Social Care Complaints Advocacy

If you have concerns about social care that Reading Borough Council has arranged, provided or funded for you, then we can help you through its complaints process. Our service is free, independent and confidential - we are not employed by the council.

We can give you telephone or online self-help advice or allocate an advocate to assist you if you need extra support to understand your options and rights, have your say, and resolve your concerns.

Our advocates are part of an experienced team based at the Reading Voice Advocacy Hub in Reading Central Library. They can also help with queries or concerns about the NHS.

Social Care Complaints Advocacy is a new service starting from 1 April 2018.

You can find answers to common questions about our service below.

How does the Social Care Complaints system work?

The law says people have the right to make complaints and have them investigated if they are unhappy with adult social care that is assessed, arranged, funded, or provided by their council’s adult social services department. (If you pay for your own social care, see the section on ‘self-funders’ on how to get help with complaints).

Complaints should firstly be sent to your council, which will carry out an internal investigation.

If you are unhappy with the council’s response, then you can ask the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman to look at your case. If the LGO upholds your complaint it might recommend the council take actions to put it right, from making an apology through to compensation for ‘injustice suffered’.

There is no legal right to help from an advocate (as there is for people making NHS complaints), but in Reading, the council has decided to arrange for independent social care advocates to be made available.

What kinds of things can people complain about?

Examples of social care complaints that people might make include:

  • How the council assessed and decided your care needs
  • The lack of any assessment or re-assessment of your care needs
  • The amount of care the council has decided you need
  • Changes to the amount of care you will receive
  • Funding decisions
  • Excessive delays to your care
  • The quality of the care you receive (this can include care that the council’s own staff provide, or care that the council arranges for another organisation to carry out on its behalf, such as regular home visits by an agency worker to help with washing, dressing, and other personal care needs, a support worker for a person with a disability, or residential care for someone longer able to live in your own home)
  • Discrimination
  • Breaches to your legal rights
  • Inadequate safeguarding measures.

What should people do if the complaint is about abuse of an adult?

If you or a relative or friend is being harmed or threatened by a care worker, support worker, care home employee, or a relative, friend, neighbour or other person in your life, then you should report this first through Reading Borough Council’s safeguarding procedures. You can report this, regardless of who arranges or pays for the person’s care, or even if the person does not currently receive any care.

You can report abuse through Reading Borough Council’s website or by phoning 0118 937 3747 or 01344 786 543 out of hours.

Is there a time-limit for making a social care complaint?

The complaints regulations state you should make your complaint within

  • Twelve months of the incident /issue happening or
  • Within twelve months of you first identifying your concern.

The council or Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman might have discretion to look at complaints outside of these timescales, for example, if you were too unwell at the time.

How does Reading Borough Council investigate complaints?

The council has a two-stage process to investigate social care complaints:

Stage 1:

The council will confirm it has received your complaint and tell you who is investigating the complaint, within five working days of receiving your complaint.

The Investigating Officer will review the case, talk to everyone involved and confirm the outcome of your complaint within 20 working days.

If you are dissatisfied with the investigation of your complaint you can ask the council to review your complaint again – this is ‘Stage 2’.

Stage 2:

People must contact the council within 14 days of receiving the council’s letter about its stage 1 investigation, saying why they are dissatisfied and the outcomes they want from a further investigation.

The council will ask a more senior manager to carry out an independent review of the complaint – and will write to you within five working days to let you know who this person is.

The senior manager will ask people about their experience, record the details of the complaint in writing and will also talk to other people involved in the case. They will then give their report and recommendations to the Head of Service for a decision.

The Head of Service will write to you to tell you their decision and send you a copy of the report. This should be within 30 days of receiving the complainant’s letter.

If people remain dissatisfied with the Council’s investigation of the complaint, they can escalate the complaint to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

Visit Reading Borough Council’s complaints webpage for full information, and to find their online or printable complaint form.

Who can use our Social Care Complaints Advocacy service?

Anybody in Reading whose social care is arranged, provided or funded by Reading Borough Council’s adult social services is eligible for our service. In certain circumstances we can also support relatives or friends, if the person receiving social care lacks capacity, has delegated decision-making to somebody else, or has passed away.

The support we offer will vary from online self-help guides, our advocacy hub telephone helpline, or an individual advocate who can meet and support people who need help to understand their options and rights, and guide people through the complaints process.

If you pay for your own social care, see the self-funder section about how to get help to make complaints.

How do social care complaints advocates help people?

Our advocates offer three levels of support:

Level 1: Simple self-help advice.

This will suit people or their relatives who are literate and able to manage their own correspondence and speak for themselves. Our advocacy hub website has information on:

  • the legal right to make social care complaints
  • Reading Borough Council’s complaints process and contact details
  • top tips for resolving concerns
  • advice on writing a complaints letter
  • advice on what to do if you are a ‘self-funder’

Level 2: Supported self-help.

This includes all the help offered at Level 1, plus some extra input for people who would might need more time or assistance to empower them to handle the complaint themselves. This might involve:

  • a one-off meeting with an advocate at our central Reading office to get detailed advice
  • telephone feedback from an advocate on the wording of your draft complaint letter
  • or a quick call to check your options once you have received a response to your complaint.

Level 3: Full advocacy support.

This service is for people who need an advocate to manage the complaint on their behalf because they have extra needs or are vulnerable due to factors such as ongoing illness, being recently bereaved, having a disability, or being unable to fully understand or communicate. Some people who feel very let down or whose concerns are very serious, may also feel emotionally unable to directly communicate with the council or care provider. If an advocate manages your complaint, their support could include:

  • meeting you at your home or place of care
  • adapting to your communication needs, such as Easy-Read, a translator, or an interpreter
  • talking through what outcome you would like – such as an apology, a review or other action to improve your care
  • writing and submitting the complaint on your behalf
  • giving you updates on the progress of your complaint and your options at every stage
  • putting across your views at any local resolution meeting
  • taking your case to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman if you choose.

What training and standards do our advocates follow?

Our Social Care Complaints advocates have gained, or are studying towards, the Level 2 City and Guilds Award in Independent Advocacy.

All our advocates must also:

  • be DBS-checked
  • have undergone Level 1 safeguarding training
  • follow the nationally recognised Code of Practice for Advocates
  • follow policies, including those on equality and diversity, data protection and lone working, for Healthwatch Reading, which oversees the Reading Voice Advocacy Hub.

How do I arrange help from one of your social care complaints advocates?

Telephone our Reading Voice advocacy hub on 0118 937 2295, or email helpdesk@readingvoice.org.uk.

Reading Borough Council’s complaints department may also suggest people contact us if they believe people need help from an advocate.

How can ‘self-funders’ get help with complaints?

People who pay for their own social care are not covered by the statutory social care complaints procedures. Instead, since 2010 when a law change came into effect, self-funders have been able to ask the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGO) to investigate complaints on their behalf. The LGO advises people to:

  1. First put your concerns to the organisation (such as the care home) to give them a chance to put it right through its own complaints system
  2. If you are unhappy with the organisation’s response, or they take too long to respond (normally longer than 12 weeks), you can ask the LGO to investigate.

For more information on this process, visit the LGO website or telephone the LGO service on 0300 061 0614.

Top Tips

Tip 1: Know what good care looks like

A range of local and national standards set out what good social care looks like and could help show whether you have a good reason to make a complaint. Our advocates can help inform you of how these relate to your concerns:

Reading Borough Council’s Dignity in Care Charter. Care homes and home care agencies that the council fund to look after or support local people, are expected to sign up to this charter.

Care Quality Commission (CQC) advice on What to Expect From a Good Care Service, including care homes, home care and NHS services.  The CQC visits and checks the quality of care and health services and can order them to make improvements. The CQC does not investigate individual complaints but will use public feedback to decide if checks need to be carried out.

People’s experience in adult social care services: improving the experience of care and support for people using adult social care services, guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, the national body that makes recommendations to doctors and other health and care professionals

Tip 2: Know your rights

Adult social care arranged for you should not breach your human or legal rights. Our advocates can explain how these might apply to your complaint.

The Care Act 2014

This requires a person’s ‘wellbeing’ to be at the centre of all decisions made about their care needs. It also guarantees specific  support, known as a Care Act Advocate for people who do not have anyone else in their life to help them speak up, and who have difficulty communicating or making decisions about their needs. (Reading Voice provides Care Act Advocates to eligible people, as well as Social Care Complaints Advocates).

The Human Rights Act 1998 includes:

The right to life (Article 2 of the act)

The prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 3) 

The right to liberty (Article 5)

The right to respect for private, family and home life (Article 8)

The Equality Act 2010 bans discrimination of people on the basis of:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Maternity
  • Race
  • Religion of belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation.

The 2010 Act also states that service providers, such as care homes, must take ‘reasonable steps’ to remove any barriers you might face to accessing their services because of your disability.

Tip 3: Follow advice on making a complaint from the Ombudsman

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has put together simple tips on making a complaint, such as:

  • avoiding delays where possible to raising concerns
  • being specific that your letter is a formal complaint, so the council follows the legal regulations for investigating it
  • being clear about what outcome you are seeking and
  • being assertive, not aggressive.

Tip 4: Use an online template to help write your complaint letter

Healthwatch England and Citizen’s Advice have worked together to come up with an online template to help you include everything you need for a complaint letter.

Tip 5: Know what good complaints handling looks like

NHS leaders say they expect organisations to follow best practice on complaints handling as recommended in a joint report by Healthwatch England, and the health and local government ombudsmen. The report, My expectations for raising concerns and complaints, says people should feel:

  • confident to speak up
  • that making a complaint is simple
  • listened to and understood
  • that their complaint has made a difference
  • confident about making a complaint in the future.