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Scottish Public Services Ombudsman

If you have made a complaint to an organisation that provides a public service (such as your local council) and you're not happy with the response, you may be able to take your case to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO). This page explains what kind of complaints the SPSO deals with and how you can make a complaint.

What is the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO)?

The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) investigates complaints about most organisations providing public services in Scotland, including:

  • councils
  • the National Health Service
  • housing associations
  • the Scottish Government
  • colleges and universities
  • Scottish public authorities.

Visit the SPSO website for a full list of organisations.

The SPSO is independent, impartial and free.

What type of complaints can the SPSO deal with?

The SPSO can look into complaints where you feel you have suffered hardship or injustice because an organisation has:

  • provided a poor service
  • delivered a service badly
  • failed to provide a service at all.

The SPSO may not be able to deal with your complaint if you've already started legal action against the organisation, for example, if you're taking them to court.

When can I go to the SPSO?

Before you consider going to the SPSO, you should first go through the complaints process of the organisation involved. You can find out more about complaining to your local council or complaining to a housing association or cooperative here.

If you're not happy with their final response or if you don't get one then you can then refer the matter to the SPSO. If you're not sure who you need to complain to, you can use the SPSO's complaint agency finder on their website to work it out.

How do I complain to the SPSO?

To complain to the SPSO, you need to complete a complaint form, which you can fill in online or download from the SPSO website. Make sure you include copies of any relevant correspondence (such as letters or emails from the council) that you feel supports your complaint.

Download the SPSO's leaflet 2 to find out more about the complaints process. You can also find contact details for the SPSO on their website.

What happens next?

First of all, the SPSO needs to make sure that it has the legal power to deal with your complaint. If the SPSO can't help you, it will let you know why and suggest other courses of action you may be able to take.

If the SPSO decides to investigate your case, a complaints investigator will talk to you about the result you're hoping to achieve. There are some things that the SPSO can't do (for example, they can't get someone fired), so if the SPSO won't be able to help you reach your desired outcome, the complaints investigator may be able to suggest other options for you.

The complaints officer will then contact the organisation you've complained about to let them know you have made a complaint, and contact you both for more information.

After the investigator has completed their investigations, they will send you and the organisation concerned a report outlining the SPSO's recommendations. Mostly the conclusions will be reported to you in a determination letter. In a few cases, the investigator will decide to issue the report as a public document.

What can the SPSO do?

The SPSO can recommend that the council or organisation takes action to put things right. The aim of this is to make sure that:

  • you are returned to the position you were in before things went wrong, and
  • the same thing doesn't happen again to someone else.

How long will this take?

Sometimes the investigation process can take a long time, especially if your case is complicated. You should also bear in mind that you have to go through the official complaints procedure of the organisation before you go to the SPSO so the whole process could be very long. However, the SPSO investigation will usually take no longer than 14 weeks from the date you first complained to the SPSO. The complaints investigator will keep you updated while their investigation is going on.

What if I'm not happy with the service from the SPSO?

If you're not happy about the way the SPSO handles your complaint (for example, if you think you've been treated rudely or unfairly, or your case has been unreasonably delayed), you should first talk to your complaint investigator, who will try and sort the problem out. If you're still not happy, you can write to the Director of Policy and Development at the SPSO. Read the SPSO's leaflet 3 to find out more.

What if I'm not happy with the SPSO's decision?

If you're unhappy with the decision in the determination letter, you should write to the SPSO's Director of Investigations as soon as possible. Again, the SPSO's leaflet 3 has further information.

Will I need help?

If you want to complain to the SPSO, it's a good idea to get advice first from an adviser at housing aid centre or Citizens Advice Bureau. Complaints can take a long time and are not likely to solve your immediate housing problems. An adviser can:

  • check whether you have a good case for making a complaint
  • help with filling in complaint forms and preparing evidence
  • help you find somewhere to live if the council has refused to do so.

Use the Advice Services Directory to find an advice agency in your area.

Scotland map Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.
This content applies to Scotland only.
Get advice if you're England

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