For anyone complaining of these, for example to the SPSO, it is important to know what these terms mean. Misunderstanding them can sometimes result in the submission of invalid complaints. A general SPSO glossary of terms can be viewed by clicking here while the following web link specifically covers maladministration issues:

February 28th 2018: The following link has been replaced with this page:

Maladministration and Service Failure

The Ombudsman Act says that the SPSO can only investigate a complaint relating to maladministration or service failure, which a member of the public feels has caused them injustice or hardship.

The Act does not define 'maladministration'. A dictionary definition of the term is 'bad, inefficient or dishonest administration'. This can cover things like unreasonable delay, rudeness, or failure to apply the law or rules properly. Further examples (the so called 'Crossman' and 'Reid' lists) can be found in an Annex to the Scottish Executive document A modern complaints system: The new Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.

The term 'service failure' covers failure in a service provided or failure to provide a service that should be provided.

The Ombudsman Act says that the SPSO cannot question the merits of a decision taken without maladministration. This means we cannot look at a complaint just because somebody is unhappy about something a public body has done (or not done). There has to some evidence of maladministration or service failure. Also, although we can look at whether the law's been applied properly, we don't interpret the law; only the Courts can do that.

A Scottish Government web page gives examples:

Annex B Examples of maladministration

The term 'maladministration' is not defined in the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman Act 2002. Nor was it defined in previous Ombudsman legislation, e.g. the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967. When the 1967 Act was being taken through the UK Parliament, Mr Crossman, as Leader of the House of Commons, gave the following examples of maladministration:

'bias, neglect, inattention, delay, incompetence, ineptitude, perversity, turpitude and arbitrariness and so on'.

This is known as the 'Crossman catalogue'.

Additional examples of maladministration were quoted in the UK Parliamentary Ombudsman's annual report for 1993:

  • rudeness (although that is a matter of degree);
  • unwillingness to treat the complainant as a person with rights;
  • refusal to answer reasonable questions;
  • neglecting to inform a complainant on request of his or her rights or entitlements;
  • knowingly giving advice which is misleading or inadequate;
  • ignoring valid advice or overruling considerations which would produce an uncomfortable result for the 'overruler';
  • offering no redress or manifestly disproportionate redress;
  • showing bias because of colour, sex, or any other grounds;
  • omission to notify those who thereby lost a right of appeal;
  • refusal to inform adequately of the right of appeal;
  • faulty procedures;
  • failure by management to monitor compliance with adequate procedures;
  • cavalier disregard of guidance which is intended to be followed in the interest of equitable treatment of those who use a service;
  • partiality; and
  • failure to mitigate the effects of rigid adherence to the letter of the law where this produces manifestly inequitable treatment.

This annex is not intended to be a comprehensive definition of maladministration - it is simply a list of examples which have been used in the past. Further definitive guidance on matters which may be covered by the term maladministration may be produced by the Ombudsman in due course.