In Wales, the procedures for complaints involving adult social care are under the guidance: Welsh Assembly Government (2006) Listening and learning: a guide to handling complaints and representation in local authority social services in Wales.
The guidance follows the procedures set out in Social Services Complaints Procedure (Wales) Regulations 2005. These procedures apply to any service provided or commissioned by the local authority, and are based on two key principles:
- Everyone who makes a complaint about social services has a right to be listened to properly. Their best interests must be safe-guarded and promoted; their views wishes and feelings must be heard; and their concerns should be resolved quickly and effectively.
- Complaints can highlight where services need changing. Local authorities will want to learn from these complaints to improve services for everyone who uses them.
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.
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. 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.
If you write a letter of complaint, send a copy to the local authority complaints officer. The complaints officer logs all complaints on a database. The complaints officer also guides people through the complaints procedure and promotes changes in the service where they are thought to be needed.
Your local authority and NHS local health board should have a complaints manager whose role is to take responsibility for managing the process for handling and considering complaints. They should have a ‘responsible person’ whose duty is to ensure the regulations and any actions following the outcome of the complaint are complied with.
See our model template letter for making a complaint.
Social Services Complaints
The Welsh complaints procedure follows a three stage process.
Stage 1: Informal complaint procedure
At the informal stage you need to let someone at your social services department know that there is something wrong. You can make either a verbal or a written complaint to them, although it is advisable to put the complaint in writing as well or keep a note of your complaint if you use the telephone. An informal complaint can be made to any officer at the social services department and they should try and sort out the problem within 10 working days, although the time scale can be extended (by the person making the complaint) to 20 working days.
Stage 2: Formal complaint procedure
If the problem is not resolved at an informal level, you can make a formal complaint. At the formal complaint stage, the local authority will appoint an Independent Person to investigate the complaint. You should expect a response from the independent investigation within 25 working days. The response should include a report with findings, conclusions and recommendations.
Stage 3: Independent Panel
If you are still not satisfied or the problem is still not resolved, you can request that an independent panel look into the complaint. The panel will meet within 20 working days of the request for a hearing and will re-examine the decision the local authority made when they investigated your complaint.
You can skip the informal stage if you feel your complaint is serious and needs to be investigated urgently. In particular, if you feel you need help urgently and that it is not being offered.
You can also take your complaint to the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales after stage 2. (See below for more information about how to take things further).
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 Public Service Ombudsman if you are not happy with the response you receive.
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.
Complaints concerning the way in which NHS bodies deal with complaints are governed by National Health Service (Concerns, Complaints and Redress Arrangements)(Wales) Regulations 2011. There is also accompanying guidance
which provides detail on how the handling and investigation of the complaint must be carried out: Putting Things Right: guidance on dealing with concerns about the NHS.
Your complaint should be acknowledged within two working days and the investigation should be completed within 30 working days with the findings compiled in a detailed written report. You should be informed and kept up to date with the progress of your complaint if the time limit is to be extended.
If you feel able to do so, you should try to resolve your complaint locally in the first instance. The staff who were involved with your care and treatment may be able to sort out your complaint immediately.
If this doesn’t help or if you do not want to speak to staff that provided the service, then you can contact a member of the concerns team at your Local Health Board.
If you have a concern about services that you have received from your General Practitioner (GP), Dentist, Pharmacist or Optician you should normally ask the practice to look into it for you, but if you prefer, you can ask your Local Health Board to do so.
Your local Community Health Council (CHC) provides a free and independent advocacy service. They may be able to support you with raising your complaint. Your local CHC can be found by contacting your Local Health Board.
If you want to take things further
If you have been through your local authority or the local NHS complaints procedure and you are still not happy with the way things have been handled, you may be able to complain to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales (PSOW).
If you suspect that the local authority have acted outside the law, you may also be able to apply for leave to go to Judicial Review. This is a legal process, which reviews the decisions made by public bodies to ensure that they are within the law. You must seek legal advice before taking this step. Advice on finding legal advice is given at the end.
It is recommended you get legal advice before considering the options below.
Public Service Ombudsman for Wales
You will not normally be able to complain to the ombudsman until you have gone through the local authority (stage 2 or 3), or NHS 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 or NHS has done something wrong or has failed to do something that they should have done
- the local authority’s or NHS decision was delayed, or biased
- the local authority or NHS 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 and/or the NHS. The report will outline its findings and recommendations. If your complaint is upheld the ombudsman may recommend the local authority or NHS pays you compensation.
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. You can contact them on 08454 040506.
Putting Things Right
Find your local Community Health Council by contacting:
Board of Community Health Councils in Wales
Tel: 0845 6447814
Public Service Ombudsman for Wales
Tel: 0845 6010987
For more information about community care for adults visit www.autism.org.uk/communitycare, email email@example.com, or call our Autism Helpline on 0800 8004104.