Civil Service Commission

CSC Open Week Thursday 21 March - Questions and Answers

We have a follow up question from Helen in HMCTS about Civil Service Code complaints received by the Commission:

Thank you for your very informative reply.

When I asked about numbers and types of complaint you received I should have been more specific. I was referring to breaches of the code rather than recruitment. Do you get many complaints from Civil Servants about breach of the Code? And again are they upheld or dismissed?


The number of complaints about breaches of the Civil Service Code varies, but is around 20-30 a year. We summarise the categories of complaints in our annual reports which are all available on our website. You might like to look at the review of complaints received in 2011/12  As with recruitment complaints, the majority of complaints we receive tend to be outside our remit, with many of them related to HR management issues which are not covered by the Code and therefore outside our jurisdiction. Since 1996, we have carried out full investigations into 14 complaints and of those we upheld or partially upheld 11.

It is hard to be sure whether the number of complaints is an indicator of satisfaction with adherence to the Code or not, but we do know from the response rates to the annual Civil Service wide People Survey that awareness of the Code, and confidence in Code investigations has been growing across the Civil Service.

With best wishes.

Neil McIntosh
Civil Service Commissioner


Recruitment and the private sector

Duncan, a member of the public asks:

Please could you clarify to me whether private sectors recruitment are covered by your organization in relation to fair and open competition.


We cover all external recruitment to the civil service, wherever it comes from. But we are the Civil Service Commission and don’t, of course, cover recruitment by other sectors, like the private or voluntary sectors.

David Normington
First Civil Service Commissioner


Promotion panels

Marie from VOSA asks:

I wanted to ask some questions on your recruitment process:

The recruitment process says its open and fair competition, but I don’t agree.
I have done three boards so far and everyone of them have given different feedback as to why I never passed the board.
If these were fair competition surely there wouldn’t be such a vast difference between applications? One board would say you need to do this while another says it was wrong to do that? there is no consistency in the panels.

How do you ensure that panels are done properly? who monitors the panel? As you know with these kinds of interview there is always a reason you can find why someone never made that competency… I don’t think there is any equality in these interviews. If the panel want you for that job they will mark you up, while if they didn’t want you they could mark you down and always find a good reason for it….

What can you do to ensure that this doesn’t happen? why are boards not done by an external panel to ensure equality throughout?

Hello Marie.

We have had quite a few questions and comments this week about internal promotion boards and panels, which we will pass on to Departments. But I am afraid the Commission has no powers over these internal processes. Our legal powers relate to external recruitment to the civil service at all levels, where we put a lot of effort into ensuring that recruitment processes are fair; and will investigate complaints from people who feel they have been treated unfairly. If you are dissatisfied with internal boards and panels, then you should raise that with your Department’s or Agency’s management or HR department.

David Normington
First Civil Service Commissioner


Today’s first question comes from Helen in HMCTS and concerns internal vacancy filling and competition and the Commission’s handling of recruitment complaints:

Given the purpose of the Commission is to ensure (amongst other things) open and fair competition in appointments, does the Commission think it is fair to have people on temporary promotion for up to two years when there was no open and fair competition for the temporary arrangement and individuals are selected to “act up”? Do you agree that carrying out a role for 2 years (sometimes longer) gives an individual a significant advantage in any competition for the substantive post? Is the Commission in a position to issue direction or guidance that will ensure this practice of temporary promotion without competition ceases?

How many complaints do you hear (on average) each year?

How many are upheld/dismissed?

It would be interesting if you were able to provide any examples of the type of issues you deal with.

Helen, thank you for your questions. We have received a number of questions around internal promotions. As we have explained, the Commission only has a role in relation to competitions for entry into the Civil Service, not on internal movement. However it is clear from the questions we have received that there are concerns in various parts of the Civil Service about how internal vacancies are being filled. When our Open Week is over we will be summarising the concerns that have been raised to us so that we as Commissioners can get a full picture, and we will also be sharing this with Permanent Secretaries and Human Resources Directors so they can see the sorts of issues that are concerning civil servants. I will ensure that your concerns are included in that summary.

You also ask about the numbers and types of complaints that the Commission receives. Over the last few years we have been receiving between 10 and 20 complaints of breach of the Recruitment Principles each year. Perhaps this isn’t that many, but we make it a requirement that complaints must be put to the recruiting department before they are brought to us, and many issues are resolved at this level without them having to come to the Commission.

A breach may have potentially occurred where a department has run a recruitment exercise open to external candidates where the principles of merit, fairness and openness have not been applied correctly. For example, appointing someone out of merit order after a competition i.e. not appointing the best person to do the job would be a breach of merit; evidence of bias in the assessment of candidates would be a breach of fairness; and if some applicants were given more information about a vacancy than others, this might be a breach of openness.

However, the majority of complaints we receive tend to be about dissatisfaction with the recruitment decision, rather than any inherent unfairness in the process, and these are not breaches. To date, we’ve only upheld one complaint involving an actual breach of the Recruitment Principles.
It is really helpful to have your concerns brought to our attention. Thank you.

With best regards.

Neil McIntosh
Civil Service Commissioner