Service User Voice: Complain? don’t bother…

One of social care’s weaknesses concerns the way complaints are handled. In the commercial world complaints are handled quickly and with results: a good company is likely to replace a whole product which has the smallest of faults for free without fuss to keep the customer happy and retain their loyalty.

However, social services departments and other organisations have invented the dreaded document called a complaints procedure, sorry I mean the complaints, compliments (eh?) and comments procedure, which is seen to have the sole purpose of delay, confusion and frustration.

So rather than taking five minutes to resolve, the complaint takes months and often years to resolve. Staff are eventually appointed to investigate the complaint, who tend to go on long-term sick leave for stress (how does the service user feel?), or leave right in the middle of the complaint without passing their workload on to anyone else.

As a complaint goes from level one to level three and the letters and e-mails start flying, the service user is left bewildered and stressed out as the complaint seems to open up a can of worms. This builds distrust with the organisation they are complaining about and makes them cynical.

Then the bombshell happens, the complaints procedure ends and the answer is, basically, after months or years, “get lost”. There is no basis for complaint found after wasting a lot of money and time. The service user is left with the option of recruiting a solicitor and contacting their MP to gain access to the parliamentary ombudsman.

At this stage many service users have been too physically and mentally worn down by the process to be able to take it further. I feel the complaints procedure is designed to make people more compliant and accept that complaining is a futile exercise.

In understanding this in relation to social care does it matter who runs the country, whether it be Gordon Brown, David Cameron or whoever? Freedom and the right to complaint are perhaps only illusions of western concepts of democracy.

But does it have to be this way? If social workers and their managers put their pride aside for a few moments, I feel most complaints could be resolved quickly by talking honestly to service users. It’s time to use common sense and avoid using the oppressive complaints procedure.

Simon Stevens is chief executive, Enable Enterprises


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