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Deciding whether to make a complaint about adult social care

This advice applies to England

This page tells you about things to think about before you decide whether to make a complaint about adult social care.

Decide whether to make a complaint

You may be afraid that, if you report a problem or make a complaint, this will make the situation worse. You might not be comfortable raising your concerns directly, as you may think that this could antagonise the social worker or care worker who will then provide a worse standard of care.

Whether and when you report a problem may depend on the situation.

In situations where there is an immediate high risk, you should report the problem immediately to the local authority or to the police. This will be treated as an intervention under local authority safeguarding procedures and not dealt with under the normal complaints procedure. Examples include:

  • an elderly relative isn’t being assessed for a community care package even though she has urgent needs and isn’t able to manage at home without support
  • a service user is being physically abused by an agency care worker
  • someone living in a care home is not being given enough to drink.

In another less urgent situation, rather than making a complaint, you may just prefer to find another solution to the problem, for example, ask to change an care worker who you feel doesn’t respect your life-style choices.

However, remember that you do have a right to complain if there is a problem, and you shouldn’t suffer in silence. Raising your concern sort out your problem quickly, and it may also help others who are suffering from the same problem. If you don’t want to approach the care provider directly, you can go to the body that buys (commissions) the service.

Why you might decide not follow up a complaint

Some ways of getting a problem sorted out can take a very long time. It can be upsetting and at times you may not want to carry on with a complaint as this can prolong your trauma. You can drop a complaint whenever you want but it can be helpful to talk over whether to drop a complaint with someone else, for example, with local Healthwatch or an advocacy service.

You may be upset about the way that the local authority or care provider deals with your complaint, for example, a member of staff is rude when you try to explain how you feel about a problem. But remember that there are standards that the local authority and care providers must follow when they deal with your complaint, and if they fail to do so, you can also complain about this.

Have you the right to make a complaint?

There are rules about who has the right to complain. For example, you can’t use the local authority adult social care complaints procedure unless you’ve been personally affected by an action, omission or decision of the care provider or commissioner. You could also make a complaint if you’re likely to be affected by one of these things. So you could use the complaints procedure to complain about a decision to cut local authority care budgets (you could also complain about this to your local Healthwatch, local councillor or lead councillor on adult social care).

Time limits

There are time limits within which to make a complaint. For example, the time limit for using the official complaints procedure is 12 months, although this can be extended in some cases. The time limits for legal action are different and depend on the sort of legal action you are considering. Check what are the time limits for each course of action that you’re thinking about.


It doesn’t cost you anything to complain using the local authority complaints procedure. But if you want to take legal action, you will need the advice of a specialist solicitor, and legal aid isn’t available for most cases of negligence or personal injury.

Get help

In all cases where you aren’t sure whether to go ahead with a complaint, it can be helpful to talk over the problem with someone else, for example, Healthwatch which offer confidential advice and support.

Next steps

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