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Consumer Rights.

How to challenge a local authority decision on social care

If you're unhappy with a local authority decision relating to social care, you have a right to challenge it.
Which?Editorial team

Local authority decisions about your care

If you or a loved one has had an assessment of care needs carried out by a local authority, and you are unhappy with the way it was conducted or the outcome, you have a right to appeal or complain.

This could be following a:

  • Needs assessment: a free assessment by the council to establish what type and what level of care you need to stay safe and independent. 
  • Financial assessment: a means test carried out by the council to determine how much financial support, if any, you are eligible to receive.
  • Carer’s assessment: to see if you’re eligible to receive support because you provide providing care for someone.

Reasons why you might want to challenge a decision

Here are some possible reasons you could be dissatisfied after a local authority assessment.

  • You have not seen a copy of the assessment, or you’ve not had a chance to comment on or sign it.
  • The assessment didn’t cover all your (or your loved one’s) needs. There should be a record of all presenting needs, not just those classed as ‘eligible’.
  • You are unhappy with the outcome of a financial assessment and can’t afford what the council is asking for.
  • The local authority didn’t offer any feasible options for meeting non-eligible needs. Local authorities are supposed to signpost people to other services that could meet non-eligible needs.
  • You don’t agree with the judgments about which needs were ‘eligible’.
  • You don’t agree with the way your (or your loved one’s) needs are described.
  • The assessment failed to offer clear outcomes (the difference the service is meant to make to your life) or the outcomes are not appropriate or not of your choice.
  • The choice of service suggested by the care plan won’t meet needs or won’t deliver the intended outcome.
  • The amount of service offered will not meet eligible needs.
  • There have been unacceptable delays in carrying out the assessment or making decisions.
  • Poor customer service or rude staff.

Making a complaint

If you want to challenge a local authority decision, you should first complain to the relevant local authority itself. Start by asking if there is a dedicated appeals process for social care decisions. If your local authority has a dedicated appeals process, this will be the quickest way to get your complaint resolved.

If the local authority does not have a dedicated appeals process for social care decisions, you will need to raise a complaint through their standard complaints procedure. 

All councils are legally obliged to have a formal complaints procedure. They should publish information to make it clear to users that they are entitled to a review; explain how to request a review; and explain how to make a complaint.

This information should be available on the local authority website and given to you at the time of the assessment.

In Wales, the regional government has published guidance that local authorities must use when dealing with complaints about local authority social services.

Tips for a successful complaint

Follow these pointers to give your complaint the best chance of success.

  • Make it clear that your letter or email is a formal complaint by stating this at the top.
  • Include all the relevant facts, and give dates, times and names wherever possible.
  • Attach copies of all relevant documents.
  • Keep your complaint as brief and to the point as possible.
  • Say what you would like to happen – for example, you would like an apology or a review.
  • Be polite.
  • Keep a copy for your own records.

Contact an ombudsman: your final option

If you’re not satisfied with the local authority’s response and you believe the fault is down to a service or administrative error, your final option is to take the matter to an ombudsman. 

Once the ombudsman has decided whether it can legally deal with your complaint, it will then have up to 12 months to provide you with a resolution.

Contact the appropriate national ombudsman as follows:

In England: Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman

In Northern Ireland: Northern Ireland Ombudsman

In Scotland: Scottish Public Services Ombudsman

In Wales: Public Services Ombudsman for Wales


If your complaint relates to social care, you might also want to let your local Healthwatch know about your issue. Healthwatch are the independent national champion for people who use health and social care services. They make sure that those running services, and the government, put people at the heart of care.

There is a local Healthwatch in every area of England and, through these teams, the organisation finds out what people want. This then enables them to advocate for services that meet local communities' needs. They also encourage people running services to involve people in making changes to care.