Frequently asked questions

All councils have published complaints procedures that show how they investigate complaints. These vary but usually include two or more stages, each operated by a more senior member of staff than the last stage or, in some cases, elected councillors. At each stage the council will normally send you a written response and invite you to comment. The council will normally tell you when it writes to you if there is another stage of the complaints procedure.

By law, all social care providers must have a complaints procedure that you can ask to see.

The best place to look is the organisation’s website or call the organisation and ask for a copy.

Yes, usually you do. The law says that we have to give the council or care provider a reasonable chance to consider your complaint and respond. It is usually reasonable to allow up to 12 weeks for a full response to the complaint. If you contact us at the same time as or shortly after making a complaint, it is unlikely we will consider it at that time.

For complaints about children and family services there is a special procedure provided by Parliament for the purpose, so the Ombudsman normally expects people to go through all the stages first.

Councils that provide adult social care services have to operate complaints procedures according to regulations and guidance issued by central Government. The complaints manager should work with you to try and reach a satisfactory and proportionate result. The council should also work with other agencies to answer your complaints if they include health care, or care commissioned for you from registered providers.

No, because until the organisation makes a decision affecting you, we do not consider that there is a cause for your complaint. Once it takes that decision, then you should give them 12 weeks to respond to the complaint about it.

The Local Government Act 1974 says that before investigating a complaint, we must be sure that the council or care provider knows about the complaint and has had a reasonable opportunity to investigate and reply to it. We usually expect you to go through all stages of a council’s complaints procedure before we will look at your complaint. Our Adviser has decided from what you have told us that the council has not had enough opportunity to consider your complaint. 

Experience suggests that many councils and care providers are successful at resolving complaints through their own complaints procedures. About two thirds of complainants decide that, after complaining to the council or care provider, they do not need to come back to us.

We don’t have the power to tell organisations what to do while we are investigating your complaint. The law says they should continue to deal with matters in the normal way. For example, it is very unlikely the process of considering a planning application would be postponed. However, where we are investigating a matter such as delay in deciding a housing benefit or council tax benefit claim, and the council is threatening to take action against you because you are in arrears, we can ask them to put any further action on hold.

It will often agree to do this but if the council does not agree to hold off action against you, you should pay what you are being asked for to avoid any legal consequences. If we uphold your complaint we may ask the council to pay you back any money wrongly paid by you.

It is unlikely that any planning permission already granted will be changed by an investigation by either the council or us. If either thought there had been fault in the process that led to the decision, then steps might be taken to reduce the effects of development on you, for example by arranging screening or by paying you compensation. More details of this are given in our fact sheets.

You can choose whether or not to complete an equality monitoring form, if you are sent one. They are optional and will not affect your access to our service or the outcome of your complaint.

As a public body dealing with individual complaints it is important that our service is open and accessible. Equality monitoring has an important role in achieving this. It tells us about who complains to us, in relation to which types of bodies and which types of public service. This data taken as a whole can tell us important trends about public services.

It is also important to have equality and diversity data on the types of people that use our services, in order to better understand our user groups so that we can develop services accordingly.

Collecting equality data is an important corporate objective for us, in order to find out if the groups monitored use our services in similar proportions to how those groups use local public services. It is also one supported by the Government in passing the Equality Act 2010. The Act includes a specific duty for public bodies over a certain size. This duty further emphasises the importance of collecting equality data from service users, from which we will then be expected to set equality objectives.

You might want to check our arrangements for helping people with different needs first in case they are able to do it themselves.

If you still wish to make a complaint for someone else, you must get their permission. This should be in writing, unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Yes. You can get someone else, such as a friend, relative, or advice agency to complain for you. You must give permission for a complaint to be made and for the person to represent you. This should normally be in writing.

If you employ a professional person, such as a solicitor or surveyor, to help you with your complaint, we will only ask the council to pay the fee in exceptional circumstances. This is because people do not usually need a professional to bring a complaint to us. However, you may be eligible for help from a solicitor or some advice agencies through the Legal Services Commission’s Legal Help Scheme. 

Before deciding to ask someone to make the complaint on your behalf, you might want to look at our arrangements for helping people with different needs.

If we find that there has been some fault in the way a decision was taken, we may ask the council to reconsider it, depending on the circumstances of the complaint. If that is not possible we might ask the council, where appropriate, to take action to put right the effects of a decision which was not made in the correct way. This might involve a payment.

However, we are not an appeals body and cannot overturn or override a decision. So, for example, we will not be able to get the council to stop your neighbour building an extension for which planning permission has been granted.

We do not have legal powers to make councils or care providers carry out our recommendations to put something right, but in nearly all cases they do.

If a council does not agree to a settlement we have proposed, we will issue a formal public interest report about the complaint, naming the council involved. The report must be made available to the public and advertised in the local press covering the council’s area. 

If the council does not agree to carry out the recommendations in the report, we will issue a further report. After this, if the council still does not take satisfactory action it must publish a statement in a local newspaper explaining why it has refused to follow the Ombudsman’s recommendations.

We will require a care provider to publish an Adverse Findings Notice if it does not carry out recommendations to resolve a complaint.

It is very rare for a council or care provider to refuse to carry out our recommendations.

We believe that we should operate in an open manner. So, generally, we will not invite or encourage the organisation or a complainant to send us anything in confidence.

The law says that we must send the organisation a copy of any decision made on a complaint, including a decision not to investigate. Where we do investigate a complaint, the law also says that we must give the organisation chance to comment on any allegations contained in the complaint.

This means that normally we will send the organisation copies of your complaint, along with any other documents you send us that are relevant to the allegations, to allow them a fair chance to comment. If you send us personal information which is not relevant to the complaint we will treat it as confidential and not reveal it to the organisation. We will usually send you the papers the organisation sends us about your complaint, unless they are confidential.

If you are worried about revealing certain information to the council or care provider, you should speak to the investigator dealing with your complaint.

For more information on how we handle your data, see our Privacy Notice.

We receive more than 40,000 new enquries each year and around 12,000 end up being considered by our investigation teams. It is not possible for the Ombudsman to be involved personally in every case. The Ombudsman has a staff of trained investigators who carry out the detailed work and in most cases decisions on complaints are made by investigators on the Ombudsman’s behalf.

If you are making a complaint and you have a lot of papers, it is helpful if you send copies of only the most important ones initially. In particular it would help us to see your original complaint and the organisations final response that refers you to the Ombudsman. If your complaint is already allocated to an investigator, please tell them that you have further information and they will then ask you to provide any relevant documents.

No. The law does not allow us to investigate something you could appeal about to a tribunal or a government minister or go to court about, unless we think there are good reasons why you should not be expected to do so. If we start investigating your complaint because we think you should not be expected to take such action, we will have to stop the investigation if you later take that action after all.

We aim to:

  • acknowledge receipt of your complaint in five working days

  • tell you if we will investigate your complaint within 20 working days

In most investigations we come to a final decision within three months. However some complicated cases can take much longer for us to gather enough information to make a fair decision.

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