Why 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
  • inadequate assessments of your health or care needs
  • 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.

How to complain

Sometimes it’s enough just to have an informal conversation with the organisation providing your care. 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 should receive 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 should also be told how long it will take to respond to your complaint.

When you complain:

  • make it clear that you are making a formal complaint
  • give a clear, concise account of what happened or went wrong
  • 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.

Who to contact

Complaints about social care services

Care at home

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

Care in a care home

If you are 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 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.

You can also consider applying for a judicial review.

Complaints about NHS services

If you want to complain about NHS services, ask the organisation that provided your care for a copy of their complaints policy. 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.

If you need to complain about both NHS and social services, you only need to make your complaint to one organisation. That organisation should then be your main point of contact.

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 factsheet: Complaints about care and health services.

Time limits

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

If you’re considering legal action, you will have to act more quickly. For example, if you are applying for a judicial review, it must be done within three months.

You should receive a response from the NHS within six months. For social care complaints, you should receive a response within a reasonable time (usually 12 weeks unless it’s a complex case).

If you’re not satisfied

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.

Ombudsman

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 Ombudsman (LGO).

If you are paying for your care yourself and you are not happy with the response of the care provider, you can contact the LGO.

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

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 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.

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 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 Law Society. To find out if you are eligible for help with legal costs, contact gov.uk/civil-legal-advice.

If you need help

If you want to talk to someone about the process of making a complaint, you can call the Independent Age helpline 0800 319 6789 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.

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

Abuse

If your complaint is about abuse, contact your local authority’s adult social services department or their safeguarding team.

For confidential help and advice on reporting abuse, contact Action on Elder Abuse.

Next steps

You can find more information about the NHS complaints procedure on the NHS choices website. Go to nhs.uk/NHSEngland/complaints-and-feedback

You can find contact details for your local council at gov.uk/find-your-local-council

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