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Consumer Rights.

24 November 2021

How to complain about a care provider

Don’t be afraid to speak up – unless you raise concerns, nothing can be done about it.
W
Which?Editorial team

Solving problems and making a complaint

If you need to make a complaint about a care home or another care provider, there are procedures in place to help you take your concerns further.

Don’t be afraid to speak up – if you don’t raise concerns, nothing can be done about it. Raising awareness of problems could help make things better for other people being cared for by the same provider.

Potential issues you might be concerned about

Here are some of the issues to look out for if you have concerns about the quality of care you or your loved one is experiencing. 

  • Carers not coming at required times: if you or your loved one receives care visits at home, are carers coming at the agreed times? If you have arranged care for someone else, you could make random visits or calls to check they are there when they are supposed to be and staying for the agreed amount of time. (Bear in mind, however, that the occasional late arrival can be unavoidable due to problems with the carer’s previous client.)
  • Care folder: are all entries up to date with the necessary detail?
  • Food hygiene: if you or your loved one is receiving care at home that includes meals, has the kitchen been left clean and tidy? Has any stored food been covered, dated and stored correctly? Have the bins been emptied?
  • Medication: have the day’s medications been given appropriately, left out to be taken later or not given at all?
  • Quality of personal care: are you or your loved one washed and in clean clothes? Is the clothing appropriate for the time of year and comfortable to use – not too tight or too loose, for example? Is the home clean and tidy?
  • Other needs being met: have useful items been left to hand, such as a telephone, walking frame, a jug of water and a glass, a knee blanket in colder weather, TV remote control? Is any emergency alarm to hand?
  • Toileting: has the commode or urine bottle been emptied and cleaned thoroughly?
  • Medical hygiene: does the carer use protective gloves/aprons for control of infection measures, or is there evidence of this? Have needles or dressings been disposed of properly?
  • Appropriate behaviour: do the care staff maintain an appropriate professional distance, or are they overly familiar? Do they use you or your loved one’s property inappropriately, eg using your/their telephone for their private phone calls? Do they misuse their time, eg chatting on their mobile rather than focusing their attention on caring?
  • General happiness: are you happy with the care you receive or, if you’ve arranged care for someone else, do they seem happy? Ask your loved one which carers they feel comfortable with, and if there are any they don’t like (and, if possible, the reasons they’re not keen on them).

Other factors to consider

Not all problems with care arrangements are the fault of the care staff. Consider whether there are other factors causing a problem.

If you’ve arranged care for someone and it looks like a carer hasn’t been doing certain agreed tasks, check whether this is because your loved one has refused care. A carer can’t force someone to accept care if the person chooses to refuse it.

If your friend or 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 not all the tasks on the carer’s list of duties are completed, consider whether too much is being asked of the carer in the allotted time and whether their visits need to be a little longer.

Raising awareness of the problem

The first step is always to speak to the care home/agency manager to give them a chance to investigate the issue, 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. A manager may not be aware there is an issue until you raise it. Most problems can be easily resolved at this stage; however, you may wish to agree a timeframe for a resolution.

The importance of keeping records 

If you need to take a complaint further, it’s important to keep accurate records 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 and when. If you witness an incident you’re unhappy about, write down everything that happened so you can remember the details accurately.  

Writing a letter of complaint

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

  • Outline the problem: who or what has caused your concerns. Try to outline the most important points. If you’re complaining about a member of staff, give their name and position (if you know it).
  • Where and when the events took place.
  • What action you have already taken, if any, and what responses you have had.
  • What results you want from your complaint.

Escalating a complaint: self-funded care

If you’re unhappy with the provider’s resolution of the complaint, your next step can be to complain to the public service ombudsman. Each country in the UK has its own ombudsman. 

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

Ombudsmen for care providers

For complaints about care providers, which you have been unable to resolve with your service provider directly.

In England: Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman

In Northern Ireland: Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman

In Scotland: Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO)

In Wales: Public Services Ombudsman for Wales

Care regulators

National care regulators monitor and regulate care providers in each UK nation. However, in England, Northern Ireland and Wales they do not investigate individual complaints. But they do welcome concerns and comments you may have about a regulated care provider, and this may help to ensure the issue is addressed and doesn’t affect others.

In Scotland, the Care Inspectorate does have the authority to investigate individual complaints about care providers. However, as in the rest of the UK, you should first try to resolve the issue directly with the provider. 

Escalating a complaint: local authority-funded care

If the local authority is funding care, complain to it if you’re not satisfied with the provider’s resolution of your complaint. All local authorities are required by law to have an official complaints procedure, which you should be able to find on its website.

We have specific guidance elsewhere for challenging a local authority decision relating to an assessment or funding allocation or the way a member of council staff has treated you.


Find your local authority – use the gov.uk website to find your local council and social services.


Abuse in care homes or at home

Cases of abuse in care homes or by an agency carer at home are rare, but if you suspect anyone is being abused by their carer, or you witness an incident, it can help to know what action to take. Abuse can be psychological, financial or physical.

If you suspect abuse

If you have a friend or relative in care who seems frightened, upset or unhappy, talk to them in private and get as much detail as possible. Be patient with them, as it may take them some time to give you the full story. Suggest that you report the matter to the care manager together and ask for an explanation or an investigation. 

If you’re not satisfied with the answer, contact the social care regulator in your country. 

If you’re still unsatisfied, you can contact the local council (regardless of whether they fund the care). All councils have procedures in place to deal with the protection of vulnerable adults and have the authority to intervene. 

If you witness abuse

If you see your friend, relative or another person being abused by a carer, challenge the abuser immediately and tell them to stop. Write down exactly what happened and speak to the care manager in private to report what you’ve seen. In serious cases, report the incident to the care regulator and/or local council immediately.

For independent advice or support, you can contact Hourglass, a charity that operates a free helpline for people concerned about older people who may be at risk of harm – call the helpline on 0808 808 8141.

Getting more support

As well as the regulators and ombudsmen already mentioned on this page, here are some other organisations that might be able to help if you have a complaint or concern about a care service.

Care Information Scotland

A telephone and website service providing information about care services for older people living in Scotland.

Helpline: 0800 011 3200

Healthwatch

The national consumer champion in England for health and care. If your complaint relates to social care, it’s worth letting your local Healthwatch know about any problems so it can use this to help improve service provision in your area. It can also tell you if there are any advocacy organisations in your area who can help you progress your complaint.

Telephone: 0300 068 3000

NHS Boards – Scotland

Website for the 14 regional NHS Boards in Scotland responsible for the protection and improvement of their population’s health.

NHS Complaints Advocacy – England

A free and independent service that helps you make a complaint about an NHS service.

Helpline: 0300 330 5454

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

The government organisation investigating complaints that individuals have been treated unfairly by, or received poor service from, the NHS and other public organisations in England and Wales.

Helpline: 0345 015 4033

Patient and Client Council – Northern Ireland

A government organisation in Northern Ireland; includes information on helping you make a complaint.

Telephone: 0800 917 0222

The Patients Association

A charity that campaigns for patients’ rights and offers help with complaints.

Telephone: 020 8423 8999

Relatives & Residents Association (R&RA) 

A charity that supports older people in residential care and their families. They provide independent advice and support, including a helpline, for older people needing care and the relatives and friends who help them.

Telephone: 020 7359 8136