Failing social care system reflected in relentless rise in Ombudsman’s upheld complaints

The gulf between what the public expects and what it actually gets, when it comes to adult social care, has been starkly illustrated in the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s latest annual review of complaints.

Published today, the Ombudsman’s annual review of social care complaints – covering both councils and independent care providers across England – shows the service found fault in 72% of the complaints it investigated last year.

This percentage of upheld cases is greater than the previous year (69%) and shows a relentless rise over the last decade in the proportion of cases in which care users and their families have been let down by local services.

The faults the Ombudsman finds in its investigations are often not due to one-off errors caused by staff working under pressure, but are increasingly caused by the measures employed by councils and care providers to mitigate the squeeze on their resources.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:

“Viewed through the lens of complaints from the public, and our impartial findings, the adult social care system is progressively failing to deliver for those who need it most.

“Increasingly it is a system where exceptional and sometimes unorthodox measures are being deployed simply to balance the books – a reality we see frequently pleaded in their defence by the councils and care providers we investigate.

“At a time of such pressure, it is now more important than ever to listen to public concerns in the form of complaints: they provide free intelligence to spot problems and drive improvement.

“Following on from the recent government announcement, I hope this report and the evidence it contains can help contribute to the debate about what a more sustainable care system will look like in the future.”

Last year (April 2020 – March 2021), councils and care providers operated under the fast-evolving backdrop of COVID-19. Early signs from the Ombudsman’s completed cases, and those it continues to receive, about COVID-19 suggest the sector overall responded well to the unprecedented challenges it faced. However, what the data also suggest is the pandemic intensified existing issues rather than created a raft of new ones.

In 2020-21 the Ombudsman received 2,033 complaints and enquiries about adult social care. This included 270 about independent care providers, where the person arranged and paid for their own care. As in all areas of its casework, last year the Ombudsman received and decided fewer complaints about adult social care than the previous year because of the disruption caused by COVID-19.

The Ombudsman made 1,642 individual recommendations to put things right in adult social care investigations last year, of which around a third (546) were aimed at improving services for everyone. Common examples of service improvements include reviewing policies and working practices, training staff and changing public information.

The Ombudsman’s annual review provides good practice and guidance on how councils and care providers – as well councillors and boards who scrutinise those organisations – can make the most of complaints to improve services.

Article date: 29 September 2021

LGO logogram

Review your privacy settings

Required cookies

These cookies enable the website to function properly. You can only disable these by changing your browser preferences, but this will affect how the website performs.

View required cookies

Analytical cookies

Google Analytics cookies help us improve the performance of the website by understanding how visitors use the site.
We recommend you set these 'ON'.

View analytical cookies

In using Google Analytics, we do not collect or store personal information that could identify you (for example your name or address). We do not allow Google to use or share our analytics data. Google has developed a tool to help you opt out of Google Analytics cookies.

Privacy settings