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What you can complain to the Ombudsman about

The Ombudsman can consider complaints about injustice caused to the complainant by maladministration or unfairness by the Canal & River Trust and the Avon Navigation Trust. The Waterways Ombudsman does not consider complaints about canals in Scotland. That is the responsibility of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman at BWML now rebranded as Aquavista, is no longer part of the Canal & River Trust, and complainants do not have access to an Ombudsman Scheme.

Maladministration covers a wide range of failings including:

  • unreasonable delays;
  • doing something the wrong way;
  • doing things which should not have been done;
  • failing to do something which should have been done.

Complaints can be considered about most aspects of the work of the Trusts. However, the following types of complaint are outside the Ombudsman's jurisdiction:

  • matters relating to employment, or voluntary work;
  • donations or legacies to the Trust.

I can refuse to consider a complaint, for example if the person submitting the complaint has not already completed the final level of the  Trust's internal complaints process, or where the complaint is being, or has been previously, considered by a court, tribunal, other judicial or regulatory body or another ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) entity. There is a more detailed explanation in paragraph 31 of the Rules about situations where the Ombudsman can refuse to deal with a complaint.

If you have a complaint about the waterways responsibilities of the Environment Agency, the Parliamentary Ombudsman may be able to consider your complaint. For details of the Parliamentary Ombudsman please go to

Who can complain

Any person can complain and the service is free. The Ombudsman will accept complaints submitted in English or Welsh, but will conduct ADR procedures in English.

Very large businesses, charities and trusts cannot generally complain to the Ombudsman, though that restriction does not apply to smaller organisations. If you are not sure whether your organisation can complain, check with the Ombudsman. Businesses, charities and trusts can generally only complain to the Ombudsman if their annual turnover is less than £1m.

When to complain

You can find information about the Canal and River Trust’s procedure here. Once you have completed the first level of the procedure, you have 12 months to escalate it to the second level. You then need to complain to the Ombudsman within 12 months of completing the second level of the organisation’s internal procedure.

The Ombudsman can generally only consider complaints which have already completed the final stage of the organisation’s internal complaints procedure. The only exceptions are:

  • complaints which are deemed to have completed the procedure because it has failed (eg if you do not receive a final response within the relevant time and there is no reasonable explanation why this has not happened);
  • complaints about the way complaints have been handled.

How to complain and accessibility of the Waterways Ombudsman Scheme

If you are not satisfied with the second level response (or do not get one in time) you should contact the Ombudsman. Complaints can be submitted by email, post or telephone. In your complaint you need to say:

  • what you think has been done wrongly;
  • what you think should be done to put things right. It is helpful if you include copies of any relevant documents, such as previous complaints correspondence, especially the second level  letter from the Trust.

If you submit your complaint to the Ombudsman by email or by post, you should set out the reason for your complaint, how it has affected you, what detriment you have suffered and how it could have been avoided or rectified.

You can contact the Ombudsman by: 

Telephoning on 01925 263970

As the Ombudsman works part time, sometimes she cannot respond to calls immediately but will get back to you as soon as she is able. 

Emailing to 

Or by writing to: 

The Waterways Ombudsman
PO Box 1340

If you would like any help before making your complaint or have any additional requirements please feel free to email or telephone the Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman can provide, on request, information in large print, and will also consider individual requests, such as for translations. Should it be necessary, such as to assist the investigation process, or where complainants have particular needs or requirements, the Ombudsman can visit complainants. Where appropriate, extended submission or response times will be granted, for example for reasons of ill-health, disability or holidays.