National Ombudsmen
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Only one in three people complain to a public service when they are unhappy, according to new research

New research published recently shows that just one-third of people that are unhappy after using a public service actually make a complaint, despite an overwhelming number feeling that they should.

The research by the Parliamentary & Health Service Ombudsman service is based on the results of a national survey - carried out in March and which questioned 4,263 people - to gauge the public's attitude over the last 12 months to complaining about those public services, such as the NHS in England, which the ombudsman service investigates in the event of unresolved complaints.

The data shows that people overwhelmingly support the right to complain and that 90% feel that if they are unhappy with a public service they should complain.

When it comes to actually making a complaint - to a hospital, GP or jobcentre, for example - the research reveals a gap between what people believe they should do and what they actually do.

According to the data, almost two in three people that are unhappy with a public service don't actually make a complaint and 29% of those say they believe that complaining will not make a difference.

The research finds the following other reasons why people who feel unhappy with a public service don't complain:

  • 14% think it would be more hassle than it was worth
  • 9% feel it would be too time consuming
  • 7% don't know where to go to make a complaint
  • 6% don't think it will be taken seriously

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Julie Mellor said:

"People are reluctant to make complaints to public services even though they think it is right to complain. Too many people don't know how to complain and feel that if they do it won't make a difference. This means concerns are going unheard or unaddressed.

"Public service providers need to focus on being open and honest when things go wrong. If not, we lose opportunities to learn from mistakes and improve how public services are delivered.

"We have to make complaining more simple and accessible so people have the confidence to complain. That's why we are delighted that the government has made a firm commitment to create a single Public Service Ombudsman covering all public services for England - including health and social care - and UK non-devolved services to make it easier for people to get justice when things go wrong."

Notes to editors

  1. For more information please contact press officer Steven Mather on 0300 061 4324 or email
  2. You can view the results of the research on the Parliamentary and  Health Service Ombudsman website here:
  3. All figures from the research, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 4,263 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 1-7 April 2015. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).
  4. The precise figure for those who are unhappy with a public service in the ombudsman's remit and actually complain is 34%. Those that don't complain despite being unhappy is 64%.
  5. The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman investigates complaints which haven't been resolved locally by the NHS in England or by UK government departments and their agencies, such as the Department for Work and Pensions, the DVLA, the Passport Office and the Highways Agency.
  6. The Ombudsman service investigates approximately 4,000 complaints a year and upholds around 37%.
  7. In 2014-15 approximately 79% of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman's investigations were about the NHS in England and 21% were about UK government departments and their agencies.
  8. The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has led the call for a single public service ombudsman covering all public services delivered in England and matters reserved to the UK.
  9. In particular, we are seeking changes that will give:
    • one service covering all public services delivered locally and nationally in England and all UK non-devolved services
    • citizens the right to choose to come to us directly or through a representative e.g. MP, and in a variety of forms, including by digital communication.
    • powers to conduct special investigations, particularly where there is evidence of potential service failure experienced by those vulnerable and marginalised groups least likely to complain.
  10. The Cabinet Office is currently running a consultation on a Public Service Ombudsman due to close on 16 June.
  11.   As part of the package of measures contained in the Queen's Speech in May 2015 the Government announced its intention to bring forward a draft Bill to establish a single public services ombudsman. The contents of this Bill will be informed by the outcome of the Cabinet Office consultation on ombudsman reform.

Contact: Steven Mather

Phone: 0300 061 4324

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