Briefing by Luke Clements ~ updated August 2017. For corrections or suggested additions please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Part 10 of the 2014 Act (sections 171 – 180) provides for further reform of social services complaints procedures (adults and children – as well as for privately funded care). The 2012 Consultation on reforming the social services complaints process proposed aligning the system closer to the English system where the third stage of a complaints process had been removed and the Ombudsman is able to investigate complaints by self-funders concerning their social care services.
In August 2014 the Welsh Government introduced the new complaints process in accordance with the proposals, ie by removing the right to an independent panel hearing. The regulations and policy guidance underpinning the new procedure make few other changes to the substance or process of complaining in Wales. Complaints can be made by anyone (including a child) who is / was entitled to receive a service from social services – or by their representatives. Local authorities must appoint a Complaints Officer to manage the process although the Director has overall responsibility. The regulations require that any complaint must be acknowledged within 2 days of receipt and within 10 days of this there must be a discussion (possibly over the phone) with the complainant. The guidance advises that at the Stage 1 ‘local resolution’ process the ‘emphasis should be on achieving service user satisfaction rather than avoiding a Formal Investigation’. Although the regulations require that the discussion take place ‘within 10 days’ it does not state explicitly that it must also be concluded within this period – but this appears to be the intention of the statutory scheme.
The Formal Investigation stage arises if the first stage has failed or ‘if the seriousness of the complaint means that a first stage is inappropriate’, or if the ‘complainant has asked that their complaint be progressed immediately’ to this stage (para 71). The local authority must compile a record of the complaint within 5 working days of the date that it is received as a Formal Investigation and the investigation stage ‘must be completed, and a full written response issued to the complainant, within 25 working days of the start date’ (para 75) although there is provision for this to be exceeded in ‘exceptional cases’ (para 76). This stage involves an independent investigator – but ultimately the local authority decides ‘whether or not the complaint is upheld’ (guidance para 88).