This is one of the matters that the aforementioned Healing With the Masters don’t address: bureaucratic injustice.
The British grassroots websites about the wrongs of ombudsmen receive many hits. I’m sad that the one I named in the title, which focusses on the Public Services and Local Government Ombudsman (LGO), is no longer running, but the site and its related blog remain for now.
There is also one about the Financial Ombudsman (FOS) who claims over 120,000 hits.
I have experience of ombudsmen’s shortcomings myself and note that the ones protecting (yes I think that is the right word) the establishment’s favourite things – law, finance, and government – are the worst to deal with. I’ve noted over time that they allow less cases and that if they do investigate yours, they will not come out in your favour.
The CEO of the FOS told me that they often displease both sides.
However, I think that ombudsmen are not independent, as they are meant to be. They are not publically accountable or equal between the individual citizen complainant and the corporation they complain about.
Most of us use the ombudsman because there’s not really another option; once you’ve exhausted the company’s own complaints procedure – easily done – this is the only path open. I think many firms tell customers to use the ombudsman because they know that nothing will happen. If we’re unhappy with their handling, the Ombudsman glibly suggest we can go to court, but much of the time our situations do not merit the heaviness and expense of judicial review.
It leaves us with a sense of frustration, unfairness, crushed hope, of not being heard, of lack of justice in an increasingly unaccountable administration .
That is because:
Ombudsmen ask for a quick turn round from individuals – 5-10 days, but can disappear for months taking to the other side.
The Local Government Ombudsman makes you apply online by filling in specific boxes and can only upload one document, which is meant to be the other side’s final response. (Note, no forwarding emails or your summary of the whole case which would give a better picture). They give no email contact details until someone has provisionally reviewed your case. That means that they’ve gone to the other side and got all their information but without fully hearing yours. And they’re incredibly rude – and thick.
I have frequently had cause to wonder about the comprehension of ombudsman staff. I’ve sent back a complaint summary 4 times because it misrepresented me and would damage my case. The way they address matters and what they leave out shows they are both blinkered, lacking in intelligence beyond the machines they work for, and guided by unknown principles.
The ombudsman systems feels like being asked your opinion in a survey which will largely be ignored. It’s a show for stats, lipservice to democratic transparency and voices.
The ombudsman “services” – all with gov.uk web addresses, even the ones that scrutinises the government – can take up to two years, even when the issue is something urgent as having home your home at risk, or no income.
I would welcome comments from those that also have had problems – we are many – and like the film of the same name released tonight, we can unite to be heard.