The self-pay social care sector should be obliged to provide customers with details on how to make official complaints,  according the Social Care Ombudsman.

The Annual Review of Adult Social Care Complaints published today calls for “mandatory signposting” to make it clear how complaints can be made.

The report outlines the trends the Ombudsman has seen in the complaints received about adult social care in England during 2019-20.

During that time, the Ombudsman received 3,073 complaints and enquiries but only 430 were from people who arranged their care privately with independent providers. 

The disproportionately low number of complaints about independent providers raises concerns that the independent sector is missing out on an “untapped seam of valuable learning and potential improvements to their services”.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (pictured), said:

“We’re pleased with how the adult care sector has worked with us to make almost 600 improvements to its services last year, which were agreed in our investigations. This is 7% more than the previous year, and they include things such as policy changes and staff training.

“However, people who fund their own care are still underrepresented in the complaints we see, and the number has plateaued for the past couple of years. Each missed complaint is a lost opportunity to improve care services.”

The Ombudsman upheld 69% of those complaints it investigated in detail – higher than the average uphold figure of 62% across all the organisation’s work. That uphold rate rose to 71% for cases specifically about independently provided care.

The Ombudsman is now calling for the government to use the planned social care reforms to require providers to tell people, if they are unhappy with the services they are receiving, how to complain not only to the providers themselves, but also how to escalate that complaint to the Ombudsman.

“Mandatory signposting will also be better for businesses. The social care complaints system in England is not a voluntary scheme but the current level of engagement varies considerably. This is placing greater burdens on more conscientious providers while allowing weaker operators to avoid public accountability,” said King.

“This undermines fair competition and consumer choice. Instead, there should be a level playing field, where the rules are applied consistently – in the best interests of users and businesses.”

Professor Martin Green of Care England gave the review  cautious welcome. There are some interesting recommendations and we look forward to discussing how mandatory signposting would work.  During the pandemic the sector has worked extremely hard to deliver the best possible care and I want to pay tribute to the adult social care workforce for its incredibly hard work,” he said.

Date published: September 16, 2020

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