Family Information and Services Hub

Making a complaint

There may be times when you want to make a complaint about the services you have received. Making a complaint through the right channels could result in a better outcome for you, and may help improve things for other people, too. Please don't be reluctant to come forward if you feel something is wrong.

Click on the links below to be taken to complaints about:

Complaints about assessments

If you, or someone you're looking after if you're a carer, wants to complain about a decision made by social services, you can use the statutory complaints system.

If you want to complain about your local authority, you should do so in writing or verbally to the complaints manager within 12 months.

The local authority should acknowledge it has received your complaint within three working days. It will inform you of how long your complaint is likely to take to investigate. The local authority must respond fully within six months, unless a different time period has been discussed and agreed with you.

Each local authority is responsible for arrangements for dealing with complaints, so contact your local authority for a copy of their complaints procedure.

Taking your complaint further

If you are not satisfied with the response you receive from your local authority, you are entitled to ask the independent Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) to investigate. The Ombudsman can investigate complaints about local councils. Further information is available on the LGO website.

In some cases where there is a serious error of law, it may be possible to apply to the High Court for a judicial review of the decision made by the local authority.

The time limit for applying for permission for a judicial review is three months from the date of the decision you want to complain about. This three-month maximum period of time is strictly applied.

This type of legal action can be expensive, unless you qualify for public funding - find out more about legal aid. You will need the help of a solicitor who specialises in community care law. To find a qualified solicitor, visit the Law Society website, or contact the Citizens Advice Bureau.

Complaints about benefit decisions

If you are unhappy about the way your claim for benefits has been processed or the way you have been treated, you may wish to make a complaint.

You would normally need to take the following action if your complaint is about the service from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP):

  • First, contact the person who was dealing with your claim or that person's manager. There is no need to wait until there has been a decision on the claim.
  • If you are not satisfied, you can then ask for the details of the district manager of that benefit office and contact them with your complaint. 
  • If you are still not satisfied, you can contact the chief executive of the DWP. The district manager will give you the contact details.
  • If you are still not happy, you can then ask the independent case examiner to look at your complaint, particularly if it involves failure to follow proper procedures, excessive delays, or poor customer service.

You should normally contact the independent case examiner no later than six months after the final response from the DWP is received. The independent case examiner can be reached on 0845 606 0777 (textphone 0151 801 8888).

Complaints about tax credits are dealt with by HM Revenue and Customs, but work in a similar way. Read more about complaining about a tax credit decision.

You can ask your MP to take up the complaint on your behalf at any stage. He or she may agree to refer the matter to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. The Ombudsman would investigate your case if they think you may have experienced injustice because of the action or inaction of the DWP.

The DWP has target times to process claims for different benefits. If the claim takes too long to process, you may be entitled to compensation.

How can I complain about how an appeal was handled?

If the complaint is about the way your appeal has been processed - for example, you were not sent paperwork - contact the Tribunals Service.

If you're concerned about the way members of a tribunal behaved during an appeal hearing, you would need to contact the chair of the region where the tribunal was heard. To find out who this is, contact the Tribunals Service.

Complaints about children's services

Local authorities have procedures to deal with complaints from children and young people, or from people complaining on their behalf, such as parents and guardians.

Complaints about children's services normally need to be made within 12 months, but the local authority can consider complaints made later than this. If it decides not to deal with the complaint, it should tell you why.

If you're not happy with the local authority's decision regarding your complaint, you can get help from the Local Government Ombudsman.

The complaints process should take into account the concerns of the child or young person involved, and should be appropriate for their age and level of understanding.

If the child or young person wants to make a complaint themselves, the local authority should provide information about advocacy services and help them access these.

As with adult complaints, you should address your complaint to the manager of the service you are complaining about at first. Local authorities aim to have your complaint resolved at the local level within 10 working days, although this can be extended.

Investigation of complaints

If the complaint isn't resolved locally, it can be investigated further by an investigating officer from the local authority and an independent person. This investigation should take no longer than 25 working days, although again this can be extended.

The investigating officer will produce a written report, including each point of complaint and whether it is upheld or not upheld, along with recommendations about actions that should be taken to address any upheld complaints.

The independent person should write a report for the local authority stating whether they think the investigation was carried out fairly, and if the investigating officer's report gives an accurate picture of the investigation.

A senior manager from the local authority will "adjudicate" the investigation and decide how the local authority will respond to each point of complaint, as well as outlining any action to be taken and when it should be completed by.

Review of complaints

If you are not satisfied with the outcome of the investigation into your complaint, you can ask for a review of the complaint. The complaint will then be reviewed by an independent panel. The panel will listen to everyone involved in the complaint and, where possible, work towards a resolution.

You have the right to attend the review panel and to talk about your complaint and the outcomes you would like to see. You also have the right to be accompanied by another person, who can speak on your behalf if you want.

When the review panel has made its decision, it must send you a written report summarising its recommendations. The local authority must send you its response to the panel's report, setting out what action it will take in response to the panel's recommendations.

Local Government Ombudsman

If you've gone through the local authority's complaints procedure for children's services and are unhappy with the result or the way your complaint was dealt with, you can get help from the Local Government Ombudsman.

Complaints about care homes or care services

You, or the person you're looking after, may have a complaint about a residential care home. A complaint could be about the quality of care provided or the fees charged. There are a number of ways you can make a complaint. 

If the care is funded or arranged by a local authority, that local authority is responsible for it, even if it is provided in an independent care home. You should complain to the local authority and the Local Government Ombudsman (as detailed above) if you are not satisfied with the response you receive.  

If you are funding or arranging your own care, you should make a complaint to the care home operator. The law says all care homes must have an appropriate complaints procedure. If you're worried about doing so, you can complain directly to the regulator responsible for all care homes and regulated care services instead. 

Care home and care services regulation

At present, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) is responsible for regulating care homes and all regulated care services. It monitors, inspects and regulates services to make sure they meet fundamental standards of quality and safety. Its role is to ensure the services comply with regulations and quality standards. 

If you have experienced poor care or know that poor care is being provided somewhere, you can report it to the CQC, anonymously if you wish. You can also tell them when you have received good care.  

Local authority complaints

If the local authority is responsible for placing the person you're looking after in a care home or for creating a care plan for them, or arranging their care for them, it is possible to use their statutory social services complaints system to make a complaint. 

If the local authority complaints procedure does not resolve the complaint, it may be possible to use other complaints methods, such as the LGO.  

If you do complain to the CQC or local authority, they should liaise with the care home or care service to ensure that you receive a co-ordinated response. 

Who to complain to if you're paying for your own care

If you're a "self-funder" - paying for your own care costs - you can take the complaints to the LGO if you're not satisfied with the outcome of the initial direct complaint to the care provider, or the response from the local authority. But remember, the complaint can only be made to the local authority if they had a hand in helping you arrange your care. 

Complaints about abuse or neglect

Some of the most serious complaints involve alleged physical or psychological abuse or neglect within the care home. If you believe this may have occurred, contact the local authority as quickly as possible. 

Each local authority has a safeguarding team responsible for responding to allegations, even if the local authority wasn't involved in arranging residential care. The local authority will liaise with the police and the CQC if appropriate.

Find out more about supporting vulnerable adults and safeguarding

Making a complaint about NHS services

If you want to complain about an NHS service such as a hospital, GP or dentist, ask the service for a copy of their complaints procedure, which will explain what you need to do. If you speak to them, they may be able to resolve your concerns without you having to go through the complaints process.

However, you may choose to make a complaint at any time. You can do this in writing, by email, or by speaking to them. This is called the local resolution stage, and it aims to resolve complaints quickly - most cases are resolved at this stage. If you would like to make a complaint, follow the NHS complaints process.

You may make a complaint to either the organisation that provided your healthcare or the organisation that commissioned that NHS service. The commissioning body will be the local clinical commissioning group (CCG) for hospital care, NHS England for GP, dental, pharmacy and optical services, or your local authority for complaints about public health services.

The time limit for a complaint is normally 12 months from the date the event happened, or from the date you first became aware of it.

Find tips on how to complain about NHS services.

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

The Health Service Ombudsman considers complaints about the NHS in England that have not been resolved locally. The Ombudsman investigates whether the NHS has acted properly or fairly, or if they have provided a poor service.

The Ombudsman independently investigates complaints and can look at complaints about hospitals, GPs, dentists, pharmacists, opticians, nurses, ambulances, and others providing NHS services.

Try to resolve the complaint with the relevant organisation yourself first, or with the help of an advocate. The Ombudsman generally only acts after the organisation has been given a chance to respond and act to make amends (if appropriate).


Save to shortlist

Page last reviewed: 05/06/2023

Go back to top