November 19, 2009
If you are unhappy with the services provided by the social services department of your local authority, you can make a complaint.
Who do you complain to?
Stage one – local resolution
Discuss your complaint with the person providing the service or their manager.
Stage two – independent investigation
If you are not happy with the outcome write to the customer care manager at the social services department of your local authority to ask for an independent investigation.
The investigation will be carried out by someone who is unconnected with the service being complained about.
You should receive an explanation of the position within 28 days.
If you are a child, or complaining about a service to a child, then an independent person from outside the council will also be involved at this stage.
Stage three – review panel
If you are still not satisfied, you can ask for your complaint to be considered by a review panel. You must make this request within 28 days of receiving the complaints officer’s final response.
The panel will be appointed by the local authority.
You will be invited to submit written evidence to the panel, and to attend its meeting to give oral evidence. You may call witnesses to give evidence on your behalf, and can be represented by another person if you feel they are better able to present your case than you are. They must not be a legal professional however, and you should still attend the meeting yourself.
The panel makes its recommendations to the director of social services who will decide what action will be taken. You will be sent the panel’s decision, and the reasons for it, within 24 hours of the meeting.
Stage four – local government ombudsman
Contact the local government ombudsman. The ombudsman will not usually consider a complaint until the three previous stages of the procedure have been exhausted.
The ombudsman only deals with issues of maladministration in local government – complain to them about the way a local authority has handled its social services or the way it has handled your complaint
What grounds do you have to complain?
Services provided by social services departments (SSDs) include:
home care and home help services
meals on wheels
community care – including sheltered housing, residential care homes and nursing homes
foster services and children’s homes
You can complain to your SSD if:
the local authority in question is required to secure the provision of a social service for you (this usually just means you must be a resident of the local authority area)
your need or possible need for such a service has (by whatever means) already come to the attention of the local authority
You can complain about the actions, decisions or apparent failings of a local authority’s SSD, including comments on the availability, nature, quality, appropriateness, delivery and/or non-delivery of social services.
When you complain you should say what outcome you would be happy with.
You may also authorise someone else to complain on your behalf.
Local authorities are legally required to have a complaints procedure in relation to their social services functions. All social services departments should have a designated complaints officer and respond promptly to complaints.
Will you get a fair hearing?
Social services department complaints officers are local authority employees.
Complaints made by or on behalf of children are initially investigated by a complaints officer together with an independent person appointed by the local authority.
Review panels are groups of at least three people appointed by the local authority, at least one of whom is independent. Independent panel members are appointed from lists drawn up by local authorities in consultation with voluntary groups and other agencies, and should have experience relevant to the subject matter of the complaint.
The local government ombudsman is established by an act of parliament to be completely independent of government.
What will happen if you’re successful?
If the review panel finds in your favour, it will make recommendations about what the local authority should do to put things right. The local authority is required to reconsider its decision in the light of the panel’s findings, but it is not obliged to accept a review panel’s recommendations.
You will be notified of the outcome of the local authority’s reconsideration within 28 days of the date of the panel’s recommendation.
Local authorities may decide to reverse or change a decision and/or pay compensation. You may also be reimbursed for travelling and other expenses.
Allegations suggesting that a criminal offence may have been committed will always be referred to the police.
Anything else you can do?
The ombudsman’s decision is final, and there is no appeal facility. He/she also has complete discretion to decide whether to investigate a particular case or not. An investigation may only be reopened if new material evidence comes to light.
If you disagree with the ombudsman’s decision, or if the local authority refuses to comply with the ombudsman’s recommendations, you may still be able to take the local authority to court for compensation. If you are considering legal action, you should get advice from your local citizen’s advice bureau or law centre.
If the problem is not one of maladministration (and therefore cannot be referred to the ombudsman), but you are unhappy with the review panel’s recommendations, or with the decision of the local authority after its reconsideration of your case in the light of the panel’s recommendations, you can try writing to your local councillor.