How can I contact the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman?

This article first featured in the May edition of Inside Time, written by the PPO for prisoners and detainees.

Decorative image showing complaints box for prisoners

In the April 2021 issue of Inside Time, we gave you an update on ‘what actually happens when you make a complaint’.

Since March 2020, Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) staff have been working from home with limited access to our office in Canary Wharf. This meant that for a while, we were unable to access any of our post, and since May 2020, we have redirected our post to a scanning company. Our new ways of working have meant that we are no longer able to return original documents to you, however HMPPS has agreed to photocopy complaint forms only for free so that you can send them to us. 

In June 2020, we began using the ‘Email a Prisoner’ service so that we could send messages to you quickly due to limited access to our office. Not everything is suitable for ‘Email a Prisoner’ so we will only email you if we are sure that the content is not confidential or sensitive. 

There are two other routes to contact us which are through our voicemail service and our general enquiries email account. We would like to take this opportunity to tell you what we do when we are contacted in these ways. 

What we do when we receive messages on our voicemail

Our assessment team monitors all voicemail messages that we receive each day of the working week.

When leaving a message on our voicemail, we ask that you give your name, prison number and the name of the prison in which you’re located so we can deal with your enquiry. Each message is listened to carefully (more than once if necessary) and we record the information from each message before determining whether further actions are needed. Further action might include; contacting a prison for more information about a complaint, e.g. copies of complaint forms or responses to complaints that you have made. If your voicemail message causes us to be worried about you, we might contact the prison to ask staff to check that you’re ok.

If we get a message from loved ones or family members, we will contact them if this is appropriate. Very often when we do, it is to advise them about the process that needs to be followed before the PPO can investigate a complaint. 

It is important to let you know that the PPO’s voicemail is not a shortcut or an alternative to the complaints procedure which must be completed before we can consider accepting a complaint for investigation. In the majority of cases we will contact complainants directly by letter or via ‘Email a Prisoner’ to request further information or to outline the complaints process so that you are aware of any next steps which you may need to follow.

What we do when we get emails sent to the PPO mail account 

The Ombudsman has a dedicated email inbox for all general enquiries: 

Much like the voicemail system, we monitor and reply to emails every working day. We routinely receive emails from relatives, solicitors and charity organisations acting on behalf of prisoners.

We keep a log of the messages that we receive and detail any actions that we take. We always ensure we have the signed authority from the prisoner or those on probation before sharing any information with a third party to comply with data protection. We do not share information or accept complaints without authority. When safeguarding concerns are raised by a relative, we ensure we pass this information onto the prison so it can be followed up. 

Those making complaints by email still have to provide evidence of going through the full internal complaint procedure. If the correct documents are scanned and sent to us by email, we assess the complaint and provide the email recipient with the decision on eligibility for the Ombudsman’s investigation. If you have a complaint against the Prison/Probation Service, you must go through their complaints process before referral to the Ombudsman and we expect that you write a short letter explaining the nature of your complaint and the reasons you remain unhappy with the responses you have received. We will consider investigating a complaint if the complainant has not received a response from the prison within 6 weeks of making the complaint or 45 working days for probation matters.

The most common reason that a complaint is ineligible is because the person complaining has not followed the correct complaints procedure. A complaint is eligible if it is from someone who has been through the relevant internal complaints process and they bring it to us within three months of receiving the final stage reply. The complaint must also be about something which is within our remit. It’s best if you use a separate letter for each complaint. That will ensure we focus on the right thing and don’t miss any important information. If you do have more than one complaint, we ask that you write a letter for each one.

You can contact the PPO by calling 0845 010 7938 (voicemail only) or you can write to us at: Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, Third Floor, 10 South Colonnade, London E14 4PU.

Author: Andy Morris and Agatha Eze

© Crown copyright, 2021

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When you use this information under the Open Government Licence, you should include the following attribution: Prisons and Probation Ombudsman for Inside Time, May 2021, licensed under the Open Government Licence.