Ombudsman upholds three in four complaints about the Home Office, report reveals

Incorrect decisions, delays and wrong advice are the top reasons for the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman upholding the highest proportion of complaints about the Home Office than any other government department, a report published today reveals.

The report outlines the unresolved complaints the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman investigated about all government departments last year.

It provides detailed information about the 'big four' departments: the Home Office, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), which made up more than three quarters of the investigations about government departments and agencies in 2015-16.

The Ombudsman service upheld 75% of complaints about the Home Office, compared to 39% about the Department for Work and Pensions, 36% about the Ministry of Justice and 10% about Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs. Overall in 2015-16 the Ombudsman service upheld 40% of complaints it investigated, including about the NHS in England.

The top reasons for complaints across all departments and their agencies were about incorrect decisions and poor communication.

Both the DWP and HMRC stand out as organisations with effective second tier complaint systems in place, which means that complaints are more likely to be resolved before they reach the Ombudsman service. Both departments also demonstrate a desire to learn from complaints and improve their services, according to the report. 

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Julie Mellor said:

'People complain about poor public services because they don't want the same thing happening to someone else.

'Our investigations have revealed that people’s lives have been put on hold because of incorrect decisions, wrong advice and delays by public services, leaving people unable to work and separated from their loved ones.

'It is the responsibility of every board of every UK government department and agency to make sure they learn from complaints to prevent others from suffering similar injustice in the future.'

The report contains cases where:

A wrong decision by UK Visas and Immigration left a woman in her 80s stranded abroad for eight weeks. 

  • Wrong advice by visa staff at two British embassies left a man stranded abroad for two months, unable to return to the UK and go back to work after his holiday, causing a great deal of stress and anxiety and leaving him and his wife suffering financially. 
  • A farmer received more than £19,000 in lost income following our investigation after he received incorrect advice about an EU farm subsidy, from the Rural Payments Agency.
  • Jobcentre Plus mistakes and poor complaint handling left a woman with ill health traumatised and exhausted after her benefits were stopped immediately after a poorly conducted capability assessment, forcing her to appeal.
  • A child custody decision was unnecessarily delayed by seven months following Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) missing deadlines, taking over six months to produce a report ordered by a court.
  • Personal information regarding the whereabouts of a woman who made allegations of domestic abuse about her partner, were mistakenly shared with him, by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, which would have made it easy for him to trace her.
  • The trial of a man accused of threatening a mother and her teenage daughter collapsed, because the Crown Prosecution Service failed to inform the mother of the date of the court hearing. This meant that she did not attend the court hearing and the CPS prosecutor offered no evidence which resulted in the alleged offender being acquitted.

The Ombudsman service completed 676 investigations about UK government departments and their agencies and other organisations in 2015-16 and 3,185 about the NHS in England. It fully or partly upheld 37% (279) of the 676 unresolved complaints it investigated about UK government departs and their agencies.

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman makes final decisions on unresolved complaints about the NHS in England and UK government departments and other UK public organisations.

Almost 80% of cases investigated by the Ombudsman service are about the NHS and the rest are about UK government departments and other organisations.