Complaints Ombudsman: Cases From Women And BAME Personnel 'Still Disproportionate'

Nicola Williams spoke to Forces News as she prepares to leave the role after four years.

The disproportionate number of complaints from minority groups in the military may be "reducing slightly" but not enough, according to the outgoing Service Complaints Ombudsman.

Nicola Williams will leave her role at the end of the month after four years, when Mariette Hughes will take the reins.

Speaking to Forces News about disproportionate complaints, Ms Williams said:  "A recommendation concerning that particular issue is one of the first ones that I ever made as Ombudsman.

"In terms of the numbers, it has always been that, although women and people of Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) background are a relatively small proportion of the total UK Armed Forces, they are a higher proportion in their numbers within the service complaints field – so more people make service complaints that fall within those two groups.

"The numbers are reducing slightly, but not enough, they’re still disproportionate."

The role of the Ombudsman is to provide independent scrutiny of the handling of complaints made by Armed Forces personnel.

One of their main challenges is to give personnel the confidence to make complaints without worrying it could have an adverse impact on their career.

Ms Williams also said some service complaints take too long to be processed.

Ms Williams also said that some service complaints take too long to be processed and referred to her part-time role sitting as a Crown Court judge.

"There are service complaints, some of which are dealt with very quickly, within the 24-week time period," she said.

"Others take so long, that I could sentence someone in my other life, for a relatively serious offence, actually quite a serious offence, and they could go into prison and come out of prison and the service complaint would still be going through the process.

"I see absolutely no reason why it should take this long."

Looking back on her time as Service Complaints Ombudsman, Ms Williams said: "It’s been very exciting, it has actually been an honour and a privilege to do this job, much more interesting than I ever thought it would be."

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: "We care about the wellbeing of our personnel and carefully consider every complaint.

"We are determined to ensure service personnel have confidence in the complaints system, which is why we’ve recently reviewed it and will be implementing reforms early next year to allow us to deal with complaints more quickly and effectively."