Complaints about the quality of adult social care being provided by councils and private providers rose 13% last year, a report by the local government ombudsman has revealed.
The ombudsman received 2,456 complaints and enquiries about adult social care in 2013, an increase of 13.8% on the previous year, an annual review found. The ombudsman considered 1,846 of these complaints in 2013 and almost half (46%) of those that led to full investigations being completed were upheld.
Adult social care is the fastest growing area of complaint for the ombudsman’s office, the report found. Just 25 local authority areas accounted for over 40% of complaints and enquiries received last year, the ombudsman found.
Despite the rise in complaints, they still reflect a small proportion of the 1.3 million people who received adult social care support in England last year.
Jane Martin, the local government ombudsman, said she hoped publishing the figures would encourage care providers to improve the way they dealt with complaints.
“I also hope that by raising these issues more people will be aware of how to raise concerns and seek redress, and feel reassured that there is an independent ombudsman that they can turn to when providers fail to resolve complaints,” she said.
Other key findings in the report included:
- Assessment and care planning was the subject of most complaints. The ombudsman received 442 complaints about assessment and care planning, up 7% from 2012. Over half of these complaints were upheld. The ombudsman said that the data showed that “councils are getting this basic obligation wrong”.
- Councils have wrongly imposed fees for care on service users. The ombudsman received 429 complaints about fees, grants and payments in 2013, with over 50% upheld. More than half of those complaints were about fees being charged in circumstances where they shouldn’t have been.
- Residential care saw the largest increase in complaints. In 2013 the ombudsman received 406 complaints about residential care, an increase of 25% on 2012.
- Safeguarding policies are too often not being implemented. The ombudsman received 196 complaints relating to safeguarding concerns, up 14% on 2012. The report highlighted cases where safeguarding policies had not been followed. “Failing to implement proper safeguarding procedures can lead to tragic consequences,” the report said.
The majority of complaints (86%) in 2013 related to local authority run services. Around one in 10 related to services delivered by private firms. The ombudsman said that the social care sector should investigate whether the low number of complaints about private providers reflected increased satisfaction with services or a problem in public awareness of how to raise concerns and complaints about services.
A spokesman for the Local Government Association said: “In reality, 60 per cent of the authorities named in this report have below the average percentage of complaints upheld by the Ombudsman
“Huge efforts have been made by councils to ensure people in care have their voices heard. Local government is one of the most trusted parts of the public sector and a rise in complaints can be an indication that local authorities are making it easier for those in care to give feedback, and that people are confident that their council will act on it.”
Andrea Sutcliffe, chief inspector of adult social care at the Care Quality Commission, said: “When we look at whether services are safe, caring, effective, responsive and well led we will be considering how well complaints are handled and acted upon. This will help to inform our judgement of whether services are outstanding, good, require improvement or inadequate.”