Dame Julie Mellor: Home Office complaints "staggering", but all departments can do more

Ombudsman’s report has harsh words for Home Office and lessons for all government departments about how to use complaints to improve services

Millions of people receive great public services day in and day out. But when things go wrong they can have a devastating impact on individuals and their loved ones. That’s why it’s important that complaints are handled effectively to prevent the same thing happening again.

At the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman we make final decisions on complaints about UK government departments, their agencies and the NHS in England. Last year, we investigated 885 complaints about government departments and their agencies and upheld 33%.

The report we have published today, Complaints about UK government departments and agencies, and some UK public organisations 2014-15, outlines the unresolved complaints we investigated about all government departments last year and has valuable lessons for the boards of departments and their agencies.

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Service failure

People often complain about poor public services because they want things to be put right and because they don’t want the same thing happening to someone else.

The top two reasons for complaints about UK government departments last year were delays in providing a service and poor communication. Some departments did better than others. The uphold rates of HMRC and DWP were only 10 per cent and 22 per cent respectively and both departments have shown a willingness to learn from complaints.

However, we upheld a staggering 69 per cent of the 158 complaints we investigated about the Home Office, more than double the average uphold rate for government department and their agencies.

We found that delays and poor decision making in immigration-related cases often left people in a legal limbo for years, sometimes separated from their loved ones, unable to work, and denied access to education for their children.

In one tragic case, a 17-year old had to wait 10 years for a visa, which left him limited to unstable and short-term employment at a crucial period in a young person’s life.

It is the responsibility of every board of every UK government department and agency, including the Home Office, to recognise the profound impact poor services can have on people's lives and make sure they learn from complaints to improve services for all.

Complaints handling

Our own research shows that two thirds of people who are unhappy about a public service don’t complain because they feel that it won’t make a difference.

The main reasons people were unhappy about how a complaint had been handled were because an organisation had failed to apologise or do enough to put things right when something had gone wrong.

No organisation is perfect, but people should have confidence that when things have gone wrong in a public service, those in leadership positions will make sure things are put right.

Our work has shown that dealing effectively with complaints is not only a public duty. It is the best way to learn lessons and improve services for all. 

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