Service Complaints


  • Phase 1. INTRODUCTION

    J4T has members who have been held hostage to military injustice for over 10 years, often at severe cost to their economic and mental wealth. Why? A complaints system designed only to serve the MoD. Where the military investigates itself. And where you will be ostracised if you use it.


    For these reasons, we advise you to think carefully before complaining. Familiarise yourself with what you will face. Should you subsequently decide to raise or challenge a complaint, under this current unfair system, do not go it alone. Either enlist support, or leave the Armed Forces.

    However, if you are already 'hostage to injustice' in the Armed Forces, some of the following will resonate. We urge you to get support. The system is designed to be inefficient, unfair and ineffective. And to destroy your Will to Fight. You will struggle to navigate alone. Below, you will see a summary of the phases of the current MoD complaints system. We now know, from evidence already gathered, where most people are getting damaged. We know the deliberate MoD tactics, techniques and procedures and how the system is designed - to prevent its own people from gaining redress. We have also analysed some of the HQs and units across the MoD that are being paralysed by individuals who seek to weaponise the current system for their own gain.

    At the end of this section, you may want to join our private chat group, where J4T can provide buddy-buddy support or listen to your concerns in confidence. We can help alleviate the sense of isolation and connect you - so you are NOT ALONE in the fight for justice.

    Disclaimer. We are not able to offer formal legal advice at this stage, but we can sign-post you to organisations that can and do offer legal evaluation of your case. You can also learn how to approach any weaponising of the system against you - from others who have been through it.

  • Phase 2. The Complaint Process

    If there is a dispute in the Armed Forces, the MoD have a common process that is advertised as 'fair, effective and efficient,' through which uniformed service people can address valid grievances - on matters relating to their service.

    From J4T experience, from the Wigston report, from families talking in forums, from the Armed Forces continuous attitude surveys and from the SC ombudsman herself, the real purpose is very different.

    The system is designed to protect the MoD and is neither fair, effective nor efficient. It only works for the MoD senior leadership and for vexatious individuals. Both these groups may be winning the short-term battle but are damaging longer term operational effectiveness. And they are destroying trust with the people who serve. As an example, only 7% of serving personnel who experienced bullying, harassment or discrimination raised a formal complaint*. The main reasons given for not doing so are fear of being stigmatised as ‘a whinger’; fear of being ostracised by peers and fear of reprisals by the chain of command. We can add that you should also fear damage to your mental health through engaging with the process.


    What follows is an abridged version* of the main steps of the process. If you do decide to complain, you will need to read the JSPs for fuller details. This short version is broken down into three areas:
    *from the book ‘A Practical Guide to Military Claims’ by Ahmed Al-Nahhas, a Law Brief Publication.

    Service Complaints Process and General Appeals.
    Moving to Review by the Service Complaint Ombudsman of the Armed Forces (SCOAF).
    Beyond "SCOAF"


    We also cover Vexatious & Malicious complaints. These are a morale-sapping side-effect of the current MoD system. They are badly damaging UK defence operational effectiveness. It is caused by unscrupulous individuals within the military ‘weaponising’ the complaint system – raising allegations against honourable military people who attempt to enforce the values & standards of the military. They do this to avoid being held to account for performance issues. This has now become sufficiently prevalent and damaging, that it has its own category and is under investigation by the Defence Select Committee. Too many MoD seniors are capitulating to these tactics rather than becoming embroiled in the current Service Complaints process and risk having the anger of the disgruntled individual turn upon them.

    The Service Complaints process is governed by the following military protocols: JSP 831- Redress of Individual Complaints which covers the powers vested in MoD by the Armed Forces Act. If the SC relates to bullying & harassment – this is covered in JSP 763. Units also provide hotlines – for welfare or to Equality & Diversity Advisers (EDAs) which must be advertised at unit level. Civilian employees of the MoD have a separate grievance process.

  • Phase 3. The Stages of the Process

    Informal Grievance. Service Personnel are encouraged to deal with any grievance informally initially. They cannot be ordered to attend informal mediation, yet anecdotally, this often happens.

    Evidence suggests that if you do, it is usually framed around the best outcome for the MoD. Service personnel can access advice from welfare and E&D advisers, but only the MoD chain of command can access free legal advice (and they often do, even at this stage).

    Evidence suggests that the MoD will attempt to discourage you from raising a formal complaint or at least delay you from submission. The reason is you only have 12 weeks to submit from the last date of your incident, or the MoD can rate your case inadmissible AND you will fall outside the remit of taking your case to an Employment Tribunal.

    Formal Grievance. If you do decide to raise a formal complaint (via an Annex F), a "Specified Officer" will be appointed to decide admissibility.

    They will be taking military legal advice on their response before he/she rates it admissible/inadmissible. You will not be offered any legal advice. The military lawyers will aim to strike out as much as they can, to wear down your case by attrition. You can appeal at this stage, to the SC Ombudsman, but only within 4 weeks - and the Ombudsman is funded by the MoD and is over-worked and reluctant to take on any additional case-load.

    Any admissible complaint is then referred to the Defence Council who appoints a Decision Body and sometimes an Investigating Officer. An investigation is then conducted – evidence suggests that these investigations are skewed to support the MoD position and wilfully delay, lose and 'spin' the findings. The MoD can delay this phase but you can't. The investigating team also set the Terms of the Investigation. This means an individual can find their evidence is not used, the scope of the investigation is deliberately limited by the MoD and witnesses will be 'selectively called'. It can take over 3 years from the date you start the process. The MoD is investigating itself and there is little evidence it is taking an independent stance when investigating.

    The Decision Body. This is the body who will make a decision based on the MoD investigation evidence only.

    Note, this is not on your original submission, but only on the parts the military lawyers agreed were admissible. It will be carefully legally drafted, to minimise your options - and in writing. The military lawyers also advise on right to appeal. Evidence here suggest the right to appeal can be worded to discourage complainants from pursuing their case further, including stating legal reasons why a complainant cannot appeal or opt for an oral hearing. The standard of proof is supposed to be based on the balance of probabilities. Any appeal against a decision must be submitted within 6 weeks. Evidence suggests that the MoD can delay and miss deadlines, but complainants cannot.

  • Phase 4. What happens when it goes wrong?

    The Ombudsman. The final option is for a complainant to appeal to the Service complaint ombudsman of the Armed Forces (SCOAF).

    The MoD have designed the system so a complainant cannot challenge the process and ‘complain about the complaints process’ - at least not until the investigation phase is complete. Guidelines recommend the process should take no more than 6 months. Our evidence suggests the average is 12-18 months, with some taking longer. If you do appeal to the ombudsman, this will take a further 15 - 24 months to consider any maladministration or wrong doing. The delay is conveniently due to current MoD constraints on ombudsman funding ie. the MoD funds, selects and manages the Ombudsman and can constrain them, if it chooses.

    Even better. The Ombudsman findings 'have no teeth.' The recommendations of the SCOAF are not binding on the MoD.

    This means that a complainant may be denied redress for many years and, even if they are found to be in the right, SCOAF has no teeth to enforce their findings or redress recommendations. The SCOAF reports have repeatedly indicated frustration that the process is unfair, inefficient and damaging. Given they are resourced by the MoD and they are unable to mandate change, the only ability to change this egregiously biased system is through primary legislation.

    There is no precedence across history for the MoD changing without being forced by legislation.

    The complainant usually finds they have no control over the timings of the process, but can suddenly be expected to meet tight timelines for presenting their own case or reviewing evidence (and without legal support) while the MoD has no consequences for delaying, losing information (and has full legal support, despite it stating that the complaints process is not a legal process). If a complainant chooses to pay their own legal counsel, the length of time often makes it uneconomical for lawyers and costly for the individual.

  • Phase 5. Beyond SCOAF.

    In a small number of cases, individuals have ‘won’ their case against the MoD and then found themselves still waiting years later, in gaining redress. This is because the Ombudsman's findings are not legally enforceable. This can mean more reviews, missed MoD deadlines and procedural delays. The MoD can accept the recommendations- and then do nothing.

    A few other facts:

    Lawyers are not normally permitted to become formally involved in the service complaint process. This is only true for the complainant. The MoD funds and uses a large pool of military lawyers to draft and advise at each step. But only for the MoD. You will get nothing.

    The decision body is able to refuse a hearing or appeal body and attendance by legal representation - a one-sided process.

    The MoD can also dispute liability to a civil claim just as it can ignore the Ombudsman findings. Given the MoD has public funding and access to legal advisers, it can easily draw out and exceed the financial and mental resources of most service personnel.

    Judicial Reviews. Although service personnel can request a judicial review (only within 3 months of the decision), this is a subjective and highly specialised process. The MoD is keen to emphasise when it informs you of its decision, in a letter, that if an individual pursues this route, they will pay both MoD and their own costs. It is a risky and very expensive route and beyond the pockets of most individuals.

    Employment Tribunals. Most service personnel do not understand that they are not ‘employees’ in law but have entered into a service agreement with the State. As servants of the Crown, they have less rights than civilians. Most service personnel are unaware that they cannot bring claims for: wage protection; whistleblowing; redundancy rights; wrongful dismissal; constructive dismissal and most other forms of unfair dismissal. Or that employment tribunals can only be requested for protected issues, such as: gender, ethnicity, bullying & harassment.

    Specialist complaints are dealt with for some subjects e.g. healthcare, housing, pay and allowances, before a service complaint can be raised.


    In conclusion, J4T is of the view that the MoD should not and cannot investigate itself. The case for an independent Defence Authority has been made and accepted - but not enacted. Therefore, unless you have stringently clear evidence of a wrong, in respect of certain protected characteristics (gender, race, disability etc) or unlimited finances, you may be better off leaving the Armed Forces rather than raise a complaint.

    Quote from a long-term complainant, ‘I found that my hamster had more rights than I did.’
  • Phase 6. Special Case Study

    Vexatious and Malicious Complaints – Weaponising the system.

    The MoD has experienced a deluge of complaints in recent years and for this reason, we have heard that commanding offices are judged negatively if they allow too many cases as admissible. Some difficult employees have seized on this knowledge and combined this fact with the knowledge of how onerous the system is: complex bureaucracy, stress to individuals and years of trying to recall facts and give interviews in order for a case to conclude. These unscrupulous individuals are using the service complaints process to threaten their chain of command with a service complaint if they are disciplined. There is anecdotal evidence that commanding officers are now ignoring poor behaviours or feeling forced into providing better grade reports, rather than risk a complaint.

    The modus operandi of weaponisation includes making allegations that meet the threshold for criminal investigation. This then requires the RMP to complete their investigations before the wider complaint can begin, adding many months, plus the stress of a criminal complaint, to the defendant.

    The MoD does have a policy that allows the investigation to find allegations as vexatious or malicious, but evidence suggests this is rarely used and there are little consequences for adding in un-founded allegations.

    This trend is an unpleasant bi-product of the MOD creating a system that has been designed as ‘attritional warfare against its own employees'. It deepens the sense of isolation & despair. It is now back-firing on the MoD and allowing poor behaviours to flourish.

    The SC system is driving good people to leave and poor employees to stay.

J4T has members who have been held hostage to military injustice for over 10 years, often at severe cost to their economic and mental wealth. Why? A complaints system designed only to serve the MoD. Where the military investigates itself. And where you will be ostracised if you use it.


For these reasons, we advise you to think carefully before complaining. Familiarise yourself with what you will face. Should you subsequently decide to raise or challenge a complaint, under this current unfair system, do not go it alone. Either enlist support, or leave the Armed Forces.

However, if you are already 'hostage to injustice' in the Armed Forces, some of the following will resonate. We urge you to get support. The system is designed to be inefficient, unfair and ineffective. And to destroy your Will to Fight. You will struggle to navigate alone. Below, you will see a summary of the phases of the current MoD complaints system. We now know, from evidence already gathered, where most people are getting damaged. We know the deliberate MoD tactics, techniques and procedures and how the system is designed - to prevent its own people from gaining redress. We have also analysed some of the HQs and units across the MoD that are being paralysed by individuals who seek to weaponise the current system for their own gain.

At the end of this section, you may want to join our private chat group, where J4T can provide buddy-buddy support or listen to your concerns in confidence. We can help alleviate the sense of isolation and connect you - so you are NOT ALONE in the fight for justice.

Disclaimer. We are not able to offer formal legal advice at this stage, but we can sign-post you to organisations that can and do offer legal evaluation of your case. You can also learn how to approach any weaponising of the system against you - from others who have been through it.

If there is a dispute in the Armed Forces, the MoD have a common process that is advertised as 'fair, effective and efficient,' through which uniformed service people can address valid grievances - on matters relating to their service.

From J4T experience, from the Wigston report, from families talking in forums, from the Armed Forces continuous attitude surveys and from the SC ombudsman herself, the real purpose is very different.

The system is designed to protect the MoD and is neither fair, effective nor efficient. It only works for the MoD senior leadership and for vexatious individuals. Both these groups may be winning the short-term battle but are damaging longer term operational effectiveness. And they are destroying trust with the people who serve. As an example, only 7% of serving personnel who experienced bullying, harassment or discrimination raised a formal complaint*. The main reasons given for not doing so are fear of being stigmatised as ‘a whinger’; fear of being ostracised by peers and fear of reprisals by the chain of command. We can add that you should also fear damage to your mental health through engaging with the process.


What follows is an abridged version* of the main steps of the process. If you do decide to complain, you will need to read the JSPs for fuller details. This short version is broken down into three areas:
*from the book ‘A Practical Guide to Military Claims’ by Ahmed Al-Nahhas, a Law Brief Publication.

Service Complaints Process and General Appeals.
Moving to Review by the Service Complaint Ombudsman of the Armed Forces (SCOAF).
Beyond "SCOAF"


We also cover Vexatious & Malicious complaints. These are a morale-sapping side-effect of the current MoD system. They are badly damaging UK defence operational effectiveness. It is caused by unscrupulous individuals within the military ‘weaponising’ the complaint system – raising allegations against honourable military people who attempt to enforce the values & standards of the military. They do this to avoid being held to account for performance issues. This has now become sufficiently prevalent and damaging, that it has its own category and is under investigation by the Defence Select Committee. Too many MoD seniors are capitulating to these tactics rather than becoming embroiled in the current Service Complaints process and risk having the anger of the disgruntled individual turn upon them.

The Service Complaints process is governed by the following military protocols: JSP 831- Redress of Individual Complaints which covers the powers vested in MoD by the Armed Forces Act. If the SC relates to bullying & harassment – this is covered in JSP 763. Units also provide hotlines – for welfare or to Equality & Diversity Advisers (EDAs) which must be advertised at unit level. Civilian employees of the MoD have a separate grievance process.

Informal Grievance. Service Personnel are encouraged to deal with any grievance informally initially. They cannot be ordered to attend informal mediation, yet anecdotally, this often happens.

Evidence suggests that if you do, it is usually framed around the best outcome for the MoD. Service personnel can access advice from welfare and E&D advisers, but only the MoD chain of command can access free legal advice (and they often do, even at this stage).

Evidence suggests that the MoD will attempt to discourage you from raising a formal complaint or at least delay you from submission. The reason is you only have 12 weeks to submit from the last date of your incident, or the MoD can rate your case inadmissible AND you will fall outside the remit of taking your case to an Employment Tribunal.

Formal Grievance. If you do decide to raise a formal complaint (via an Annex F), a "Specified Officer" will be appointed to decide admissibility.

They will be taking military legal advice on their response before he/she rates it admissible/inadmissible. You will not be offered any legal advice. The military lawyers will aim to strike out as much as they can, to wear down your case by attrition. You can appeal at this stage, to the SC Ombudsman, but only within 4 weeks - and the Ombudsman is funded by the MoD and is over-worked and reluctant to take on any additional case-load.

Any admissible complaint is then referred to the Defence Council who appoints a Decision Body and sometimes an Investigating Officer. An investigation is then conducted – evidence suggests that these investigations are skewed to support the MoD position and wilfully delay, lose and 'spin' the findings. The MoD can delay this phase but you can't. The investigating team also set the Terms of the Investigation. This means an individual can find their evidence is not used, the scope of the investigation is deliberately limited by the MoD and witnesses will be 'selectively called'. It can take over 3 years from the date you start the process. The MoD is investigating itself and there is little evidence it is taking an independent stance when investigating.

The Decision Body. This is the body who will make a decision based on the MoD investigation evidence only.

Note, this is not on your original submission, but only on the parts the military lawyers agreed were admissible. It will be carefully legally drafted, to minimise your options - and in writing. The military lawyers also advise on right to appeal. Evidence here suggest the right to appeal can be worded to discourage complainants from pursuing their case further, including stating legal reasons why a complainant cannot appeal or opt for an oral hearing. The standard of proof is supposed to be based on the balance of probabilities. Any appeal against a decision must be submitted within 6 weeks. Evidence suggests that the MoD can delay and miss deadlines, but complainants cannot.

The Ombudsman. The final option is for a complainant to appeal to the Service complaint ombudsman of the Armed Forces (SCOAF).

The MoD have designed the system so a complainant cannot challenge the process and ‘complain about the complaints process’ - at least not until the investigation phase is complete. Guidelines recommend the process should take no more than 6 months. Our evidence suggests the average is 12-18 months, with some taking longer. If you do appeal to the ombudsman, this will take a further 15 - 24 months to consider any maladministration or wrong doing. The delay is conveniently due to current MoD constraints on ombudsman funding ie. the MoD funds, selects and manages the Ombudsman and can constrain them, if it chooses.

Even better. The Ombudsman findings 'have no teeth.' The recommendations of the SCOAF are not binding on the MoD.

This means that a complainant may be denied redress for many years and, even if they are found to be in the right, SCOAF has no teeth to enforce their findings or redress recommendations. The SCOAF reports have repeatedly indicated frustration that the process is unfair, inefficient and damaging. Given they are resourced by the MoD and they are unable to mandate change, the only ability to change this egregiously biased system is through primary legislation.

There is no precedence across history for the MoD changing without being forced by legislation.

The complainant usually finds they have no control over the timings of the process, but can suddenly be expected to meet tight timelines for presenting their own case or reviewing evidence (and without legal support) while the MoD has no consequences for delaying, losing information (and has full legal support, despite it stating that the complaints process is not a legal process). If a complainant chooses to pay their own legal counsel, the length of time often makes it uneconomical for lawyers and costly for the individual.

In a small number of cases, individuals have ‘won’ their case against the MoD and then found themselves still waiting years later, in gaining redress. This is because the Ombudsman's findings are not legally enforceable. This can mean more reviews, missed MoD deadlines and procedural delays. The MoD can accept the recommendations- and then do nothing.

A few other facts:

Lawyers are not normally permitted to become formally involved in the service complaint process. This is only true for the complainant. The MoD funds and uses a large pool of military lawyers to draft and advise at each step. But only for the MoD. You will get nothing.

The decision body is able to refuse a hearing or appeal body and attendance by legal representation - a one-sided process.

The MoD can also dispute liability to a civil claim just as it can ignore the Ombudsman findings. Given the MoD has public funding and access to legal advisers, it can easily draw out and exceed the financial and mental resources of most service personnel.

Judicial Reviews. Although service personnel can request a judicial review (only within 3 months of the decision), this is a subjective and highly specialised process. The MoD is keen to emphasise when it informs you of its decision, in a letter, that if an individual pursues this route, they will pay both MoD and their own costs. It is a risky and very expensive route and beyond the pockets of most individuals.

Employment Tribunals. Most service personnel do not understand that they are not ‘employees’ in law but have entered into a service agreement with the State. As servants of the Crown, they have less rights than civilians. Most service personnel are unaware that they cannot bring claims for: wage protection; whistleblowing; redundancy rights; wrongful dismissal; constructive dismissal and most other forms of unfair dismissal. Or that employment tribunals can only be requested for protected issues, such as: gender, ethnicity, bullying & harassment.

Specialist complaints are dealt with for some subjects e.g. healthcare, housing, pay and allowances, before a service complaint can be raised.


In conclusion, J4T is of the view that the MoD should not and cannot investigate itself. The case for an independent Defence Authority has been made and accepted - but not enacted. Therefore, unless you have stringently clear evidence of a wrong, in respect of certain protected characteristics (gender, race, disability etc) or unlimited finances, you may be better off leaving the Armed Forces rather than raise a complaint.

Quote from a long-term complainant, ‘I found that my hamster had more rights than I did.’

The MoD has experienced a deluge of complaints in recent years and for this reason, we have heard that commanding offices are judged negatively if they allow too many cases as admissible. Some difficult employees have seized on this knowledge and combined this fact with the knowledge of how onerous the system is: complex bureaucracy, stress to individuals and years of trying to recall facts and give interviews in order for a case to conclude. These unscrupulous individuals are using the service complaints process to threaten their chain of command with a service complaint if they are disciplined. There is anecdotal evidence that commanding officers are now ignoring poor behaviours or feeling forced into providing better grade reports, rather than risk a complaint.

The modus operandi of weaponisation includes making allegations that meet the threshold for criminal investigation. This then requires the RMP to complete their investigations before the wider complaint can begin, adding many months, plus the stress of a criminal complaint, to the defendant.

The MoD does have a policy that allows the investigation to find allegations as vexatious or malicious, but evidence suggests this is rarely used and there are little consequences for adding in un-founded allegations.

This trend is an unpleasant bi-product of the MOD creating a system that has been designed as ‘attritional warfare against its own employees'. It deepens the sense of isolation & despair. It is now back-firing on the MoD and allowing poor behaviours to flourish.

The SC system is driving good people to leave and poor employees to stay.