Using an ombudsman is a way of trying to resolve a complaint without going to court. They assist individuals and groups in the resolution of conflicts or concerns.

The ombudsman does not have to look into a complaint. The ombudsman's recommendations cannot be legally enforced so court proceedings may have to follow.

What does an Ombudsman do?

Ombudsmen exist to deal with complaints from ordinary citizens about certain public bodies or private sector services. Their services are provided free of charge.

The majority of recognised Ombudsman schemes are set up by statute. Others are voluntary non-statutory schemes set up on the initiative of the service sectors concerned.

An ombudsman will not consider a complaint unless the organisation, business or professional standards body involved has first been given a reasonable opportunity to deal with the complaint.

If the ombudsman decides to conduct a formal investigation, a written report on the investigation will be issued, and will normally set out the evidence considered by the ombudsman and proposals for resolving the dispute.

When the complaint is upheld the Ombudsman will expect the organisation to provide a suitable remedy. Remedies may include an apology, publicity for the Ombudsman's decision, provision of the service desired, putting right what went wrong and financial compensation. In some schemes the Ombudsman makes a recommendation which the organisation is expected to follow and usually does. If the organisation fails to follow the recommendation it can be necessary to go to court.