Ombudsmen exist to deal with complaints from ordinary citizens and consumers about most public bodies and some services in the private sector.
The services provided by ombudsmen are free of charge.
For the general public we provide information about the role of the ombudsman and where ombudsmen work and the areas they cover.
We provide more detailed information that might be of interest to professional working in the field of complaint handling, or to those involved in the establishment of new ombudsman schemes.
Here you will find the principle features of an ombudsman scheme and how they differ in the public and private sectors.
We also show the traditional methods of establishing schemes (voluntarily, by statute, and resulting from statute).
Also described in some detail are typical processes for complaint handling by businesses or bodies under the jurisdiction of ombudsmen, and by the ombudsman schemes themselves.
Finally, there is information about the accountability of ombudsmen in the public interest, and the basis of ombudsmen's decisions.
In the majority of cases, the principal features of an ombudsman scheme are:
- Ombudsman schemes resolve complaints. They are not regulators, though some of their decisions may be seen as precedents and have wider effect
- The ombudsman model is used to resolve complaints made by someone ‘small’ (citizen/consumer) against something ‘big’ (public body or commercial business)
- Ombudsman scheme procedures are designed to redress the difference between the resources and expertise available to the citizen/consumer and those available to the body/business
- Access to ombudsman schemes is free for citizens/consumers, and they are not at risk of an order for costs. Ombudsman schemes handle enquiries as well as complaints, because dealing with an enquiry may head off a complaint (for example, by resolving a misunderstanding)
- The citizen/consumer first complains to the body/business, accessing the ombudsman scheme if dissatisfied with the body/business’s response (or if it does not respond within a reasonable time)
- When dealing with complaints, ombudsman schemes seek to achieve a fair resolution at the earliest possible stage – rather than working towards an assumed future hearing
- Ombudsman schemes use flexible and informal procedures – resolving cases by mediation, recommendation or decision as appropriate
- Ombudsman schemes do not just rely on the evidence the parties volunteer. They actively investigate cases (using their specialist expertise) – calling for the information they require
- So the outcome is not affected by how well either of the parties presents his/her/its case, and representation by lawyers (or others) is not necessary
- Ombudsman scheme recommendations/decisions are based on what is fair in the circumstances, taking account of good practice as well as law
- Ombudsman schemes publicly feed back the general lessons from cases they have handled, so stakeholders (including government/regulators) can take steps to improve things for the future
- Because there is a flexible and informal process, and representation is not necessary, the costs of an average ombudsman case are significantly less than an equivalent case in a court or tribunal
The Association has published:
- criteria for ombudsman schemes
- principles of good governance for ombudsmen
The Association criteria cover:
- openness and transparency
These criteria are recognised by the Cabinet Office in its published guidance to government departments on ombudsman schemes.
Please note: there are currently no ombudsman schemes for many areas of consumer goods and services.
For advice and information about consumer goods and services, you should contact:
In the UK:
Citizens Advice Consumer Service Tel. 0345 404 0506
Citizens Information Board
Tel. 0761 07 4000