The Service Complaints Ombudsman has found, for the fourth consecutive year, the system for raising and addressing grievances in the military is not efficient, effective, or fair.
Ombudsman Nicola Williams said the system needs fundamental structural changes to achieve those goals.
In the 2019 edition of an annual report, she highlighted concerns over several issues, including time taken to resolve complaints, continued lack of confidence in the system and negative impacts on an individual's wellbeing.
It comes despite the review finding continuous improvements, helping the system to be closer to achieving its aims of efficiency, effective and fairness than ever before.
The data shows that in 2019, 766 service complaints were deemed admissible across the Armed Forces.
The three largest areas of concerns were career management (37%), bullying, harassment or discrimination (25%) and pay, pensions and allowances (15%).
Across the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force in 2019, only 46% of complaints were closed within 24 weeks, compared to a target of 90%.
The Royal Navy achieved 74%, the RAF attained a 52% score, while the Army managed 32%.
Bullying, harassment and discrimination remains a more common reason of complaint for both female and BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) personnel.
Furthermore, in 2019 women made up 12% of personnel but accounted for 23% of admissible complaints, while BAME individuals made up 8% of personnel, but accounted for 13% of admissible complaints.
Additionally, four pre-2016 complaints remain open.
The Service Complaints Ombudsman made four recommendations in her final annual report, for 2019:
- A review is to be conducted into whether the questions which measure knowledge of the Service Complaints Ombudsman, in the Armed Forces Continuous Attitudes Survey (AFCAS) and the Reserve Forces Continuous Attitudes Survey (ResCAS), are the most effective in capturing the data. This is to be completed by December 2020.
- A comprehensive evaluation of data collection, as part of any reorganisation of the system, is to be carried out, ensuring the correct information is collected and reported against.
- By December 2020, a leaflet must be developed and provided to individuals (all complainants and respondents) involved in the service complaints system, to help them understand where they may obtain wellbeing support.
- A review of process should be undertaken to spot where gaps in post-decision aftercare exist. It also outlines that procedures to address these should be drafted and put in place by December.
The Service Complaints Ombudsman for the Armed Forces, Nicola Williams, said: "The reformed Service Complaints system still needs fundamental structural changes to ensure that Armed Forces personnel have the confidence to raise a formal complaint, in a system that operates efficiently, effectively and fairly as possible.
"Currently, I am concerned that personnel are dissatisfied with the length of time taken to resolve a complaint; causing undue delay, including my office; which is having a significant impact on complainants’ wellbeing and mental health.
"Further work in this area is needed to address these issues, and with the support of the Ministry of Defence and the single Services, I am confident that we can build a better system for all Service personnel.”
Minister for Defence People and Veterans, Johnny Mercer said: "The findings of the Report and the new recommendations made will now be considered fully by MOD, and a formal response to the Ombudsman will follow once that work is complete."
Cover image: Royal Navy.