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Complaints about social care increasingly due to funding constraints, Ombudsman says

The cost of providing care has become an increasingly common theme in complaints over the past year, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman says.

18/10/22

Complaints about social care increasingly due to funding constraints, Ombudsman says

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGO), releasing its Annual Review of Adult Social Care which covers both council and independent care complaints, said it is seeing more cases where councils are failing to provide care, or are limiting care, while using cost as the justification.

In one case, a family went from paying nothing for their elderly mother’s care to more than £3,500 a month after the council changed the way it assessed people’s contributions towards their care because of ‘budgetary pressures’. In another case, a young adult’s care and support needs were not met while two councils argued about who should foot the bill.

“The issues we are investigating are neither new nor surprising, but do indicate a system with a growing disconnect between the care to which people are entitled, and the ability of councils to meet those needs,” Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said.

“Care assessments, care planning and charging for care have been key features of our cases this year and a common theme is councils failing to provide care, or limiting it, and justifying this because of the cost. We appreciate budgets are becoming increasingly stretched but authorities’ duties under the Care Act remain and we will continue to hold authorities to account for what they should be doing rather than what they can afford to do.”

Over the past year, the Ombudsman has upheld 70 per cent of the cases it has investigated about adult social care – a figure higher than the 66% average uphold rate across all areas it investigates.

However, since the last comparable year before the pandemic the Ombudsman has received 16 per cent fewer complaints about adult care. Significantly, it has seen a 21 per cent drop in complaints about care arranged and funded independently.

“I’m also concerned that more than a decade of rising demand and unmet need have left service users and their families, disillusioned and feeling there is no point in making a complaint,” King added.

“I want people to know that their voice matters. What can at first appear a simple error affecting a single person can trigger a change in practice benefitting many others. We can and do use our powers to achieve the maximum impact from our investigations – indeed despite the fall in complaint numbers, we have made more recommendations to improve services than ever before.”

Over the past year, the Ombudsman received 2,596 complaints and enquiries about adult social care, however just 13% (340) were from people who arranged and funded their own care. This compares with 3,073 complaints and enquiries in 2019-20 with 430 about independent care. During the same period, the Ombudsman made 631 service improvement recommendations, compared with 596 in 2019-20. Service improvements can include recommendations to review or create policies and procedures, staff training, improving communication with families and record keeping.

Responding to the report, Cllr David Fothergill, Chairman of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Community Wellbeing Board, said councils and care providers have “worked tirelessly” to keep vital care and support services going despite significant and worsening financial and workforce challenges.

“As this report rightfully highlights, a significant number of complaints can be directly attributed to underfunding,” Fothergill said.

“However, this report adds to the growing evidence showing how critically underfunded social care is and the consequences of that underfunding. Immediate action needs to be taken by the Government to prevent services worsening further, and that is why we are calling on the Prime Minister to deliver on her promise to give £13 billion to social care to rescue the sector.”

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