Making a complaint in prison

The complaints system within prisons is the main way you can raise and resolve treatment which you think has been unfair or against the prison rules and instructions.


Prisoner Complaints Policy Framework is the main document which gives guidance on this. It says that prisoners should know how to make a complaint and have ready access to the means to do so.


Before making a complaint

Before making a complaint it is worth seeing if you can resolve the problem first.

  • You can speak to officers on your wing to see if they can help.
  • You can also make a request on an application form, which you should find on your wing.

How to make a complaint

You can make a complaint by completing a complaint form. This is also called a ‘COMP1’ form. On the form you should write down your name and prisoner number, explain your complaint and what you would like to be done about it.


Completed forms should be posted into locked complaints boxes specifically for the purpose on the wings.


Both ordinary complaint forms (COMP 1) and appeal forms (COMP 1A) must be made freely available to prisoners on the wing, close to the box in which the completed forms are submitted.


Complaint forms have a detachable slip. This should be completed and returned to you as soon as possible to confirm that it has been recieved.


What if I have difficulty writing?

The complaints system should be inclusive.

  • Prisons must allow you to make a formal complaint in person to a member of staff if needed.
  • If you have limited use of English you must be allowed to submit a complaint in your own language, though the prison may require longer to respond to these cases.


When should I expect a response to my complaint?

You should receive a response to a complaint within 5 working days. 


If this is genuinely not possible the prison can provide an interim response to explain the reason for the delay and let you know when you should get a full reply. You should be kept informed about the progress of your complaint and receive the full response in a reasonable time.


More information about time limits can be found in Annex D of the Policy Framework


The  response


A complaint ‘should be answered by someone who is capable of providing an adequate and meaningful reply and is not the focus of the complaint’.


Staff are required to use a ‘problem solving approach’ when responding to complaints to ensure they deal with the real problem being raised. This means working out what the cause of the problem is, looking at possible solutions, and then implementing an agreed solution.


The Policy Framework says that:


‘Staff must apply ‘balance of probabilities’ as the standard proof to investigate complaints. Deciding that something is proven on a balance of probabilities means that it is more likely than not to have occurred. This requires that a dispute be resolved in favour of the party whose claims are more likely to be true, based on evidence provided.’

If your complaint is not upheld you should be given a clear explanation why.


What can I do if I am unhappy with the response?

Responses should address the issues raised, and should be polite and legible. A clear explanation should be provided for any complaint which is not upheld.


If you are unhappy with the response to your complaint you can appeal using a COMP 1A form, which you should do within 7 calendar days of receiving the response.


You should receive a response to the appeal within 5 working days. It should be from someone more senior than the person who provided the original response.


Can I take my complaint further after appeal?

If you feel a complaint is still not resolved after appeal, you can ask the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) to look into it.


There is more information about how to do this below, and in Annec C of the Prisoner Complaints Policy Framework.


Can I make a complaint about another prison?

If you would like to make a complaint about a previous prison you were in you can do so by submitting a complaint form at the prison you are currently in. You should not be asked to write to that prison yourself. The Policy Framework states:


The prison where the prisoner is located at the time he or she submits a complaint or appeal is responsible for ensuring that a response is required within required timescales. The prison where a prisoner was located when the subject of the complaint occured willbe responsible for providing the actual response to the complaint within the required timescales.


Can I make a complaint in a more private way?

If a complaint is about a particularly sensitive matter, you may wish to submit a confidential access complaint using a COMP 2 form. These forms and envelopes to seal them in should be readily available with the other forms.


You can address it to the Governor/ Director of the prison, the Prison Group Director (PGD) or the Chair of the local Independent Monitoring Board (IMB).


We advise using this only when appropriate as otherwise it can be returned to you to use the standard complaints system and delay you getting a full response. Read the notes on the COMP 2 form carefully to help you decide if your complaint is suitable.


Reserved subjects

Complaints about some subjects cannot be considered internally in the prison. These are known as ‘reserved subjects’ and must be sent to the Prison Group Director (or the equivalent for private prisons) or the relevant team at HMPPS for a response.


Reserved Subjects are:

  • Allegations against the governor
  • Litigation against the Prison Service
  • Deportation

You should still use a COMP1 form to complain about a reserved subject. You should expect a reply within about 6 weeks.


There is no internal appeal against the response to a complaint about a reserved subject. If you are dissatisfied with the response you received you should contact the Prison and Probation Ombudsman. 


Can use of the complaints system be restricted?

The prison can impose restrictions on the number of complaints you make, such as limiting you to one per day, if you are considered to be abusing the complaint process.  However, the Prisoner Complaints Policy Framework is clear that ‘a prisoner’s right to make a complaint must not be completely withdrawn in any circumstances’.


The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman

You can write to someone called the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) if you have already tried to solve your complaint with prison staff and you are still not happy.


The ombudsman does not work for the prison. Their job is to look at complaints from prisoners about their management, supervision, care and treatment


The Ombudsman will only be able to investigate your complaint if:

  • you have completed the internal complaints process
  • it is less than three months since you had a response to the final stage of your complaint
  • there is a substantial issue raised
  • you are the person directly affected by the complaint you have raised

Tell the ombudsman as much as you can when you write to them. They will not

normally come and speak to you themselves so you need to tell them as much

as you can in your letter.


If the ombudsman thinks you were not treated in the right way, they may ask

the governor to change their decision or recommend changes to the head of

the Prison Service.


Write to the ombudsman at:

Prisons and Probation Ombudsman

PO Box 70769



Or phone on:

020 7633 4100 or 0845 010 7938

Please be aware that the PPO now run a voicemail service so that they can spend more time investigating complaints. The PPO have advised that they check messages daily and that if they need to speak to you after hearing a messgae, they will contact you through the prison to arrange this.

More information can be found in Annex C of the Prisoner Compliants Policy Framework.

Complaints about health

If your complaint is to do with health you should speak to the healthcare team in the prison first. Healthcare service should have their own complaints process and be able to give you information on this. This is a separate complaints system to the one used by the prison.


Please see our information sheet Your health in prison for more details.

Other people you can contact about your complaint


Your MP

You can write to the MP for your home area.


Make sure you write your home address on your letter to them.


You can ask your MP to pass on your complaint to the Parliamentary and

Health Services Ombudsman for them to look at as well.


Your solicitor.

Your solicitor can help you with any questions to do with the law.


The Police.

You can write to the local police if you think that a crime has been committed. Ask

someone called the police liaison officer in prison for the right address to send your

letter to.


You can send a petition to the Queen, parliament or your member of European Parliament.

There is more information in Annexes A and G of PSI 02/2012 Prisoner Complaints.

There is a form in there you can copy to make your petition.


The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.

If you have been injured because someone committed a violent crime against you,

you can write to this organisation. They work to give people compensation (money)

for injuries they get because of violent crime or for some other reasons. You can

write to them at:


Tay House

300 Bath Street


G2 4LN

Further information

Useful PSIs and PSOs (these should be available in the library):

Prisoner Complaints Policy Framework



Prisoners’ Advice Service information sheet ‘Complaints

For a print-ready version of this information, click here