Scottish Public Services Ombudsman
The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) was established by an Act of the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman Act 2002, as a 'one-stop-shop'. It replaced three previous offices - the Scottish Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, the Local Government Ombudsman for Scotland and the Housing Association Ombudsman for Scotland. The first Scottish Public Services Ombudsman was Professor Alice Brown. The current Scottish Public Services Ombudsman is Jim Martin.
The SPSO is responsible for looking at complaints made by individual members of the Scottish public about most organisations providing public services in Scotland including councils, the National Health Service, housing associations, the Scottish Executive and its agencies and departments, universities and colleges, prisons and most Scottish public authorities.
The SPSO examines complaints where a member of the public claims to have suffered injustice or hardship as a result of maladministration or service failure. The SPSO is the 'last resort'; investigating cases after the complainant has already exhausted the formal complaints procedure of the organisation concerned. The complaint can be taken to the SPSO by visiting the office, in writing (letter or email), by phone or via an online complaint form on the website.
The SPSO aims not only to provide justice for the individual member of the public but also share learning from its work in order to improve service delivery across the public services spectrum in Scotland. The office carries out awareness-raising activities with the general public, and bodies under jurisdiction and promotes good complaints handling by public service providers in Scotland. The SPSO has a separate website devoted to this initiative 'Valuing Complaints.'
The Ombudsman service is independent of government and with a duty to act impartially.
The Ombudsman's service incurs no charge. The SPSO is not a watchdog or a regulator - their role is to give an independent and impartial decision on a complaint. The organisation operates under the legislative authority of the  Scottish Public Services Ombudsman Act 2002.
The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman Act 2002 came into force in 2002 and outlined the Ombudsman’s role and terms of appointment. The Scottish Executive (now known as the Scottish Government) explained and reinforced the principle that the Ombudsman must remain independent from the bodies which they investigate.
The Ombudsman is appointed by Her Majesty, on the nomination of the Scottish Parliament, for a period not exceeding five years. The Ombudsman is eligible for a second term but re-appointment for a third term is allowed only if desirable in the public interest due to special circumstances. The Ombudsman may be relieved of office by Her Majesty upon request or following a resolution of the Scottish Parliament which, if passed on a division, must be voted for by at least two thirds of members.
In order to safeguard the independence of the SPSO, under the provisions of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman Act 2002, in the exercise of the SPSO’s statutory functions, the SPSO is not subject to the direction or control of any member of the Scottish Executive or the Scottish Parliament.
The Scottish Parliament pays the salary and expenses of the Ombudsman and any expenses incurred in the exercise of the Ombudsman’s function.
The Ombudsman is accountable to the Scottish Parliament and must lay an annual report and their investigation reports before the Parliament.
Before taking a complaint to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman the organisation being complained about must first be approached to give them an opportunity to resolve the complaint. Most organisations have a formal complaints procedure. An aggrieved member of the public must usually write to the body concerned to explain their dissatisfaction and how they wish their complaint to be resolved. A response should be issued within a specific time frame. Some organisations will have more than one stage in their complaints procedure so there may be a series of responses between the complainant and the body before reaching the end of the process. If, after receiving the final response from the organisation, the person remains unhappy, they can contact the SPSO.
Complaints arrive at the SPSO in the form of letters, emails,complaint forms and by phone. The SPSO receives large numbers of enquiries and complaints which are not within its remit or not ready for it to look at – in these cases, members of the public are directed to the appropriate body or Ombudsman service.
The SPSO Act 2002 states the Ombudsman’s powers, outlining what the Ombudsman can and cannot do. The Act stipulates that certain requirements must be met before it can investigate a complaint. There is a great deal of information on the SPSO website . that provides details of how complaints are considered and, if appropriate, investigated.
Reports of investigations that are laid before the Scottish Parliament are sent to the complainant, the body complained about and Scottish Ministers. The Ombudsman may make recommendations to the body to address failings identified in the investigation. The recommendations may be designed to provide redress to the individual complaint (for example, an explanation, an apology or re-imbursement of costs incurred as a result of the organisation’s fault), or to improve general working practices within the organisation (for example, a change in procedure). The Ombudsman accompanies the reports laid before the Parliament with a monthly commentary . which summarises the reports and highlights any issues or trends to which she wishes to draw attention.
If an investigation finds maladministration or service failure, the Ombudsman may make recommendations to redress problems identified. In almost every case, organisations comply with the SPSO’s recommendations. If an organisation failed to implement recommendations the Ombudsman could lay a ‘special’ report before the Scottish Parliament highlighting any concerns.
Scottish Ombudsman Watch
The Scottish Ombudsman Watch (SOW), a non-governmental website, was set up in 2006 and is run by personal efforts as a network for other members of the public who are campaigning to highlight the ‘injustices of the current services provided by the SPSO'.
SOW says that they bring public concern into scrutiny and attention and raise the public’s concerns about the Ombudsman operation and are contactable via a website.
- Standards Commission for Scotland
- Northern Ireland Ombudsman
- Public Services Ombudsman for Wales
- Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards
- Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman
- The SPSO’s website
- The Scottish Public Services Act 2002
- Advice on making a complaint to the SPSO
- Good Complaints Handling
- SPSO findings
- The Ombudsman, Mr. Jim Martin
- The SPSO is a member of the Ombudsman Association
- Scottish Government
- Scottish Parliament Corporate Body
- Crerar Review of Complaint Handling System in Scotland
Other Organisations with an interest in SPSO