Updated: 2663 reasons why the Parliamentary Ombudsman is not working

Sir Robert Behrens

Earlier this year I reported on a letter sent by Sir Robert Behrens, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, to MPs on the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee on why he could not implement a three year programme to improve the service for another year.

The letter revealed that Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, had decided not to go ahead with a three year funding plan to make it happen until 2022. As a result the Ombudsman would be expected to concentrate on complaints about Covid19 and would not have the budget to do much about improving the service beyond laying the bare bones of the idea.

I suspected that the service might be overwhelmed and asked for the figures on the number of people on the ” waiting list” to get their complaint heard and the number of cases where people were awaiting a decision. The media office declined to give me the information immediately and converted my press inquiry into a Freedom of Information request to delay it for 20 working days.

Physical queue could stretch from Millbank Tower to Westminster Bridge

We now know why. Figures released under that FOI request reveal that the Ombudsman show that a staggering 2663 people are in a virtual queue to await to be assigned to a caseworker. If everybody physically turned up ( not allowed at the moment due to the pandemic) it would stretch from the Ombudsman’s office at Millbank Tower right along the Embankment to the Houses of Parliament and possibly across Westminster Bridge.

They also released the figures awaiting a result from their complaint. That is 2699. So almost as many people are waiting to get to get a case worker to look into their complaint as the number of people waiting for a result.. That might explain the latest figures from the Ombudsman Office’s own performance standards review which shows that only 51 per cent gave a positive reply to the point “We will give you a final decision on your complaint as soon as we can”. It means 49 per cent weren’t impressed with that claim.

The Ombudsman’s Office have also told me that nowhere in their building is there ” any recorded information confirming that “the public will get worse service this year”. This seems to me more of an act of self denial than a possible statement of fact.

The Ombudsman seem to be relying on two mitigating developments to help them overcome this frankly appalling scenario.

Planned new NHS Complaints Handling Service

They are plans for a new model NHS Complaints Handling Service that will aim to take the pressure off the Ombudsman’s Office by trying to sort out patients’ complaints before they have to go to him. But as the section on this new procedure on the Ombudsman’s website discloses that these are only draft guidance. Participation by health bodies is voluntary and as yet plans for pilot projects have not been finalised. My guess is that probably the best health trusts will pilot it, the worst won’t want to know.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman’s latest controversial senior appointment: Rebecca Hilsenrath

The second move is the appointment of a £80,000 Director of External Affairs, Strategy and Communications to drive through the new strategy and report to Gill Fitzpatrick, chief operating officer. There is a full description on the headhunters website, Hays, of the job. Today ( April 12) the Ombudsman confirmed that the post had been filled by Rebecca Hilsenrath, the former chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who officially resigned last week. Three months ago Ms Hilsenrath was in the centre of a row that she had twice breached lockdown rules by going with her family to her Welsh country cottage. You can read about the allegations and her resignation in two articles I wrote for Byline Times articles here and here. By all accounts this is a very curious and controversial appointment.

Altogether the situation at the Ombudsman’s Office does not present a pretty picture. A cynic might say it is not a priority to put money into watchdog bodies because all it does is highlight problems when things go wrong. And a government that would love to stay in power forever wants to present the idea that the UK has world beating public services and hide anything that might detract from that propaganda.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman File

Here are previous stories on this blog on the issue





15 thoughts on “Updated: 2663 reasons why the Parliamentary Ombudsman is not working

  1. Many thanks, David, for the update on Ombudsman Complaints handling service. We are so grateful that you are able to keep us informed as to what is happening. We would be none the wiser without your help. Kind Regards Julie



  2. The letter revealed that Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, had decided not to go ahead with a three year funding plan to make it happen until 2022. That will be reviewed early in 2023 and announcement of increased expenditure will take place in late 2023 or early 2024. The General election will take place on the 2 May 2024.


  3. The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has consistently failed to serve the public. Performance has deteriorated under Rob Behrens’s leadership. https://phsothetruestory.com/2021/03/15/dear-phso-governors-are-you-ever-going-to-answer-our-letter/
    You were fortunate to have had a reply to your request for information David. PHSO is now ignoring FOI requests made on Whatdotheyknow? saying they are too busy to answer them. https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/release_of_reports_regarding_com

    “Thank you for submitting a request for information to PHSO.
    Please note that the Information Rights Team is currently experiencing a high demand for its services, and is not able to comply with the statutory deadline for your request. Please accept our apologies for this. We will respond to your request as soon as we can.”

    This is a thoroughly dysfunctional organisation that does nothing but prevaricate leaving thousands of citizens to suffer from state-delivered injustice.

    Well done David for bringing some much-needed public scrutiny to this organisation.


  4. People might be interested to go to the PHSO website and check out the section on PHSO Board meeting minutes. At minute 3.6 of the meeting held on 1st October 2020 it is recorded: “Alan Graham asked about external perceptions of the organisation and whether these had changed. Amanda Amroliwala said there remained a small group of vocal and challenging critics who were unlikely to ever be supportive”.

    The minutes of the Board meeting held on 17th December 2020 have yet to be published as I write, despite a further Board meeting held on 24th March 2021. Having had a career involving corporate governance, personally I would be very wary about serving on the Board of this organisation (recognising that I am, of course, unlikely to be asked). I would urge the Board to consider resigning ‘en masse’ and thus avoid being tarnished by what you continue to uncover David. The previous comment from phso-thefacts@outlook.com provide further evidence of a lack of Board “effectiveness”.

    Amanda Amroliwala is the CEO at PHSO. Her comments recorded in the official minutes indicate indifference to those making valid complaint to the organisation to which she purports to provide leadership.

    Thank you for growing the small group of vocal and challenging critics by another 2663 David. Keep up the good work! This Ombudsman service is not fit for purpose and is probably in a worse state now than it has ever been


  5. Once again, no surprises here. The government seems determined to silence all routes for criticism, block transparency and to take no responsibility for their many blunders. Thank goodness for Covid as they can now claim another area where demands on resources prevents them from doing the right thing. If we can’t see what they are up, more chance they can get away with it,especially as it will have no bearing on their actions until the next election. Oh, such scope for their overpaid, inexperienced cronies!


  6. ‘Interviewed on 6 November 2013, and asked who had been the biggest single influence or inspiration in her career and why, Rebecca Hilsenrath replied:

    “A line-manager I had in the Government Legal Service who was prepared to admit to clients in front of me that a mistake they had identified in my work was his not mine. It taught me that you can be a bigger person and command more respect by admitting to error.”‘

    She will have many opportunities to become a much bigger person in her new job!



  7. 2663 reasons projected to rise to 4000

    Board Minutes 27/2/21

    ‘3.1 The Board considered a paper setting out proposals to manage the impact of the pandemic, against a background of a current queue of 2,600 unallocated complaints, projected to rise to over 4,000 without intervention. It was proposed that to allow the organisation to focus on complaints raising more serious issues, it would not routinely progress health complaints where the impact of the claimed injustice is relatively limited.’.


  8. Hi David. The Government has issued it’s response to the latest PACAC report on PHSO (see PACAC website). There are no plans for reform up to and including 2023-24. There is not enough time in the parliamentary timetable. However, there is time for eight different enquiries into the nefarious activities of Mr.Cameron, the Downing Street flat and similar matters. It is important to bear in mind that all complaints received at PHSO have already been ‘investigated’ by the bodies in jurisdiction. How on earth can the Ombudsman identify what is, or is not, a level 1 or level 2 compliant without investigating it first. As Quintin Hogg said, when the Ombudsman service was set up in the 1960’s “It’s a swiz”
    Thanks for commenting Jeff. This is a shining example of what the ‘new normal’ is going to look like.


    • Good day on the penultimate day of this Parliamentary session to slip out a story saying nothing will be done until the after the next General Election. Things can only get bitter.


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