It can be very upsetting to find out that there is a problem with your relative’s care, but a good care provider should welcome feedback and do their best to put things right.

On this page we explain how to raise awareness of a problem and then go on to give information about keeping records and the 5 steps to take when writing a letter of complaint.

1. Raising awareness of the problem
2. Escalating a complaint
3. Keeping records
4.Writing a letter of complaint
5. Making complaints count

If you need to make a complaint about a care home or domiciliary agency, there are procedures in place to help you take your worries further. Don’t be afraid to speak up – if you don’t raise concerns, nothing can be done about them. Raising awareness of problems could help to make things better for your relative, as well as for other people being cared for by the same provider.

Raising awareness of the problem

Speak to the care home/agency manager to give them a chance to investigate, explain and put things right. Tell them what you want them to do. Don’t be worried about raising issues. If you don’t speak up, then improvements can’t be made or problems resolved. Most problems can be easily resolved at this stage.

Refusing care

If it looks like a carer hasn’t been doing certain tasks for your relative, check to see whether this is because your relative has refused care - in which case, a carer legally can’t do what was originally asked of them.

If your relative doesn’t want certain things done for them, this should be noted in the daily report sheets by the carer. If the pattern of refusal continues, always follow this up with the agency manager. This applies to all clients, regardless of their mental or physical health.

If the local authority is funding your relative’s care, complain to them  if you would prefer not to raise the issue directly with the care home/agency, or if you are not satisfied with their resolution of your complaint. All local authorities are required by law to have an official complaints procedure. You should also complain to the local authority if you have a concern about the council itself, for example about an assessment or funding allocation, or the way a member of council staff has treated you (see Challenging local authority and NHS assessments for more information).

Escalating a complaint

If you are a self-funder and are unhappy with the provider’s resolution of the complaint, your next step should be to complain to the local government ombudsman. Each country in the UK has its own ombudsman (see Useful organisations and websites).

While the national regulators (for example, the Care Quality Commission in England) monitor all care providers, they do not investigate individual complaints. However, you may want to let the regulator know about concerns you have about your relative’s care home/agency to help to ensure that the issue is addressed and does not affect others.

If you are unhappy with an ombudsman’s decision, you can appeal it through a judicial review. This is a complicated process and you would need expert legal help.

Keeping records 

If you take a complaint further, it’s very important to keep accurate records that you can refer back to. Remember to:

  • put everything in writing, where possible, so that there is a record of correspondence
  • keep notes of telephone calls: who you spoke to, when it was and what was said
  • keep notes of meetings: who was there, what was said and what conclusions were reached
  • keep a diary of issues relating to your complaint as evidence of what happened, when. If you witness an incident that you are unhappy about, write down everything that happened so that you can remember the details accurately.

Writing a letter of complaint

If you choose to write a letter of complaint, you should include the following information:

1. Outline the problem: who or what has caused your concerns. Try to outline the most important points. If you are complaining about a member of staff, give their name and position (if you know it).

2. Where and when the events took place.

3. What action you have already taken, if any, and what responses you have had.

4. What results you want from your complaint.

5. For further advice if you live in England, contact your local Healthwatch organisation (see Useful organisations and websites), who can tell you if there are any advocacy organisations in your area that can help you progress your complaint. As the ‘consumer champion’ for health and social care providers in your area, it is always worth letting your local Healthwatch know about any problems so that they can use this to help improve service provision in your area.

Which? has launched a campaign to make complaints count in public services.

Which? research reveals a third of people who have experienced a problem with public services in the past year didn't complain, with key reasons being not knowing who to complain to and thinking it wouldn't be worth the effort.

The Make Complaints Count campaign is calling on the government to pledge to be the champion of patients, parents and all users of public services.

Make your voice heard - sign your name and share your experiences

More information

Page last reviewed: 29 February 2016
Next review due: 31 October 2017