What is the current position regarding delays?
- Regrettably, the SPSO is currently experiencing significant delays in allocating some public service complaints to Complaints Reviewers (our officers who consider complaints on behalf of the Ombudsman).
- Some complaints are taking up to 11 months to allocate after initial assessment, but it is important to note that not all complaints are affected. We actively manage complaints from the point we receive them and will keep those affected by the delays informed.
Why are cases taking so long?
- As reported in our Annual Report and Accounts 2020—21, pre-pandemic, we had high caseloads as a result of a number of factors, including rising complaint numbers over a number of years. We put in place a number of measures to address this, including reviewing our processes and approach. Good progress was made, then the pandemic arrived.
- The pandemic affected us in a number of ways. For example:
- we had to adapt to deliver our services online, update our IT and put in place emergency processes to ensure we could continue to deliver our full range of services.
- we experienced reduced staff resources for a range of reasons, including caring responsibilities, the need to home school, staff being diverted to essential key worker duties and higher than normal staff turnover as a result of staff progression and absences.
- investigations can take us longer because of the impact on public bodies. We recognise the difficulties some public bodies face and in some cases they struggle to respond to our requests for information in good time. This also means we have to put spend more time on cases seeking or chasing information and ensuring that recommendations have been complied with.
What happens when the SPSO receives a complaint?
- All complaints are reviewed with two weeks of receipt. We assess each complaint to identify whether it should be prioritised for immediate consideration, or whether it can be resolved or handled quickly.
- We prioritise cases where the complainant (or person affected) is vulnerable, the matter is urgent and ongoing, or where there is a significant public interest.
- We recognise that not all cases can be prioritised or addressed quickly, and these are held until they can be allocated. We inform people about the delays and encourage them to contact us if they think their complaint should be given priority or their circumstances change.
What are you doing?
- We have agreed extra resources with the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body and are recruiting more staff to enable us to speed-up pandemic recovery measures.
- As well as putting in extra capacity, we monitor resources and service delivery constantly and where we can, adapt to make more effective use of our resources. Fundamentally, we need the extra resource to be able to put us back into the position we were in pre-pandemic so that is what we are focused on.
- We have made changes to our service that we would have made irrespective of the pandemic, and without which the position would undoubtedly be worse. We recognise that many people who come to us have already been through a local process, which itself may have been subject to delay. We also recognise that complainants are seeking a solution to a problem so where we can, we attempt to resolve cases by finding a solution. We have implemented guidance to support our own staff, and public bodies in taking a resolution-based approach whenever possible.
- We now take a more considered approach than we used to about how much investigation we should do on each case. Our focus is on the complainant and we are open with them, particularly in relation to what can be achieved. We know that making complaints can be very stressful, and if we cannot achieve more for the complainant or there isn’t a wider public interest we think it important to say so early on.
- To enable us to assess this, we do some investigatory work (often referred to as initial enquiries). We look at a number of things at this point, such as whether the local investigation has already identified issues and put in place the sorts of remedies the SPSO would. We often seek initial specialist advice to inform this. We are able to do this because model complaint handling has driven improvements in public bodies complaints handling. There is more about this in our Annual Report and Accounts.