How to complain about adult social care and support

This fact sheet explains what to do if you or a member of your family has a complaint about adult social care services. It applies whether you or your local council are paying for your care. 

What are adult social care services?

Adult social care services include all types of personal care and other practical help for people aged 18 and over. They need services because of age, illness, disability, pregnancy, childbirth, dependence on alcohol or drugs, or similar circumstances.

Who can complain to us?

Anyone affected by a council or care provider’s action can complain to us. This includes:

  • the person using the care service
  • their chosen representative – or a suitable representative if the person cannot choose someone
  • others affected by the actions of a council or care provider.

What we can do

We can look at complaints about:

  • care arranged directly with a care provider by someone with their own or their family’s money
  • care arranged directly with a care provider using money from the council 
  • care provided by a council
  • care arranged by a council.

The care could be:

  • in a residential or nursing home
  • personal care at home
  • helping someone to live independently at home.

We can look at complaints about things that have gone wrong in the way a service has been given or the way a decision has been made if this has caused problems for you. For example, you may want to complain about:

  • poor-quality care
  • fees and charges
  • poor complaint handling
  • delay
  • assessments of need
  • safety and safeguarding.

If we find the council or care provider has done something wrong, we will try to get it to put the matter right. What we ask the council or care provider to do will depend on the complaint, how serious the fault was and how it affected you.

What we can’t do

The law says we can decide whether to look at your complaint.

We may not look at your complaint if you are only slightly affected by what has gone wrong or if it is unlikely we would find fault in what has happened.

There are some things we do not have the power to look at, for example, if you are already taking action in the courts about the problem. If we cannot help, we may tell you about other organisations that could help.

Our role is to sort out individual complaints. We are not a regulator like the Care Quality Commission (CQC). Their role is to check whether health and social care services are meeting quality and safety standards set by the Government.

We work closely with CQC and share information between the two organisations. We work together to protect adults who are at risk and to improve the quality of care delivered by providers.

How do I complain?

The first step is to complain to the council or care provider. Usually we will only look at a complaint after the council or care provider has had a fair chance to deal with it. We have extra information on complaining about adult social care arranged by a council or complaining about privately arranged adult social care (to a care provider).

When you complain to the council or care provider, they should give you information about what will happen to your complaint and how long this will take.

If you are not happy with the response you receive from the council or the care provider, or if you do not get an answer within a reasonable time, you can complain to us. We think up to 12 weeks is a reasonable time for a council or care provider to look at your complaint and reply to you. Occasionally we will look at a complaint straight away, for example if we decide someone is especially vulnerable.

Usually, you should complain to us within 12 months of when you first knew about the problem. If you leave it any later we may not be able to help.

For more information on how to complain, please read our step by step process.

How we will deal with your complaint

If we can deal with your complaint, we will gather the facts and look at whether something has gone wrong that has caused you problems.

If we find the council or care provider has done something wrong, we will try to get it to put the matter right. What we ask the council or care provider to do will depend on the complaint. It will also depend on what went wrong and how it affected you.

If we can, we will send you copies of the information we have relied on to decide your complaint.

Some complaints can cover both health and social care. We set up a team jointly with the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman to investigate them. We will tell you if we think this team should investigate your complaint and ask for your consent before sharing information about your complaint.

Our investigations are private. You should not give people who work for the media any information which we gave to you while investigating your complaint. Nor should you share the information on social media.

We will not identify people in the information we publish after deciding a case.

What the result might be

We will make one of the following decisions:

  • Uphold your complaint and recommend how the council or care provider should put things right
  • Uphold part of your complaint
  • Uphold your complaint but not make any recommendations because the council or care provider has put things right when we finish looking at the complaint
  • Uphold your complaint but not make any recommendations as we think the fault didn’t have a significant effect on you 
  • Not uphold your complaint

To put things right, we might ask the council or care provider to:

  • Apologise
  • provide the service
  • make a decision it should have made before
  • look again at a decision it did not take properly first time
  • improve its procedures so similar problems don’t happen again
  • make a payment.

Although we cannot make councils and care providers do what we recommend, they are almost always willing to act on what we say

Publishing our decisions

We publish most of our decisions on our website six weeks after the date of the decision.

In some investigations we find issues other councils and care providers could learn from, or the public should know about. In these cases, we will publish a detailed report of the investigation on our website. We may also send the report to the media with a press release.

We may decide not to publish a decision or a report if we think there is a risk it could identify you.

Examples of complaints we have considered 

Ms C and her brother complained the care home failed to provide their father, Mr D, with suitable care in the weeks leading up to his death. In particular it failed to get and follow advice about Mr D’s medication, consider his capacity properly and monitor his weight. We found the care provider failed to consider Mr D’s capacity properly when supporting him with his medication. It also failed to adequately support him with his nutrition. This caused Ms C and her brother uncertainty about whether the care home could have prevented a decline in Mr D’s health. The care home agreed to apologise to the complainants, pay them £350 each, review procedures, provide staff training and remind staff about the importance of recording actions, assessing capacity and monitoring weight.

Mrs Z complained the council cancelled her mother, Mrs X's, package of care in her home at short notice and without a replacement package in place. We found care package was cancelled with 24 hour’s notice. However, the contract with Mrs X allowed for this due to violent or unduly disruptive behaviour of the service user. In this case the care provider told the council Mrs X was rude and abusive to the carers to the point that many would not visit and provide care. We found the council had not acted with fault.

Other sources of information

For more information about the Care Quality Commission, go to their website at or call 03000 616161.

For more information about health complaints, contact the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. See their website or call 0345 015 4033.

Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please call 0300 061 0614.

We provide a free, independent and impartial service. We consider complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. We cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If we find something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result we aim to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

September 2023

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