Talking more

Director of Customer Services

We are changing here at the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. We are listening to people's feedback and have already made simple changes to help ensure we resolve complaints quicker and reduce unnecessary paperwork.

Some people have told us that sometimes we are not as open as we can be, do not keep them up-to-date, that we rely on doing everything in writing and don't phone them.

When I started working here last July these were my exact same thoughts. We relied too much on paper when we could simply pick up the phone and resolve some complaints by talking to people.

We don't want people waiting for an investigation decision when the complaint can be resolved quicker. Often people come to us because they want something as simple as an apology. By speaking to the organisation complained about and the complainant at the same time, we can often achieve this without the need to launch an investigation.

We want to give a good service. We don't want to keep people waiting for help.

We were set up as a paper-based organisation. Our legislation requires people to complain to us about the NHS in writing. We have worked within this restriction and now speak to the complainant over the phone and write up their complaint and email it to them to check that we have captured everything they want us to.

We can also send a link to an online form if they would prefer to write it themselves.

We are still in the process of changing. We want to make it even easier for people to complain to us and to explain our decisions to people in a way they understand, cutting out the jargon.

We welcome all feedback at any stage of the complainant's journey with us. We now have a customer care team in place which people can speak to any time. They can call our helpline on 0345 015 4033 and ask to be put straight through to them.

If our service has been poor we will apologise and take steps to improve. If the complainant has issues around the way we have handled their complaint, we can look at how we handled it and rectify any mistakes. This can include investigating the original complaint or reviewing the decision we made.

We have also recently improved our helpline by shortening the recorded menu option so that people are not kept waiting to speak to one of our advisors.

Because we carry out investigations independently and provide a final adjudication on people's complaints, we understand that people may not always be happy with our decision. We understand that this is difficult and we will not stop talking to them.

We understand that the complaints process is frustrating and that many people see us as their last chance. We need to be open with people about what we can and can't do for them.

We now try and do this much earlier in the complaints process so that people are clear about they can expect from us.

Often people's complaints are about more than one thing. So before we take on a case for investigation, we explain to them what part of their complaint we can investigate. So for example if someone has complained about two different parliamentary organisations but one falls outside of our jurisdiction, we will let them know that we can only investigate the organisation in our jurisdiction.

If people make a complaint to us about something that falls outside our jurisdiction, then we signpost them to the organisation which can take on their complaint. Some people need support making a complaint and we have links with many advocacy groups which we can direct people to for help.

Our modernisation is real, it is positive and it has come about because of listening to people.

If you would like to provide feedback on our service call 0345 015 4033. We recently launched a listening exercise to help produce a service charter, which will be a set of promises to users about what they can expect from our service.

To take part visit Service Charter or email