The mystery of the disappearing review requests: PHSO in action

On 13th December Dame Julie Mellor  informed Mr. Ronnie Cowan at the PACAC scrutiny meeting that,

“…as a result of people getting better explanations, [from the award winning customer care team] fewer people asked us for a review, it was 217 and in 14 cases we have reopened or launched a fresh investigation.  That gives you a sense of the scale and those 14 think it is perfectly proper for it to be done within the organisation.”  Q55 public-administration-and-constitutional-affairs-committee/phso-annual-review-201617/oral/44495.pdf

Those 14 may think it perfectly proper to have in-house review, though I doubt that they were asked, but the many individuals who were denied a review may think that an element of bias entered the process.  After all, marking your own homework has never been the most robust means of ensuring an impartial decision.

14 upholds from 217 reviews gives a miserly 6.4% uphold rate, but in fact it is a lot worse than that as many more review requests just disappeared from the figures discussed by Dame Julie Mellor and were not listed in the Annual Report.  The truth is that  1,969 people requested a review  last year which is 164 a month or 37 per week, but the majority of these failed to meet the criteria for review.  From the total number of review requests, the uphold of just 14 now gives a 0.7% chance of overturning a decision at review.  Hardly worth the effort of going through all the paperwork, providing again the evidence which had been ignored and completing a detailed, point by point response.

Given that one of the criteria for review is so common as to be virtually universal it is surprising to find that 89% of the review requests failed to make the final cut namely;

We overlooked or misunderstood parts of the complaint or did not take account of the relevant information, which could change our decision.

And as for making a service complaint about PHSO themselves clearly the award winning Customer Care Team have those totally under control as you can see in the table below.

The fortunate 0.7 % may consider that allowing PHSO to review their own complaint handling is ‘perfectly proper’ but the other 99.3% may be of a different opinion.




  1. EJ

    I wonder also how many people are not even told they can request a review. Or how many are so shell-shocked by the tortuous process of being fobbed off by PHSO and having evidence ignored, the delays, that they are just to shattered to take it any further. How many vulnerable people don’t understand the system or their disability gets in the way of them taking it further. We all know how PHSO do not provide legally required reasonable adjustments and even use someone’s disability against them. How do PHSO manage to fudge the figures so much? How do they get away with misleading the public and Parliament this way? Does Parliament not even scrutinise their claims? How can you Della, do it so easily and Parliament not? What is the point of PACAC! Not to mention that PHSO will not consider the evidence again in a review, they simply look at the admin side of whether they made a mistake in their decision. As if they are going to hold their hands up and admit to that…

    • c.darcy

      This is so true…I am disabled and 68, not good at writing or explaining myself…Have been fighting for HA repairs for over 5 years, not told about Housing Ombudsman til November 2015, went through all the official tiers and Senior management review, after 7 months Ombudsman said my complaint had been exhausted on June 3rd 2016 and they would be able to take on my complaint on 29.7/16 for early resolution…When I contacted Ombudsman in August because HA were ignoring me and my complaint, putting solicitors letters threatening my tenancy, I found out the Ombudsman had left the service, since then it has gone from bad to worse, I have had no reason or support from Ombudsman, I am so deeply upset… HA are just making my home, life and health unbearable. I have so many Major repairs that are now worse because of the bad repairs they have done and the time it is STILL taking, I am being bullied and can’t fight them anymore.

  2. Barbara Smith

    Hit the nail on the head with comment about the PHSO marking their own home work. Would not pay the PHSO Investigator’s in brass washers!

  3. Jatroa

    In my case, the external reviewer overturned the review.

    This was because the ‘review’ team hadn’t bothered to turn to the page next to my MP’s letter and so missed the words’ public interest’.

    It didn’t matter how many times I told the head of review that the words existed ….and they were what she should be pinning her review on – she ignored and sent me the usual stream of P!ss Off letters.

    It was such a bad botch up of a review that the PHSO awarded me £500.

    Yes..that ridiculous.

    But a lot depends on how you argue Your case external reviewer.


    1. Don’t speak to them put everything in writing – so there’s a record,
    (If tempted -tape it )

    2. Don’t trust them – as my reviewer stated he reported to Dame Julie Mellor -and no one else.

    3. From my SAR -his review went to the head of legal first – and then Dame Julie Mellor
    Nb Surprise! External reviewers are contracted through the head of legal. Dont know if they still are.

    For anyone unhappy at their review- there are some points from the external reviewer’s judgement which can be used to support cases presented for review.

    Here’s what happened in the 579 days for the PHSO to find out it hadn’t bothered to read or understand my complaint.

    1. Complaint that the ICO should consider that private companies..who depend on lucrative contracts – should’t be secretly advising the NHS not to provide legally due medical notes to the bereaved.

    Its in their financial interest to stop the bereaved – to keep their contracts, therefore public interest should override their ability to act in complete secrecy due to the Data Protection Act, which allows the companies to break the law, by witholding medical notes, which the bereaved might never know exist.

    In my view, one law shouldn’t protect the breaking of another.

    The PHSO couldn’t understand the concept… and ignored the public interest determination.

    It’s a flimsy argument – owing to the strength of the DPA – but it’s clearly wrong that the bereaved are treated this way by the NHS.

    And therefore worth trying to change.

    Responsible Officers:

    Susannah Beazley, head of review, who thought I was asking for * ‘medical notes’

    Fault: She didn’t bother to read it at all . I stated in my complaint that I’d already got the * medical notes ……and the Welsh ombudsman had already UPHELD my case by my use of them

    She signed off the complaint as ‘Case closed’.

    Anne Harding, lawyer, who wouldn’t accept my complaint at all, as she didn’t have anything to do with complainants.

    Fault: The external,advisor stated othat as soon as she got involved ..everything went well.
    In fact she wouldn’t communicate with me at all.

    Nb AH was in charge of employing external reviewers on temporary contracts.

    Sarah Fox, Ombudsman’s office, who simply wouldn’t listen to my reasoning of why the complaint had been misunderstood I tried to explain the concept to her. If she had , it might have saved me around a year’s work to try and get the complaint investigated.

    Fault: She rang me to tell me that she didn’t know about my case. Logically I thought she wanted me to explain it. Silly me.

    I tried to tell her but she was so arrogant she failed to listen to what I was saying about the case.

    Of course, she was judged right to do so by the external Investigator.
    The PHSO will protect itself by stating the employee is blameless.
    Unless you have the paperwork


    Do not trust the FOIA department

    The FOIA department withheld the crucial internal evidence in my favour.
    ….Which the FOIA department had ‘forgotten’ to provide under my SAR

    It was ONLY because I asked myself ‘what’s missing ‘, and could I state that a sign off on the review logically must exist, that they had to hand it over.

    Once I’d managed to get this withheld document – tyev Beazley review verdict- it was plain she had fallen well short of conducting a proper review.

    Fault: Check SAR ‘s with a gimlet eye. My opinion is that it is NOT a mistake that crucial points in complainants favour are witheld. As it’s happened TWICE to me.

    My case had depended on it because it showed how badly she had botched it up.

    1. The FOIA team apologised for mistakenly witholding the crucial Decision document.

    2. The FOIA team went on to mistakenly ‘forget’ MORE documents it had to provide to me for my FOIA court case
    Nb This was also upheld against the PHSO in my favour … the mistakenly ‘ forgotten’ documents helped me prove my case in court. Once again…good job I’d recognised the fact that documents were missing.


    External investigation

    Undertaken by John Halliday, external investigator, he understood the concept straight away. He has the intelligence diligence and integrity to investigate complaints. Which, at last, was something of a relief.
    (Apart from bigging up his boss – of course – and totally overlooking the fact that I had stated I’d taped the Fox phone call by not requesting to hear it)

    What he said:

    ‘The review team failed to provide Mrs TO with a reasonable or acceptable level of service. The service actually provided was, in my view, well below the level you would consider adequate. Some of the decisions at particular points were unreasonable; there was a failure to co ordinate the review team’s work with the efforts being made by the FoI team; and the review team seems to have become ‘locked’ into a negative bureaucratic process, which it treated as unalterable, of refusing to consider the points made for review.

    ‘ It is also clear that a substantial avoidable delay resulted. I can it say what the result would have been if one had been launched in November 2012, as it should have been, but whatever it’s outcome a good deal of delay would have been avoided…..

    ‘…It is not evident from the papers that I have seen that the PHSO has a robust system to dealing quickly where complaints are made about the review team itself.


    The key to presenting your complaint is to understand the PHSO review process and match your complaint to the parts of the process that the caseworker has not followed or misunderstood.

    Leave the PHSO no room to deny points

    IMO – The best way to present it is to state a numbered point:


    1a The complaint was about public interest – stated in page two. Give the quote:

    ‘ this complaint is about public interest’

    Then show exactly what the PHSO has missed

    1b The review makes no mention of public interest.

    Because it’s much harder to deny points if they are matched up in this way, rather than one long explanation.

    Good luck.

  4. rosemarycantwell

    Requests under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA)

    Some of the questions you have raised fall to be answered under the FOIA. I will set these out below.

    1.Was it policy in autumn 2013 to “share draft reports with all parties”?

    In autumn 2013, we had the ‘interim’ guidance for the ‘More investigations for more people’ investigative process.

    Section 6 covered draft reports and it was a requirement to share with both parties. This is the text from paragraph 8 of that section:

    The provisional outcome of the investigation must be shared with both parties, that is, the complainant and the organisation complained against (in cases where we have investigated a second tier complaint handler this includes sending the draft report to the original organisation)

    To answer your question directly – yes, it was PHSO policy to share reports with the complainant and public sector organisation in autumn 2013.

    2.Was it policy in autumn 2013 for “evidence material to the decision can be released at this point”?

    If a complainant requested copies of the evidence material to a report produced in 2013, that request should have been considered and responded to.

  5. J Roberts

    I’d just like to say that the overturning of a decision does not mean that the person requesting a review got the outcome they wanted. The figure of 0.7 per cent is made up of two categories, upheld complaints and partly upheld ones. Some complainants in the 0.7 per cent category might consider the outcome of their review request worthless – something minor such as a single delay could have changed the decision from a not upheld to a partly upheld.

  6. Teresa Steele

    The numbers speak for themselves. Corrupt system that keeps overpaid people in ‘non jobs’. Nice work if you can get it when that well paid work comes with a guarantee that you will be protected no matter what harm you do in the process. Personally I wouldn’t be able to sleep soundly.

  7. fed up complainant

    The processes to access the PHSO also need scrutiny – the Adjudicator’s Office for those coming from the HMRC (tax) and valuation offices, and that we have to come via our MP.

    The adjudicator has no appeal and no comeback; she has wide powers but does not use them for the people’s benefit. In my experience, the AO take as long as the PHSO and are as bad in terms of poor communications, sidestepping making any real redress, and feeling distant and uncaring. Their compensation is a fraction of what’s deserved and are admittedly a token gesture.

    The other issue is the compulsory use of our member of parliament to apply to the PHSO, who if unsympathetic and inefficient, can scupper our case, as mine did – forgetting to send the substantial document so that my case was assessed with most of the papers missing. He refused to resend when PHSO asked me, and was slow and uncaring beyond belief, and seemingly not accountable.

    I wonder if others have had issues with these and I’m especially interested to hear about MPs blocking the path to the PHSO.

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