Throughout your care home journey, we sincerely hope you never find cause to complain about the experience. Care homes should strive to give their residents happy, meaningful and fulfilling lives, as well as providing all the care and support they need to be healthy.
However, if you do have to make a complaint, it’s best to be prepared; from knowing who to direct the complaint to, all the way through to knowing how to write a strong complaint letter.
In this guide, we’ll talk you through potential reasons to complain, explain how best to make your complaint and inform you about the support that may be available to you if you have an issue with a care home.
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Complaining about a care home or nursing home can be an upsetting experience, but it’s important to speak up and tell someone what’s going on so that a solution can be found as quickly as possible. Raising awareness of an issue will not only help you, but anyone else experiencing the same problem.
There are a few different reasons to lodge a complaint against a care home, including:
Whatever your personal reason for complaining might be, it is your right to complain about poor treatment or services.
So, if any of this sounds applicable to you, read on to find out how to make your complaint.
Mistakes happen, so always give the care home staff a chance to look into what’s happened and provide an explanation or an apology.
It’s the care home staff’s job to take care of you or your loved one, so they should be more than happy to listen to any worries or concerns you have and attempt to resolve them. It could be a misunderstanding or a breakdown in communication causing the problem, which can usually be fixed with a quick conversation.
If you want to make a proper complaint, your first port of call will be to speak to the care home’s manager. You can raise concerns you may have and The home manager should listen and help you make a plan of action – it could be that they are able to resolve the problem informally, without using a complaints procedure. However, if they are not able to do this, move on to the next step.
All residential care and social services are legally required to have a complaints procedure in place. If something has happened that you aren’t happy with, you should make a complaint as soon as possible – and definitely within 12 months of it happening.
In the event that you need to make a complaint, follow this simple guide:
Step One – Firstly, compose a handwritten letter or an email to the care home. If you are going to find it difficult to write the letter yourself, ask a family member or friend to help you, or use a free advocacy service.
Step Two – Once you have made your complaint, you will need to wait for the care home to reach a verdict. The care home are required to contact you within three days of making the complaint with their decision.
Step Three - If the care home decides that they are unable to resolve your complaint, you will need to elevate your complaint to your local authority, the Social Care Ombudsman, or in cases of suspected criminal activity or abuse, the police or adult social services department.
In the event that your care home rejects your complaint, or the complaint is not resolved in a way that makes you satisfied, you have a couple of different options, depending on how you pay for your care.
If you pay for your own care, or a family member or friend does, you can still escalate your complaint, again, by complaining directly to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
Each country in the UK has its own Local Government Ombudsman and independent complaints review service. You can contact them via telephone, using an online form, or in writing.
If your care is funded by the local authorities, local council, voluntary organisation or registered charity, you can complain directly to them. You can find information on how to do this on the council’s or charity’s website. If your local authority fails to resolve your complaint, you should raise the issue to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman who will investigate your complaint further. This is the final stage for complaints about adult social care services, so hopefully your complaint will be resolved after this.
If your care is funded by the NHS, you can again contact the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman. If the ombudsman decides the NHS was at fault, they can recommend a solution to the problem.
Although the Care Quality Commission, or CQC, is unable to investigate individual complaints, if a complaint is made about a care home’s quality or safety, someone can be sent to inspect the home.
If you have negative feedback for a care home, you can report this to the CQC, who have the power to close the home if they deem it necessary. If you are going to go down this route, make sure you have registered a formal complaint with your local authority or Social Care Ombudsman first.
If you live in Scotland, the Scottish regulatory body for care homes, the Care Inspectorate, does have the authority to investigate specific complaints about care providers. For the rest of the UK, including Wales and Northern Ireland, you should try to resolve your issue directly with the care home provider first.
If you are complaining on behalf of a relative, it’s possible that their care home might say that your loved one refused care. It’s certainly true that care home residents can refuse care if they don’t want certain things, but this should always be written down in their daily report sheets by their carer or the staff member looking after them on that day.
If the care home has this record, it’s possible that you may be able to discuss the situation with your loved one to reach a solution. However, if they are unable to provide proof that your relative has refused care, you may need to take your complaint further.
If your relative has continually been refusing care, this should always be followed up with the care home manager.
Throughout the complaint process, it’s important to keep records of any communication between you or your loved one and the care home, including print outs or screenshots of emails, making copies of letters and making notes on telephone conversations and meetings, as well as the dates they took place.
When you’re composing your formal complaint letter, you can use the following steps as a guide:
Top tip: Keep your language in all forms of communication formal and polite, even if you are upset and angry.
Below, we’ve provided a sample letter of complaint that you can use as a starting point when writing to a care home. As we mentioned, remember to remain respectful and understanding. After all, there may be a good explanation for the reason why you’re complaining in the first place.
Dear Mr/Mrs [INSERT NAME]
I can only imagine the challenges you’ve faced in managing a care home during the stress of COVID. As a concerned family member of one of your residents, much of this stress is also felt by us, and the purpose of this letter is to bring certain issues to your attention.
[INSERT REASON FOR COMPLAINING]
This was all very upsetting for me to hear and I hope you understand my situation. I’m requesting an immediate resolution of this issue. Please respond in writing by [INSERT DATE] or call me to schedule a meeting so we can discuss this pressing issue further.
If you need further advice, you can contact your local Healthwatch organisation if you live n England. Healthwatch is a service for people who use health and social care services and can give you the details of advocacy organisations in your area who will be well-versed in helping people progress complaints.
If you are worried about making a complaint, you could speak to an independent advocate. Advocates can help you communicate your concerns and may be able to help you resolve your complaint.
The Older People’s Advocacy Alliance have a database where you can locate a local independent advocacy organisation to help you with your complaint.
If you’ve already elevated your complaint to the local authority or Ombudsman and you are dissatisfied with the Ombudsman’s decision, there is the option to appeal it through a judicial review.
Judicial reviews are reserved for cases where you think the wrong decision has been made; for example, a law has been broken, or the right procedures haven’t been followed.
If you want to go down this route, bear in mind that judicial reviews can be complicated and expensive and you would require expert legal help to assess your situation and work out which complaints procedure may be the best option for you.
You should also seek legal help if you were injured as a result of a mistake made in your care or treatment – known as clinical negligence – or your human rights have been breached.
Action against Medical Accidents, the Law Society, Civil Legal Advice, Age UK and your local Citizens Advice are all good sources for advice and legal help.
If you or a loved one have experienced abuse or negligence at a care home, it is vital that you notify your local authority’s adult social services department or the safeguarding team.
Here at Lottie, we handpick all our care homes to ensure those that we offer are of the highest quality and provide an amazing standard of care. Before listing any care home on our site, we vet it, based on care quality, ethical practices and overall customer experience.
When looking for a care home, make sure the home provides the level of care you need or may need in the future. You should also check if it currently has any vacancies (and how long the waiting list is if it's full). Don't forget to check out the home's most recent inspection on the CQC website.
If you ever need to make a complaint about your care home – and we hope you don’t! – this guide should give you all you need to know to make one, what to expect from the process and how to follow up your complaint.
We know that complaining can be uncomfortable and upsetting, but be brave and speak up – your complaint could help the care home to improve its practices and make life better for future residents, as well as yourself.
If you feel particularly distressed at the thought of making a complaint, remember that family, friends and advocates are always there to support you throughout the process. Good luck!