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Where to start if you have a problem with adult social care

This advice applies to England

Adult social care is usually very good and most people don’t have any problems. But occasionally things can go wrong. This page tells you where to start when you want to sort out a problem.

What might you want to complain about?

You can complain about any aspect of adult social care. Here is a list of some of the things you might need to complain about, but remember this isn’t a complete list. You can still make a complaint about adult social care even if something isn’t in this list. Examples include:

  • the attitudes or behaviour of individual care workers, for example, abuse or persistent lateness
  • the local authority refuses to assess your need for adult social care
  • unreasonable delays in making a decision or providing services, including delays in assessing your needs. There are no national legal rules on how quickly a local authority must assess your needs once you've asked them to. But many local authorities set and publish their own standards and all assessments should be done within a reasonable time. This will depend on individual circumstances. The Local Government Ombudsman has said that a reasonable time for an assessment should normally be between four and six weeks from the date of the first request. In one case, a seriously disabled man’s needs were assessed within a reasonable time but then it took over two years for the local authority to provide the services he needed. The Local Government Ombudsman investigated this case and found that this delay was unreasonable and recommended compensation
  • discrimination by local authority staff, for example, if you’re disabled, they should provide you with information that you can access. If they don’t so this, this is against equality law
  • an unreasonable decision taken by the local authority. For example, the Local Government Ombudsman investigated one case where a local authority had reduced the individual budget of a client, even though his needs had not changed. This was found to be an unreasonable decision, causing injustice
  • the delivery of services provided or commissioned by a local authority. For example, a local authority may have failed to provide a service that meets your cultural, language or dietary needs
  • how the cost of a service is worked out
  • the way a local authority has applied criteria for community care services.

Who is responsible for adult social care?

The local council

If your care is provided, arranged or paid for by your local council, the director of social services and the local councillors have overall responsibility. In areas where there are county and district councils, the county council is responsible for adult social care services. In these cases, you can make a complaint under their complaints procedure. This covers a situation where the local council:

  • assesses your need for adult social care
  • arranges and directly provides the care
  • arranges and buys (commissions) the care to be carried out by someone else, like a private company or charity.

You can find your local council on GOV.UK.

Private care

Many adult social care services are now provided by private and voluntary organisations, not the local council. For example, the local council isn’t responsible if:

  • you privately arrange and pay for own care, for example, if you live in a private care home that you pay for yourself
  • you get a direct payment from the local authority and use it to pay for care that you arrange yourself (see below).

In these cases, you can make a complaint to the organisation that is providing the care (called the care provider). They will have their own complaints procedure.

You pay for your care with a direct payment from the local council

Direct payments are payments of money that a local council social services department makes to people to arrange their own community care services, instead of the local authority arranging the services.

If you're got a right to community care services, your local council social services department must give you the option of getting direct payments, as long as you can manage it.

You can’t use the local council complaints procedure to complain about services paid for by a direct payment. You can complain to the care provider using their complaints procedure, and if this doesn’t sort out the problem, you can contact the Local Government Ombudsman who may be able to investigate the complaint.

You pay for your own care services out of your own money

If you fund your own care with your own or family money and you need to make a complaint, first of all, complain to your care provider. If this doesn’t sort out the problem, you can contact the Local Government Ombudsman who may be able to investigate the complaint. You can’t use the local authority complaints procedure if you pay for your own care services.

Each individual healthcare professional that looks after you also has a legal obligation to provide high quality care. This means you could consider taking legal action against them or the organisation they work for if they fail to provide care of a reasonable standard.

On top of this general legal duty, the regulatory body of the healthcare professional concerned can investigate allegations of misconduct. Examples of professional misconduct include:

  • sexual relationships with clients
  • breaking confidentiality
  • falsifying records.

For example, the Health and Care Professions Council is responsible for regulating social workers.

Safeguarding people from abuse, harm or neglect

Safeguarding means protecting people’s health, wellbeing and human rights, and enabling them to live free from harm, abuse and neglect. Whoever is providing care has a duty to safeguard their clients. If you have any concerns that care being provided is causing abuse, harm or neglect, contact your local authority for further investigation. Or in serious cases where a criminal offence is alleged, you can contact the police, on 999 in urgent cases or on 101 in less urgent cases.

The Care Quality Commission

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is responsible for regulating treatment, care and support services for adults in care homes and in their own homes (both personal and nursing care).You can report concerns about care in care homes and in your own home to the CQC. However the CQC doesn’t usually investigate individual complaints.

What are your options to make a complaint?

Depending on what you want to achieve, you may have different options to make a complaint:

  • first speak to the person providing the care, or their manager. This could sort out the problem quickly
  • use the local authority complaints procedure or the complaints procedure of the care provider if this isn’t the local authority
  • report your complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman
  • take legal action, for example, for personal injury, negligence, discrimination or for breach of your human rights
  • report concerns to a regulatory body
  • report concerns to other bodies such as the Care Quality Commission or your local Healthwatch
  • talk to your local councillor about your concerns.

Social services records

If you’re thinking of making a complaint about the social care which you did or didn’t receive, you may find it helpful to obtain a copy of your records first.


You may be someone who works for an organisation providing or commissioning care and you’re concerned about unsafe work practices or lack of care by other professionals. There are special procedures to follow to raise your concerns.

Get help

Depending on the circumstances, it can be difficult or distressing to make a complaint. It’s usually best to get help to do this, for example, from your local Healthwatch.

Next steps

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