Complaints about the quality of home care have risen markedly in the past year, the local government ombudsman has warned.
The watchdog, which acts as a last resort for cases which have not been resolved locally, received 372 complaints about home-based social care in 2015-16, a 25% increase on the previous year and the most significant rise across different service types. Complaints about residential care rose 20.5%, from 497 to 599.
Two-thirds of the home care complaints were upheld, 7% higher than the average for adult social care. Problems included care workers being late or missing appointments and poor communication between providers and local authority commissioners.
Home care providers were “underfunded and over-stretched”, with staffing shortages and the introduction of the national living wage adding to the pressure, the ombudsman warned.
Jane Martin, who heads up the ombudsman service, said: “With seemingly less access to advocacy than people in residential care, there may be further people suffering in silence at home.
“So we continue to encourage those providing and arranging social care to think about their own complaints procedures and ensure they are as accessible and accountable as they can be.”
The report also highlighted complaints over the way local authorities are arranging and commissioning social care:
- Complaints over assessment and care planning rose 4%, from 576 to 600. Some 59% were upheld, a 2% rise on last year.
- Among 57 complaints about care planning that were investigated in detail, 70% were upheld – an increase on 53% the previous year.
- Complaints about charging rose 6% from 262 to 278, with 63% upheld.
- Safeguarding complaints dropped from 258 to 223, although the percentage upheld rose from 51% to 58%.
- Complaints about direct payments dropped 12% from 117 to 102, with 62% upheld.
Complaints about care arranged and funded privately also rose from 319 to 386 and now make up around 13% of the ombudsman’s total social care caseload.
Colin Angel, director of policy at the UK Homecare Association (UKHCA), said the association was encouraged that the ombudsman had added its voice to calls for home care services to be adequately funded and said the report had lessons for providers and commissioners.
“Councils which arrange services on behalf of their local people, and the social care providers which deliver care, must take a consistent approach to get things right first time. When this doesn’t happen, providers and commissioners must act quickly to understand and act on people’s concerns.
“As a professional association, UKHCA encourages social care providers to ensure that the people they support know that their complaints will be dealt with properly at a local level, rather than needing to seek redress through regulators or ombudsmen.”