Proposed changes to the social services complaints procedure
used to challenge councils’ decisions have been met with a
mixed reaction from service user groups.
The move attempts to address long-held concerns that the
existing internal council complaints procedure lacks independence
and transparency and can result in service users’ views being
dismissed too easily.
Under the proposals, from April 2005 service users, their
representatives or carers, will be able to refer their cases to the
Commission for Social Care Inspection to consider if they are
unhappy with the way the council has handled their complaint.
Although the CSCI will have no statutory powers to enforce its
recommendations, it says councils will have to give good reasons
for not taking on board the recommendations. The CSCI plans to use
its direct access to service users’ experiences as a way of
raising standards in all 150 social services departments. It says
it will use its powers of investigation sparingly after it has
assessed whether the councils’ processes were flawed.
Directed by the Health and Social Care (Community Health and
Standards) Act 2003, the CSCI plans to establish a complaints
review service panel (CRS) made up of independent people to assess
whether the CSCI needs to investigate a case.
The panel may reroute a number of referrals to other agencies
and organisations, including the voluntary sector who may be more
“appropriately equipped” to pursue complaints. The CRS must decide
within 12 days whether to recommend a full investigation. The whole
process should take two months.
The government will also guide councils in condensing the
informal process of stage one and the investigation process of
stage two into one. The Department of Health is due to release
guidelines relating to adult social care and the Department for
Education and Skills on children’s social care.
But what happens if the complainant is dissatisfied with the
CRS? This is another area the regulatory body has to work out by
next year. In the current system, if the complainant is
dissatisfied with the council, they can go straight to the local
Under the proposed system, complaints about a council’s
decision that had gone through the CSCI process but had failed to
be resolved to the complainant’s satisfaction would still go
the ombudsman. Complaints about the CRS review would be dealt with
by the parliamentary ombudsman.
CSCI head of complaints and service improvements Steve Carney
says: “We do not have the answer on how we will disentangle the
process, but we are working on that so that we can advise the
complainant on the procedure.”
Head of the CSCI David Behan says: “CSCI’s proposals offer
clear benefits to complainants. Information from complainants will
form part of the CSCI’s broader assessment of local social
services. We are determined to deliver a service that will give
people confidence that their complaint will be taken
An Age Concern spokesperson says: “Councils often want to pass
complaints back to the service provider. This is often a source of
frustration for older people and their families who are unhappy
with the failure of councils to monitor the service.”
British Council for Disabled People acting chair Polly Smith
says: “Social services make a lot of assumptions about disabled
people. Will CSCI do the same? We need to make sure their voices
will be heard and that they are properly represented on the
Carney says CRS will be highly accessible to service users and
will seek their views. It plans to represent service users by
matching skills from the pool of independent persons with the
complainant’s particular issue. Panels will also be held
locally at the convenience of the complainant with access to an
– Consultation paper at