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Mistakes happen – failure to put them right quickly and properly can make them considerably worse

Mistakes happen – failure to put them right quickly and properly can make them considerably worse

News Release issued by the COI News Distribution Service on 19 November 2009

Issued by the News Distribution Service on behalf of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

Parliamentary Ombudsman, Ann Abraham, today urged public bodies to improve customer service by acting swiftly and effectively to resolve complaints. Small mistakes, big consequences contains eleven case studies illustrating how the relatively minor mistakes of large government departments can have a major impact on the people they are attempting to serve and on the public purse.

In the report Ann Abraham said:

‘In a perfect world, mistakes would never happen but, given that they do, it is how public bodies react when mistakes occur that interests me most. Small mistakes have the potential for far-reaching consequences and the failure to remedy mistakes quickly and properly can make them considerably worse.’

In the case of Mr U, highlighted in the report, it took nearly three years, the breakdown of Mr U’s marriage and damage to his relationship with his children before the Child Support Agency (CSA) admitted that they had wrongly identified Mr U as the father of two other children. In fact, CSA knew less than two months after they first made the mistake that they probably had the wrong man. Following the Ombudsman’s investigation, Mr U received an apology from the CSA and compensation of £10,000. The CSA had previously offered compensation of just £350.

Ann Abraham stressed the importance of prompt and efficient complaint handling:

‘The public bodies involved in these complaints have told me that these cases should not be seen as representative of the services these agencies deliver to millions of people every day. I do not suggest that they are. I am, however,concerned that in every one of these cases there were opportunities that were not taken to put things right much sooner. It should not have taken the intervention of the Ombudsman to bring an end to Mr U’s nightmare.’

The report emphasises the need for public bodies to ‘seek continuous improvement’ – one of the Ombudsman’s key principles. Ann Abraham concluded:

‘I cannot stress strongly enough the importance of public bodies learning from complaints and using this learning to improve their services and performance. I hope that all public bodies – those cited in this Digest and those which are not – will take the opportunity to reflect on and learn from these cases.’

Notes to editors:

1. Ann Abraham holds the post of UK Parliamentary Ombudsman and is also Health Service Ombudsman for England. She is appointed by the Crown and is completely independent of Government and the NHS. Her role is to provide a service to the public by undertaking independent investigations into complaints that government departments, a range of other public bodies in the UK, and the NHS in England, have not acted properly or fairly or have provided a poor service. There is no charge for using the Ombudsman’s services.

2. Number of complaints: In 2008-09 the Parliamentary Ombudsman received 7,608 enquiries about government departments and public bodies (excluding health). There was an 8.8 per cent increase in the number of complaints.

3. Recommendations: Over 99% of recommendations the Ombudsman made during the year have been accepted or are currently being considered by the body or practitioner complained about.

4. Publication details: Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, Small mistakes, big consequences, HC 6, 20 November 2009. Press copies of the report are available from the Communications team, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, Millbank Tower, Millbank, London SW1P 4QP, telephone: 0300 061 4996/ 4258. From 20 November 2009 you can also find the report on the website

5. The Ombudsman will not be undertaking interviews. For other media enquiries please contact the PHSO Press Office.


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