Processing of the complaint

The Ombudsman’s staff will first assess whether new complaints meet the conditions for complaining to the Ombudsman. Then they will assess whether it is likely that the Ombudsman will be able to help.

Complaints to the Ombudsman will first be reviewed by a legal case officer who assesses

  • whether the Ombudsman is able to enter the case within the scope of the Ombudsman Act
  • whether more information needs to be retrieved from the complainant or the authority.

If it is clear that the complaint CAN be processed, the next step is to assess whether the Ombudsman WILL investigate the complaint further. You are not entitled to have your complaint investigated, even if the general conditions for complaining are met.

When the Ombudsman decides not to enter a case, it may be because the complaint is about minor issues or because it can be determined at an early stage that the Ombudsman cannot help the complainant obtain a better outcome – there may be various reasons for this.

Below you can read about the typical outcomes of complaining to the Ombudsman.

Prioritisation of cases

The Ombudsman’s right to determine the extent of the investigation of a case is stipulated in Section 16(1) of the Ombudsman Act. In practice, the provision is used to give priority to cases where there is a prospect that the Ombudsman can make a difference.

If the Ombudsman decides not to take further action regarding a case, the complainant will receive an explanation in a letter. Normally, the authority that is the subject of the complaint receives a copy of the letter.

Experienced legal case officers

The Ombudsman Office receives about 5,000 complaints a year. The complaints are investigated by experienced legal case officers. Ombudsman Niels Fenger himself investigates cases of fundamental importance, for instance because they concern an especially difficult legal problem or something that affects many other cases.

Outcome of the Ombudsman’s investigation

The Ombudsman cannot change the authorities’ decisions, but, after a thorough review of the case and after the authority has had an opportunity to make a statement, the Ombudsman can choose to

1) criticise the authorities

2) ask the authorities to reopen the case and make a new decision.

The Ombudsman cannot demand that the authorities follow a recommendation. However, they always do so in practice.

Other assistance from the Ombudsman

In many cases, the Ombudsman tries to help the citizen without starting a detailed investigation. For instance, this applies to complaints that include aspects that the authority has not yet considered.

The Ombudsman can ask the citizen to write to the authority/a higher authority.

The Ombudsman can also forward the complaint to the relevant authority. He could for instance do so if he finds that the authority ought to go more thoroughly into the grounds for its decision, or if the higher authority has not yet considered the complaint.

Reply to complaints

Within ten working days, a confirmation of receipt is sent to complainants who have complained via the website’s complaint form, Digital Post or the postal service. A letter can be underway for up to five weekdays.

The confirmation will say that the case will later be allocated to a legal case officer.

Cases are not usually allocated to a legal case officer immediately. Therefore, the confirmation is not normally written by a legal case officer. The person who has signed the confirmation cannot be expected to be able to answer any questions regarding the case.

Complainants who complain via e-mail receive an automatically generated confirmation.

Read about the Ombudsman’s case processing times

1. The complaint is rejected on formal grounds

About one in five complaints are rejected because the Ombudsman cannot enter the case.

Common grounds for formal rejection:

  • The citizen must complain to other complaint bodies first. The Ombudsman can only consider a complaint if other complaint options have been used.
    For example, an industrial injury case must be processed by Labour Market Insurance and then by the National Social Appeals Board before the Ombudsman can process the case.
  • The complaint is directed at a business, an institution or a subject about which the Ombudsman cannot investigate complaints – such as a private business, the courts of law or a legislative bill.
  • The complaint is submitted too late. The Ombudsman must receive the complaint within one year after the citizen has received the authority’s decision. The deadline for complaining to the Ombudsman is calculated from the highest administrative authority’s decision.

If the Ombudsman cannot investigate the complaint (does not have jurisdiction), the citizen will receive a reply explaining why the complaint is rejected.

Even though the Ombudsman does not investigate the complaint further, the citizen can expect that the involved authority or authorities will be informed of the Ombudsman’s reply to the complaint.

2. The Ombudsman decides not to enter the case

After having read a complaint, the Ombudsman can decide not to process the case further. This is set out in Section 16(1) of the Ombudsman Act.

Instead, the citizen receives a brief letter explaining why the case is closed. Normally, the authority will receive a copy of the letter.

Common reasons why the Ombudsman decides not to process a case further:

  • The complaint concerns minor issues.
  • The case falls outside the Ombudsman’s core task, for instance cases relating to contractual law.
  • It is unclear what the complaint is about. In those cases, the complainant is guided about their options or asked to write more precisely what the complaint is about.
  • There is particularly easy access to bringing the case before the courts, for instance certain cases that are processed under the Sentence Enforcement Act.

3. The Ombudsman helps ‘in another way’

In many cases, the Ombudsman tries to help the citizen without starting a detailed investigation of the case. This is the outcome in about two out of five complaint cases.

If the complaint contains aspects that the authority has not yet considered, the Ombudsman may

  • ask the complainant to write to the authority/a higher authority
  • forward the complaint to the relevant authority – for instance if the authority first ought to go more thoroughly into the grounds for its decision, or if the higher authority has not yet considered the complaint.

The Ombudsman sometimes forwards complaints about authorities’ case processing times to the authority as a reminder from the complainant.

If the Ombudsman asks the complainant to write to the authority first or if he forwards the complaint to the authority, the Ombudsman closes his case at the same time. In some cases however, the Ombudsman asks the authority to notify him of its reply to the complainant.

If the complainant still wants to complain about the authority’s (original) decision or case processing after the authority’s new reply, a new complaint must be sent to the Ombudsman.

4. The case is assessed after limited investigation

In some cases, the Ombudsman assesses, after having read the complaint and possibly obtained further details from the complainant or authority, that an Ombudsman investigation would not be able to help the complainant achieve a better outcome in the case or a better legal position. Such a limited investigation is the result of about one in ten complaint cases, for instance when

  • there are evidentiary issues in the case that the Ombudsman cannot clarify (the Ombudsman only processes cases on a written basis). For instance if the citizen and the authority disagree about facts that cannot be assessed on the existing written basis.
  • The Ombudsman does not have the expert knowledge needed to assess the case, such as medical expert knowledge.
  • The authority has made an assessment that the Ombudsman does not fully review because the authorities have more experience in the field.
  • The authority has already corrected the matter being complained about.
  • There are some minor problems with the case processing, but the authority’s result is correct.

Even if the authority has made some formal errors or has not fully complied with the rules, the Ombudsman assesses in these cases that further investigation of the errors would not help the complainant achieve a better outcome.

The case is closed with a brief letter, which is sent in copy to the authority.

The Ombudsman’s processing of the case will typically take place according to Section 16(1) and (2) of the Ombudsman Act.

5. The Ombudsman carries out a detailed investigation

About one in 20 complaints leads to a detailed Ombudsman investigation. In these cases, the Ombudsman usually sends a hearing with specific questions to the authority and asks for the documents in the case. Usually, the complainant has the opportunity to comment on the authority’s reply.

There may be several so-called hearing rounds before the Ombudsman writes his final statement.

The Ombudsman determines if all aspects of the complaint are to be investigated.

No interviews or searches

The Ombudsman investigates cases on a written basis and therefore builds his statements on the documents in the case, the authority’s statements and the citizen’s comments.

The Ombudsman does not carry out interviews like the courts or searches like the police.

The authorities must give the Ombudsman the information and documents that the Ombudsman asks for, and the authorities must tell the truth. The authorities must also give a statement if the Ombudsman asks for it. This is set out in Section 19 of the Ombudsman Act.

Criticism and recommendation

If the authority has made errors, the Ombudsman can criticise and possibly recommend that the authority reopen the case and make a new decision.

The Ombudsman cannot demand that the authorities follow a recommendation – however, in practice they always do.