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Making complaints

If you, or the person you are looking after, are having issues with the local council/trust, the NHS or a care service, you or they could make a complaint to try and resolve these issues.


This information applies to people living in England, Wales, Scotland & Northern Ireland.


You as a carer can make a complaint about any treatment, decisions or services which are for you (eg treatment from the local council/trust when having a carer’s assessment, a decision made during a carer’s assessment or services provided as a result of a carer’s assessment).

You can also make a complaint in a ‘representative’ capacity about any treatment, decisions or services which are for the person you are looking after if they:

  • agree that you can make a complaint on their behalf (the person you care for will normally have to sign a letter that they agree to this); or
  • lack enough mental capacity to make a complaint on their own behalf or
  • do not wish to complain but the complaint raises issues of such importance that it should be investigated anyway

Note: In Northern Ireland to make a complaint on someone’s behalf the Health and Social Care Trust must accept that you are a suitable representative.


Making a complaint to the local council/trust

If you, or the person you are looking after, are unhappy with the way you have been treated by, with a decision made by, or with a service provided by the local council/trust, you or they can make a complaint to try and resolve this issue.

A complaint to your local council/trust about social care services is considered in a different way to a complaint about other council services such as collection of rubbish.

Local council’s in each nation have to follow the Law and statutory guidance when dealing with complaints about social care.

You can make a complaint in writing, orally or by email, and whichever method you use you should make it clear that it is a complaint. Complaints should normally be made within 12 months of the incident or issue you are complaining about, unless there are special circumstances.

The complaints procedure varies depending on whether you live in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.

England

In England you should use your local council’s complaints procedure. You should ask for a copy of their complaints procedure and the contact details of their complaints manager.

For some tips on making your complaint see the section called top tips for making a complaint below.

Your complaint should be acknowledged within three working days. The local council should offer to meet with you to discuss the complaint, how it will be handled and explain possible results. The complaint should then be investigated speedily and efficiently.

The investigation should be done within a reasonable time, usually within six months. When it is finished you should be given a written explanation of how your complaint was considered and the conclusion the local council has reached.

If you are still not happy you can take the matter to the Local Government Ombudsman.

Wales

In Wales you should use your local council’s complaints procedure. You should ask for a copy of their complaints procedure and the contact details of their complaints manager.

For some tips on making your complaint see the section called top tips for making a complaint below.

The complaints procedure has two stages:

1) Local resolution - The local council must always offer to discuss a complaint with you to try and resolve the matter. This discussion must take place within 10 working days. If the matter is not resolved you can go to the next stage.
2) Formal investigation - The complaint will be investigated by an Independent Investigator, someone who is not employed by the local council. The local council must respond to you within 25 working days. A report with findings, conclusions and recommendations must be produced.

If you are still not happy you can take the matter to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales.

Scotland

In Scotland you should use your local authority’s social work complaints procedure. You should ask for a copy of their complaints procedure and contact details of their complaints manager.

The social work complaints procedure has three stages:

1) Informal problem solving - If you are unhappy with the service you have received tell the manager of your local social work office. The council will try to mediate and resolve the complaint.
2) Complain in writing – Your complaint should be acknowledged within 5 days and the council should reply within 28 days with their findings. They should tell you that if your complaint is still not resolved you have the right to request a review by a Complaints Review Committee (CRC).
3) Complaints Review Committee (CRC) - If the complaint is not resolved and you want a CRC you must ask the council for this within 28 days of receiving their letter. A CRC must meet and report their findings within 56 days of your request.

If you are not happy you can complain to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland you should use the local Health and Social Care Trust complaints procedure. You should ask for a copy of their complaints procedure and the contact details of their complaints manager.

For some tips on making your complaint see the section called top tips for making a complaint below.

The Health and Social Care complaints procedure has two stages.

1) Local resolution - You can speak to any member of staff who is involved in your treatment or care about your complaint, or you can write to the person in charge of complaints where you received your treatment and care. If the matter is not resolved you can go to the next stage.
2) Formal complaint - You can make a formal complaint to the relevant Trust (this is also known as asking for an Independent Review of the complaint). Your Trust should acknowledge your complaint within two or three working days. Once they have investigated your complaint you should be sent a full written response within 20 working days of receipt if your complaint. The Trust should let you know if they need more time.

The Patient and Client Council can help you to complain about any part of health and social care. 

If you are not still happy you can take the matter to the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman.

Judicial review

In England, Wales, Scotland & Northern Ireland you may be able to take legal action to ask a court to review a decision made by a local council/trust. This is called judicial review.

Judicial review is a type of court proceeding in which a judge reviews the lawfulness of a decision or action made by a public body. Judicial reviews are a challenge to the way in which a decision has been made, rather than the rights and wrongs of the conclusion reached.

Judicial review may also be appropriate if you urgently need to challenge a decision.

You will need specialist legal advice about seeking a judicial review.

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Making a complaint to the NHS

If you, or the person you are looking after, are unhappy with the way you have been treated by, with a decision made by, or with a service provided by the NHS, you or they can make a complaint to try and resolve this.

The complaints procedure varies depending on whether you live in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.

Wherever you live, you should ask the service for a copy of their complaints procedure.

England

In England you should make your complaint as soon as possible. Complaints should normally be made within 12 months of the date of the event that you're complaining about, or as soon as you found out about the problem.

For some tips on making your complaint see the section called top tips for making a complaint below.

All NHS services should have their own complaints procedure with two stages:

1) Raise your concern with the service provider or the body which commissions the service
- You can do so in person, in writing or by email.
- Your complaint must be acknowledged no later than three working days from when it is received.
- The organisation must offer to discuss with you how the complaint will be handled and likely timescales for dealing with it. There are no limits on how long they can take to deal with your complaint but it has to be in a reasonable time. If you feel that there has been an unreasonable delay, you can go to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, although they don’t usually investigate unless local resolution has finished.
- After six months, if the organisation hasn’t yet sent you a response, they have to write to you to explain the reason for the delay.
- There are organisations that can help you make a complaint, for example, your local Healthwatch.
2) Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman
- If you are still not happy you can take the matter to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

 Wales

In Wales the word 'concern' is used to mean any reported complaint, claim or patient safety incident. You should raise your concern as soon as possible. Concerns should normally be raised within 12 months of the date of the event that you’re complaining about, or as soon as you found out about the problem.

For some tips on making your complaint see the section called top tips for making a complaint below.

The procedure for ‘raising a concern’ has two stages:

1) Raise your concern with the service provider or your local health board
- You can do so in person, in writing or by email.
- Your concern must be acknowledged within two working days.
- The organisation must investigate and let you know what they have found and what they are going to do about it in most cases, within 30 working days. If they can’t reply to you in that time, they should give you reasons why and let you know when you can expect a reply.
- You can get help with raising a concern from your local Community Health Council.
2) Public Service Ombudsman for Wales
- If you are still not happy you can take the matter to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales.

Scotland

In Scotland a complaint should be made as soon as possible after the action complained about. The actual time limit is six months from the date of the incident, except where a complainant is not aware of there being cause for complaint. In such a case, the time limit is six months from the complainant becoming aware of something being wrong as long as it is within 12 months of the date of the incident.

For some tips on making your complaint see the section called top tips for making a complaint below.

All NHS services should have their own complaints procedure with two stages:

1) Raise your concern with the service provider or feedback and complaints team at your local NHS Board
- Your complaint should be acknowledged within three working days.
- You should be offered an opportunity to talk to the NHS complaints team, given information about the local Patient Advice and Support Service (PASS) service and about mediation services if this may be helpful.
- The NHS should investigate your complaint and give you a full response within 20 working days. If more time is needed to give a full response they must keep you informed.
- You can get help with making a complaint about a health service from the Patient Advice and Support Service.
2) Scottish Public Services Ombudsman
- If you are still not happy you can take the matter to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland a complaint should be made as soon as possible after the action complained about. The normally time limit is six months from the date of the incident, except where a complainant is not aware of there being cause for complaint. In such a case, the time limit is six months from the complainant becoming aware of something being wrong. These time limits can be extended in some circumstances.

For some tips on making your complaint see the section called top tips for making a complaint below.

The Health and Social Care complaints procedure has three stages:

1) Raise your concern with the service provider for local resolution.
- You can speak to any member of staff who is involved in your treatment or care about your complaint, or you can write to the person in charge of complaints where you received your treatment and care.
- Most oral complaints should be resolved within two working days.
- Investigation and resolution of complaints should be completed within 20 working days.

2) Formal complaint (also called an Independent Review) to the Health and Social Care Trust.
- Your HSCT should acknowledge your complaint within 2 or 3 working days.
- Once they have investigated your complaint you should be sent a full written response within 20 working days of receipt if your complaint. The Board should let you know if they need more time.
- You can get help with making a complaint about any part of health and social care from The Patient and Client Council

3) Health and Social Care Ombudsman.
- If you are not happy with the response you can refer your complaint to the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman.

Judicial review

In England, Wales, Scotland & Northern Ireland you may be able to take legal action to ask a court to review a decision made by the NHS. This is called judicial review.

Judicial review is a type of court proceeding in which a judge reviews the lawfulness of a decision or action made by a public body. Judicial reviews are a challenge to the way in which a decision has been made, rather than the rights and wrongs of the conclusion reached.

Judicial review may also be appropriate if you urgently need to challenge a decision.

You will need specialist legal advice about seeking a judicial review.

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Making a complaint about a care service

If you, or the person you are looking after, are unhappy with a care service, you or they can do both of the following:

  • make a complaint to the care service
  • tell the relevant service regulator for your nation about the matter

Making a complaint to the care service

All care services will have a complaints procedure which you can ask for before you make a complaint.

If the local council/trust helped to arrange the care service then you can also make a complaint to them (see making a complaint to the local council/trust for further information on how to do this).

For some tips on making your complaint see the section called top tips for making a complaint below.

In England the relevant service regulator is the Care Quality Commission (CQC). The CQC do not settle individual complaints, but they still want you to tell them about your experiences of care. Your information is valuable to the CQC as it helps them decide when, where and what to inspect.

We have more information on another page of our website, here. http://www.carersuk.org/help-and-advice/practical-support/getting-care-and-support/care-standards-and-cqc

In Wales the relevant service regulator is the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales. The Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales do not consider individual complaints; however they welcome the concerns, comments and compliments about any service provider from people who use the services they regulate.

In Scotland the relevant service regulator is the Care Inspectorate. If you are not happy with the level of care you, or someone you care for is receiving, the Care Inspectorate would encourage you, in the first instance to speak to the service providing the care about your concerns. However, you can choose to complain directly them.

In Northern Ireland the relevant service regulator is the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority. The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority does not investigate individual complaints. However, they recognise that complaints and feedback play a very important role in health and social care, and provide important information about service users’ experiences.

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Top tips for making a complaint

These tips may help to make the process easier both for you and for the person dealing with your complaint.

Don’t delay

  • complain to the council/trust, NHS or care service as soon as possible after the event –there may be a time limit and it is much easier to remember all the details
  • if you are unhappy with the reply you may have the opportunity to take your complaint to a second stage - again do so as soon as possible and explain why you are not satisfied with the first reply

Make checks

  • when you have decided to complain, make sure you are complaining to the right organisation, and the right department within that organisation

Make it clear that it’s a complaint

  • make it clear that it is a complaint, and you want it put through the complaints procedure - ask for details of the complaints procedure and find out who will be handling your complaint

Put it in writing

  • it is helpful to put your complaint in writing if you can - if this isn't something you feel comfortable doing you could ask a friend/family member or a local advice agency to help you - you can write ‘complaint’ at the top of your letter or email, so there can be no doubt that it is a complaint you are making
  • date your letter and ask for a reply to your letter within the timescales set out by the local council/trust, the NHS or the care service
  • give your contact details (telephone, email and address) so that if the person dealing with the complaint needs more information they can contact you and ask

Be clear and brief

  • cover all the relevant points but be as clear and brief as you can - it is best to avoid writing long letters or emails – you may feel you need to write in great detail but in most cases this will not be necessary
  • it may be easier to read a letter using numbered lists and headings to highlight the important issues

Be clear about what you want

  • explain clearly what you hope to achieve by complaining - but be realistic - your aims need to be fair and proportionate to the problems you have had

Be polite

  • whether writing or speaking, try to remain polite and calm
  • be assertive, not aggressive - your experience of making a complaint is likely to be more productive if you calmly discuss the issues with the complaint officer

Check it through

  • ask someone such as a family member friend to read your complaint before you send it – if they can’t understand it then the person you send it to is likely to struggle too

Provide evidence

  • send copies of relevant documents – but only those that support your complaint or that will help the complaint officer understand your complaint - make sure you keep copies yourself - you may want to keep any original documents and send copies
  • keep notes of any telephone calls about the complaint, including the name of the person you spoke to - this may be important later

Respond appropriately

  • respond appropriately if asked to do so by the complaint officer - read any letters and documents that are sent to you - if for some reason you cannot reply within the stated timescale, such as if you are unwell or away on holiday, tell them why and ask for more time

Be patient

  • it may take some time for your complaint to be considered - don’t be afraid to chase politely if nothing seems to be happening to progress matters.
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