Fewer than one in five local authorities have a dedicated appeals process for social care, according to new research by Independent Age.
This means the only option many people have is to make a complaint – a process that can be slow, stressful and leave them living with inadequate care or unfair costs.
The news follows the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s announcement that almost three quarters (73%) of complaints about charging and 60% of complaints about assessments and care planning were upheld in 2018/19
Independent Age said this suggests that issues are not being dealt with effectively through local authority complaints processes.
Deborah Alsina, chief executive of Independent Age, said: “Having to make a complaint is hard enough for many older people and their families, without the added complications of not knowing how to do it, or how long it will take.
“The one in five councils who do have a process are actually going above and beyond what it expected of them. Although this is brilliant, there needs to be a statutory appeals process so that no matter where you live, the way to appeal a decision will be the same.”
In its new report, ‘Reviewing the case: the right to appeal in adult social care’, Independent Age investigates how people can challenge decisions about the care and support they receive, an often-neglected aspect of social care.
The report found that most councils use a complaints procedure, rather than a separate social care appeals process.
This can mean that people could be waiting as much as six months for their complaint to be resolved, or even longer if an extension is applied. Calls to the Independent Age Helpline also suggest that using the word “complaint” can be off-putting for some older people.
Of those local authorities who did have an appeals process, the most common appeal requests were in relation to changes to care packages (25%), outcomes of care needs assessments (20%), and eligibility (16%).
Independent Age is calling on the government to introduce a statutory appeals process for adult social care.
It said, as a minimum, the process should be distinct from complaints; include clear provision for the role of an independent reviewer; stipulate that during an appeals process, the individual’s current level of care is upheld and maintained until the case has been resolved; and be clearly explained to individuals receiving care, so that they know access to an appeals process is something they are entitled to.
The process should also have assigned timescales; include requirements to local authorities to collect data, so that patterns can be identified and lessons learned; and be adequately resourced so that it can be properly staffed and administered, the charity said.
Alsina added: “The government has previously acknowledged the need for this and even consulted on it in 2015, but they never published a response and nothing has moved forward. That’s why we’ve published our report today: too many people are being left without the support they need, and with no idea about how to take control of their own care, and that needs to end.”