About ombudsmen

Principal features of an ombudsman scheme

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
skip to top

The Association has published:

The Association criteria cover:

  • independence
  • fairness
  • effectiveness
  • openness and transparency
  • accountability

These OA criteria are recognised by the Cabinet Office in its published guidance to government departments on ombudsman schemes.

skip to top
© 2017 Ombudsman Association | Cookies | Contact