One in five councils have a separate social care appeals process, says charity

Deborah Alsina, chief executive of Independent Age

As few as one in five local authorities have in place a separate appeals process for social care, meaning the only option for many people is to make a complaint.

In a report from Independent Age, Reviewing the case: the right to appeal in adult social care, the older people’s charity carried out two Freedom of Information (FoI) requests. The first from 4 March to 1 April received 145 responses from 152 local authorities and the second from 5 June to 3 July gathered 24 replies out of 27 councils.

The charity found that just 19% of local authorities had integrated an appeals process into their adult social care system.

Of those councils who had an appeals process, the most common requests were in relation to changes to care packages (25%), outcomes of care needs assessments (20%), and eligibility (16%).

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s (LGSCO) 2018 annual review of adult social care complaints found enquiries and objections had increased by 169% over an eight-year period.

In 2018/19, three in five (60%) grievances about assessments and care planning were upheld, and almost three-quarters (73%) of complaints about charging were upheld. This is higher than the average ‘upheld’ rate for social care complaints (66%), and the average upheld rate (58%) for all grievances investigated by the ombudsman.

‘The high volume of social care complaints received by the ombudsman and high proportions of complaints being upheld suggests that problems are not being dealt with effectively at the complaints stage by local authorities,’ said the report.

Complaints can be slow and stressful, and leave people living with inadequate care or unfair costs.

Independent Age is calling on the government to introduce a statutory appeals process for social care which includes a clear explanation and distinction between complaints and appeals in any future legislation, and a clear explanation to individuals receiving care that access to an appeals process is something they are entitled to.

The charity is also calling for clear provision for the role of an independent reviewer to protect against potential conflict of interest, such as a senior individual within the adult social care team outside the scope of the original assessment.

‘Having to make a complaint is hard enough for many older people and their families, without the added complications of not knowing how to do it, or how long it will take,’ said Deborah Alsina, chief executive of Independent Age. ‘The government has previously acknowledged the need for this and even consulted on it in 2015, but they never published a response and nothing has moved forward.’

‘That’s why we’ve published our report today,’ Alsina continued, ‘too many people are being left without the support they need, and with no idea about how to take control of their own care, and that needs to end.’

Michael King, local government and social care ombudsman, said: ‘It’s essential for authorities to try to get things right at the local level before problems are escalated to us, so we welcome any moves to improve the way councils manage the assessment process for people in need of care.

‘Any change in approach should learn lessons from similar existing appeals systems and follow the principles of good administrative practice, that is: easy to use, easy to access and with clear guidance for all who use it.’