Why should I complain?

There can be many reasons why you might want to make a complaint. You might experience:

  • delays to services or cancellations for no good reason
  • lack of communication or information
  • poor behaviour from staff
  • assessments of your health or care needs that are not good enough
  • changes or reductions to your care.

You have a right to complain about poor care. It can be a way to:

  • get an apology
  • find out what went wrong and why
  • make sure it doesn’t happen again – to you or someone else.

If you’re unhappy with an ongoing situation or a particular incident, don’t be afraid to speak out. Organisations need to know if there’s a problem, and they usually prefer to be told so that they can resolve it.

How do I complain?

It's a good idea to discuss things informally with the organisation or staff providing your care first. In most cases, having an informal conversation is enough to put things right. 

You can speak with the individual concerned, another member of staff or the manager. If you're not comfortable doing this yourself, you can ask someone else to do this on your behalf, such as a friend or relative.

If you’re not happy with the response or the problem continues, you may want to make a formal complaint. All health and social care services must have a complaints procedure. Ask the service you want to complain to for a copy. It should be available in different formats, such as a leaflet or online.

You – or a friend or relative – can complain by:

  • phone
  • email
  • letter
  • using an online form.

You must receive written or verbal acknowledgement of your complaint within three days, which will also tell you:

  • what will happen next
  • how long the initial investigation will take
  • who will contact you.

You must also be told how long it will take to respond to your complaint.

When you complain, you should:

  • make it clear that you are making a formal complaint
  • give a clear, concise account of what happened or went wrong
  • include all relevant facts, such as dates, times and names
  • explain what you want to happen as a result of your complaint
  • attach copies of any relevant letters or documents
  • try to stay polite and professional, even if you feel angry or upset
  • keep copies of any letters or documents that you send or receive
  • keep a record of the name and job title of anyone you speak or write to
  • if any action is promised or a decision made, ask for written confirmation.

When should I make a complaint?

You should make your complaint as soon as possible. You'll usually have 12 months from the date of the incident, or when you became aware of it, to make your complaint.

If you’re considering legal action (see below), you'll have to act more quickly. For example, if you're applying for a judicial review, it must be done within three months. So it’s important to get specialist advice as soon as possible.

If the NHS is taking longer than six months to respond, they must give you a reason for the delay and let you know when they are likely to respond. For social care complaints, you should receive a response within a reasonable time (usually 12 weeks unless it’s a complex case).

Who should I complain to?

Complaints about social care services

Care at home

Try to resolve the issue with the care agency first. If you arranged care privately, ask for a copy of the agency’s complaints procedure.

Care in a care home

If you're unhappy with your care, you – or a friend or relative – should first talk to the home manager or matron of the care home and try to find a way to resolve the complaint. Ask them for a copy of the home’s complaints procedure.

If you arranged or paid for care privately through an agency or organisation, you can make a complaint directly to them. If your care was arranged or paid for by your council, you can make a complaint using the council’s complaints procedure. To find details of your local council, go to Gov.uk.

You can also report your concerns about private home care agencies or care homes to the Care Quality Commission. They don’t investigate individual complaints but can check that the agency or care home is dealing with it. In more serious cases, they may carry out an inspection, or use your evidence if the agency is being inspected at that time.

If you’re concerned about something that is beyond the care home’s control – such as the amount the council is prepared to pay towards the care home’s fees, or the accuracy of the information – you may want to consider applying for a judicial review. 

Complaints about health services

NHS services

If you want to complain about NHS services, you can complain directly to the service. Ask the organisation that provided your care for a copy of their complaints policy and the name of the person you should direct your complaint to.

If you don’t want to approach the healthcare provider directly, you can complain to the commissioner of that service.

Contact NHS England for complaints about primary care services, such as:

  • your GP or practice staff
  • a dentist
  • an optician
  • a pharmacist.

Contact your local Clinical Commissioning Group if you are complaining about secondary services, such as:

  • hospital care
  • mental health services
  • ambulance staff
  • community healthcare, such as a district nurse
  • out-of-hours services.

You cannot complain to both the provider and the commissioner at the same time.

Private healthcare

If your complaint is about private healthcare that you are funding yourself, you'll need to complain directly to the healthcare provider. Each private healthcare provider should have their own formal complaints procedure. 

If you’re not happy with their response, you can contact the Independent Healthcare Sector Complaints Adjudication Service.

If you’re receiving treatment from a private healthcare provider but it is funded by the NHS, you should go through the NHS complaints procedure. 

Complaints about both social care and health services

If you need to complain about both NHS and social services, you only need to make your complaint to one organisation. That organisation must contact the other service to decide who will take overall responsibility for dealing with your complaint.

If you want to complain about an individual care or health professional, you can contact their professional body.

For more information about who you should contact, see our factsheets Complaints about health services and Complaints about social care services

Taking a complaint further

If you’re not happy with the outcome of your complaint to the NHS, a council or a care provider, you can take it further. The next step depends on the type of service and how your care is funded.


You should approach the relevant ombudsman within 12 months of the incident happening, or of when you became aware of the problem.

  • For complaints about NHS services, contact the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO).
  • If the council is paying for some or all of your care fees and you are not satisfied with the outcome of your complaint to the council, you can contact the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO).
  • If you're paying for your care yourself and you're not happy with the response of the care provider, you can contact the LGSCO.

Judicial review

You can apply for a judicial review if you want to challenge the way a decision was made – for example, if you think the law wasn’t correctly applied or the right procedures were not followed. The charity Public Law Project has published a short guide explaining how this process works.

In some cases, applying for a judicial review may be a more effective route than making a formal complaint to the council. However, judicial reviews are expensive and they’re not appropriate in every case. So, you should get legal advice first to see if it would be better to use the complaints procedure instead.

You can’t apply for a judicial review and complain to the ombudsman, so you have to decide which is the best option in your case.

Other legal action

You might want to consider legal action if you’ve been injured as a result of a mistake made in your care or treatment – known as clinical negligence – or if your human rights have been breached. Visit Action against Medical Accidents for more information about clinical negligence.

You can also take a public authority to court but it can be a long and expensive process. To get advice or find a solicitor, contact the Action against Medical Accidents or the Law Society. To find out if you can get help with legal costs, contact Civil Legal Advice.

If you need help

If you want to talk to someone about the process of making a complaint and what your options are, you can call the Independent Age helpline and arrange to speak to an adviser.

You can get support from your local patient advice and liaison services (PALS) if your complaint is about the NHS. You could also contact your local Citizens Advice or Age UK.

Healthwatch provides information and resources on how to make a complaint. You can get in touch with your local Healthwatch for help with social care or health service complaints.

If you don’t feel confident about making a complaint, you could speak to an independent advocate. An advocate can help you communicate your concerns and may be able to help you resolve problems. You can find a local independent advocacy organisation by searching the database provided by Older People's Advocacy Alliance. See our factsheet Helping you get your voice heard: Independent advocacy for more information.

Complaints about abuse

If your complaint is about abuse, contact your local authority’s adult social services department or their safeguarding team. You can find the contact details of your local authority’s adult social care services on the NHS website.

For confidential help and advice on reporting abuse, contact Hourglass.

Next steps

You can find more information about the NHS complaints procedure on the NHS website.

You can find contact details for your local council at Gov.uk.

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