Last reviewed 12 October 2021

Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) Michael King’s latest annual review of complaints in adult social care found fault in 72% of adult care cases investigated last year.

With the rate of failings identified in adult social care continuing on a “relentless rise”, the LGSCO warned that the sector was “progressively failing” to deliver for those who need it most. He said a “stark disconnect, between need and delivery, has never been more clearly manifest” in his casework.

The annual review of social care complaints for 2020–21, available here, covers both councils and independent care providers across England. Of the complaints raised by members of the public, the LGSCO upheld 72% of the adult care cases investigated in 2020–21, up from 69% in 2019–20. In 2015–16, the figure was just 58%, but rose steadily since then.

The annual review revealed that the proportion of upheld complaints rose across all categories from 2019–20 to 2020–21, except for “safeguarding” where it fell by six percentage points, and “residential care” where it was static year on year. There were significant spikes in uphold rates for complaints about supported living settings, transport and disabled facilities grants.

Faults found in investigations were often not due to one-off errors from staff working under pressure but were increasingly caused by measures used by councils and care providers to mitigate the squeeze on their resources.

Michael King said: “Most worryingly, it continues a relentless rise over the last decade in the proportion of complaints where we find injustice to care users and their families.”

He described evidence of the human cost of the crisis, with families facing unexpected debts and excessive charges, examples of poor communication, short staffing, and poor care, and families divided unnecessarily, “sometimes even in the final moments of a loved one’s life”.

The LGSCO’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic was to stop taking new complaints, or progressing existing cases, for three months during the initial wave to allow providers and councils to focus their resources. The impact of this is seen in the annual report, with the number of cases received and decided being lower than in previous years.

Since re-starting casework, complaints involving Covid-19 have been monitored and the LGSCO’s early view is that “the pressures of the pandemic have served to exacerbate existing concerns, rather than create a raft of new ones”.