Research conducted by the charity Independent Age has found that just one in five local authorities has put in place a separate appeals process for adult social care decisions, with the majority relying instead on a complaints process that can be unfit for purpose.

Based on a Freedom of Information request, which received 145 responses from England’s 152 councils, the charity found 19% had an appeals process, with the rest largely relying on their statutory complaints process to enable people to challenge decisions.

The charity said the result of not having an appeals process is that many service users have to rely on drawn-out complaints procedures to challenge decisions. The charity called on the Government to introduce a statutory appeals process that is distinct from the complaints procedure, so that disputes raised about issues such as eligibility and funding for care packages can be resolved quickly and fairly by local authorities.

The Independent Age report said uncertainty created by the lengthy complaints process often had an adverse impact on older people’s health. It also said the negative connotations of the word "complaint" deterred some people from complaining at all.

Figures from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman have shown that problems are not being dealt with effectively at the local authority complaints stage. The watchdog upheld 687 adult care complaints against local authorities, meaning that councils were found to be at fault, in 2018-19, up from 587 in 2017-18. Two thirds of all cases investigated by the ombudsman were upheld, up from 61% in 2017-18, when the number of investigations was significantly lower.

Findings included the observation that the complaints process was very drawn-out, with councils only expected to respond within six months, and they had the flexibility to delay this further if they notified the complainant.

Independent Age said it was essential that people had a way of challenging decisions quickly, proposing a system that would require the local authority to first facilitate an “open and constructive dialogue” with the complainant in an attempt to resolve the issue. Following this, there would be an independent review, where the local authority appoints a person who is not involved in the case to look at the original decision and make recommendations. The final stage would be the local authority’s decision, made in consideration of the independent reviewer’s recommendations. The process would take six to 11 weeks.

The charity found that, to ensure a consistent approach across councils, there should be clear guidance in relation to how appeals are carried out and on data collection regarding the number and outcome of appeals.

Local Government Association (LGA) Community Wellbeing Board Chair Ian Hudspeth responded to the report saying councils face very difficult decisions over the exact nature of care and support available. He added: "Councils treat all complaints seriously and have processes in place for resolving these, including for social care.”

The report, "Reviewing the Case: The Right to Appeal in Adult Social Care", is available at: www.independentage.org

Last reviewed 29 October 2019