What you should do if you are unhappy with decisions or services from social services and/or the NHS.  

Who can complain? Anyone who has been affected by the actions of social services or the NHS can make a complaint. This can be the person with disabilities, or a family member or carer.  

Time limits

Complaints have to be made within 12 months of an incident occurring that you were unhappy about, or notice being given. Complaints about incidents that occurred more than 12 months ago will only be accepted if there is good reason for the delay.


How to complain

You can make a complaint verbally, in writing or in an email. See our model template letter for making a complaint. If you make a verbal complaint, a copy of what you have said should be written out and sent to you, to make sure that your complaint has been understood.

Your local authority and NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) should have a complaints manager whose role is to take responsibility for managing the process for handling and considering complaints.  They should also have a 'responsible person' whose duty is to ensure the 2009 regulations and any required action following the outcome of the complaint are followed through.

What will happen to my complaint?

You should be sent an acknowledgement within three working days of the authority receiving the complaint. When the local authority or NHS acknowledges your complaint, it should offer you  the chance to discuss your complaint, and explain to you how it will be handled and how long it is likely to take to be resolved. If you choose not to discuss this with the authority the information should be sent to you in writing.

The complaint should then be investigated in as quick and effective a way as possible. This might mean that an internal investigation is carried out, or an investigation by someone outside of the organisation. You must be kept informed of progress.

How long will it take for my complaint to be resolved?

You should get a full response to your complaint within six months of the date you originally complained. If this isn’t possible, you should get a written explanation and a response should be provided as soon as possible afterwards. There is no set time frame within which a complaint must be fully responded to, but if there are significant delays, you could bring this to the attention of an ombudsman. See below for more about ombudsmen.

What happens when a decision is made about my complaint? Once the complaint investigation has been completed, a report will be written up about the way the complaint has been dealt with and the conclusions the investigation has reached. If any action is to be taken to resolve the issue, this will be confirmed. You will also be told about your right to contact the local government or health service ombudsmen if you are not happy with the response you receive.

Is there anything else I should know?

If you write a letter of complaint, send a copy to the complaints manager at the organisation. The complaints manager logs all complaints on a database. The manager also guides patients and staff through the complaints procedure and promotes changes in the service where they are thought to be needed.

You should keep a copy of all the letters that you send and only ever send copies of important supporting documents. Try not to send the original documents.

If you are happy with the local authority but have a problem with the service you are receiving you should complain to the person who manages that service as well as the local authority. If you live in residential accommodation with support and are not happy, you should speak to the manager of the home you are living in. The organisation that runs the home will have a complaints procedure which you are entitled to see. If you feel your complaint is not being listened to then whoever is responsible for managing your care package from within the local authority should also be informed. You should also talk to a friend or member of your family whom you trust.


If you want to take things further

If you have been through your local authority complaints procedure and you are still not happy with the way things have been handled you may be able to complain to the Ombudsman. The Health Service Ombudsman is very similar to the Local Government Ombudsman, but deals with complaints about the NHS. It investigates complaints about NHS hospitals, GPs, Clinical Commissioning Groups, health trusts, dentists, opticians, pharmacists and any other services provided by the NHS. It cannot look into complaints about private health services. It is recommended you get legal advice before considering the options below.

Local Government Ombudsman A complaint to the Ombudsman should normally be made within 12 months of the problem that you are complaining about.

You will not normally be able to complain to the Ombudsman until you have gone through the local authority complaints procedure.

The Ombudsman cannot deal with your complaint simply because you disagree with the decision. The Ombudsman can only deal with cases where ‘maladministration’ has occurred. Maladministration concerns the manner in which decisions are reached and the manner in which they are or are not implemented. Maladministration could include where:

  • the local authority has done something wrong or has failed to do something that they should have done
  • the local authority’s decision was delayed, or biased
  • the local authority did not follow their own procedures correctly.

The Ombudsman will be given access to all the relevant documents held by social services. Following the investigation the Ombudsman will prepare a report that will be sent to you and social services. The report will outline its findings and recommendations. If your complaint is upheld the ombudsman may recommend the local authority pay you compensation. The contact details for the Ombudsman are given at the end of this sheet.

Judicial review If you suspect that the local authority or NHS have acted outside the law, you may also be able to apply for leave to go to Judicial Review. This is a legal process, where the High Court reviews the decisions made by public bodies to ensure that they are within the law.

The High Court will usually expect you to have gone through the complaints procedure and the Ombudsman. You must ask for a judicial review within three months of the decision you are complaining about. This is a complex area and you should seek specialist legal advice before taking this step.

European Court of Human Rights

The Human Rights Act 1998 makes it unlawful for public bodies to act in such a way as to violate a person’s ‘convention rights’.  Convention rights include: 

  • Article 2: the right to life,
  • Article 6: the right to a fair hearing and 
  • Article 8: the right to respect for private life, family and home life.

The person making the complaint must allege a violation of at least one of the principal Articles of the Convention of Human Rights 1950. A complaint can only be made to this court  once you have gone through all other complaint procedures, and the complaint must be made within six months of the final decision made by the last and highest domestic court or authority.

If you think a local authority decision has breached your rights under the Human Rights Act you should seek specialist legal advice.

Where to go for further advice

If you need support with writing letters or finding out about your rights a good first port of call is your local Citizens Advice Bureau. Their number will be in your phone book.

Local Government Ombudsman

Tel: 0300 061 0614

Website: www.lgo.org.uk

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

Website: www.ombudsman.org.uk

Tel: 0345 015 4033

For more information about community care for adults visit www.autism.org.uk/communitycare or email communitycare@nas.org.uk.

Disability Law Services

Tel: 0207 791 9800

Website: www.dls.org.uk

Carers UK

Tel: 0808 808 7777

Website: www.carersuk.org

For more information about community care for adults email communitycare@nas.org.uk or call our Autism Helpline on 0808 800 4104 to make a telephone appointment with an adviser.