contact details at http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/mps/  

Where can I get more information?

Our contact details can be found on the contact us page