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Big rise in complaints about social care charging

Ombudsman reveals concerns about how cash-strapped councils assess and charge for care

Mark Gould

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO), Michael King, says he has become increasingly concerned about the way some authorities are handling the need to balance the pressures they are under with the way they assess and charge for care.

"It’s no longer just one-off mistakes; we’re seeing problems with systems, policies and the way procedures are being applied,” says Mr King in is annual report.

The report, which looks at the data behind every adult social care complaint the service has received over the last 12 months, shows there has been a 9% increase in complaints about charging. And of those complaints, it has upheld 67% - higher than the average uphold rate for adult social care of 62%, and greater still than the 57% uphold rate for all complaints the Ombudsman investigates.

Last year, the Ombudsman's office received a total of 3,016 complaints and completed 1,130 investigations which resulted in 621 complaints being remedied. There were 1,274 recommendations to put things right, and 274 recommendations to improve procedures or staff training – a 19% increase on last year.

Some 68% of complaints about home care were upheld, 68% about residential care were upheld and 61% of investigations about assessment and care planning were upheld.

While assessment and care planning, and charging remain some of the biggest areas of complaint, Mr King says that "even more concerning is that the issues we see demonstrate a shift from one-off mistakes to problems with whole systems and policies, or procedures being incorrectly applied".

“Adult social care has seen sustained high levels of complaints upheld compared to our general work. We know authorities are operating under an enormous amount of pressure and financial challenge to deliver care services. The stark reality of this is now playing out in the complaints we see.

“Despite this, when it comes to service delivery, we simply can’t make concessions for these pressures in the recommendations we make.”

The Ombudsman has had the authority to investigate complaints about independent care providers since 2010. In the past year, the Ombudsman has seen only one instance of an authority or care provider failing to comply with its recommendations.

Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said the report is a  valuable resource for councils and providers to learn from others and see trends. "We urge providers to use all the resources the LGSCO can offer to providers including practical advice on complaints handling and provider training events.”

And Andrea Sutcliffe, chief inspector of Adult Social Care at the Care Quality Commission (CQC), said: “In the current challenging circumstances for adult social care, it’s more important than ever that those in charge of running and commissioning care services actively listen and learn from people’s experiences, concerns and complaints. 

'The CQC sees regular evidence of this in the four fifths of adult social care services currently rated as good or outstanding across the country, but as this report from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman once again highlights this isn’t the case for everyone. Ensuring complaints policies are accessible, that people know how to raise issues, their concerns are responded to and any promised action really does happen is all part of delivering truly responsive and well-led care.”

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