How to navigate the PHSO complaint system – be prepared for the long haul.

Twenty Cruel PHSO trials for Complainants. 
Here’s what really happens:
Twenty Cruel PHSO trials for Complainants.
1. A complainant puts in their case, sometimes  without all the information-  because the organisation concerned is still finding ways of withholding it.
2. A case handler will ring the complainant.
NB.The complainant must NOT  speak to any PHSO employee on the phone –  but insist that everything is in writing.
This is because the case handler can record wrong information in the notes and the complainant will not know this until they go through FoI and SAR processes.. And, even then,  it is the complainant’s word against the case handler as to exactly what was said.
3. The complainant (statistically) then gets a letter stating that the Ombudsman  is declining to investigate it – giving none of the grounds on which the PHSO is  declining to investigate.
4. The puzzled complainant writes back, mystified, asking for a review, because the case seemed  clear and sound to them.
5. The Head of a Review writes a letter, basically saying ‘Case closed’  and possibly adding rather a snarky little  remark, pretending that they cannot understand what the complainant has stated in their letter of objection – and therefore arrogantly implying the complainant is really quite thick in the way that they have presented their case.
6. The complainant, now angry and mystified about the whole process, struggles with this and wonders  what can have gone wrong. Because they feel that expressed themselves in a clear and sensible manner.
7. The next step for the complainant is to ask for all the files and a SAR ( their own data on file) and read through the files to find out that the review team has only made a cursory reading of a complicated case and made some crucial errors.
NB Don’t forget to remind the FoI team that to handwritten notes are legally due under FoI requests.  Because they were withheld in my case. ( yes, even the PHSO does it).
Well fancy that…. It was on the previously withheld handwritten note that I was shocked to read that the Head of Review had signed off my case….. with  a complete misunderstanding of it.
8. The complainant points out the mistakes ..and any other anomalies along the way. Maybe enclosing yet more of the withheld files that have been prised from the organisation, giving more weight to their complaint.
9. The Head of Review writes back abrasively stating the decision is sound as there us no ‘new evidence’ ..and that’s it.The complainant now certain that the case has been mishandled by the PHSO.
10. The extremely angry complainant is now left trying to make some sense of the situation and continues to write to the Head of Review, who might write back occasionally basically saying: ‘I have spoken. I am The Supreme Being…’Case closed’.
Otherwise the complaint handling complaint  is ignored.
11. If the complainant dares to persist, the Head of Review ‘organises’ ( yes – that’s the term) via her team member, an external ‘independent’ reviewer.
This  ‘independent’, reviewer  – technically  responsible to the Head of Review – will then look at the case.
The Head of Review also states who the senior officer, who will review the external ‘independent’ reviewers work, will be.
12. The complainant realises that the complaints system is rigged to support whatever the Head of Review does  at this point and,  despite their justified objections,that there may never be a fair appraisal of their case.
13. Most give up at this point. But, some, maybe bereaved and who may  still have  some slight faith in the complaints system –  write to Dame Julie Mellor.
14. Nothing happens. Because the Dame’s executive office ignores the complainant and refuses to engage with the case.
NB  Don’t bother to ring. The Dame’s executive officer may not  let you speak – let alone explain your case.  The brief seems to be as rude as they like to complainants.
15. In desperation, the baffled complainant then tries writing to every senior officer they can think of complaining about the Head of Review’s case handling.
 In my case, the FoI office passed my case handling complaint upwards ….as no other senior officer would accept it, let alone look at it.
Well done the FoI office!
16. The complaint then may be reluctantly and somewhat grudgingly  sent  to an external reviewer. Even one  that has not been picked by the Head of Review, even though, technically,  external ‘ independent’ reviewers, employed by the PHSO, are still responsible to this office.
17.A clerical officer in the Head of Review’s  department  is responsible for running the complaint paperwork to the ‘independent’ external reviewer.
The complainant may resent this –  given the a Review team’s previous –  but will basically  be told by the Legal  Officer, ( who is the Head of Review’s boss)…..
…Tough..The review team that you are complaining about will continue to send the paperwork that they feel admissible to the external reviewer. And no, you can’t have an independent ex-review team clerical officer to handle the case paperwork……
NB Complainants are advised to ask for copies of everything sent to the external reviewer by the review team  – via FoI and DP requests. And try and match it up with their own paperwork.
18. Depending on how independent the ‘independent reviewer’ really is, it is only this point that the complainant might get to know the reasoning of why their case was turned down.
19. In my case, it turned out that my complaint was justified as the Head of Review  had signed the case off with a misunderstanding of the case premise. I received an apology from Dame Julie Mellor, for the mishandling of the case.
So the Dame gets to read external reviewer’s reviews. …But presumably only if the ‘independent’ external reviewer finds a case to answer. Having been given all the paperwork.
20. What happens then is that the complainant finally gets to a person that can actually grasp what the case is about…and even checks with the complainant that the PHSO’s  understanding of the case is correct!
(….No one was more shocked than me at this latest extraordinary turn of  events).
Ps. Each single investigated case costs the PHSO around £83k.
I now understand why.
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One comment

  1. David Rapp

    Oh and don’t forget the body complained about can change their story as many times as they would like. The Ombudsman will ALWAYS accept the version they give out when their lawyers get a hold of it.

    Buuuttttt if you need to clarify a point that they have misunderstood, or you come across some new facts, or you remember something that you forgot to tell them, you are ‘changing’ your story, or ‘changing’ your argument and they automatically dismiss anything you say.

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