Challenging social care decisions is too stressful and confusing, says watchdog

Findings that have been published today show adults in England and Wales who receive social care are reluctant to challenge decisions because they are afraid of losing their existing care.

Founded in 2017, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), an organisation dedicated to protecting people against discriminatory treatment and hold organisations, launched an investigation in July 2021 after organisations supporting older and disabled people raised concerns that they face barriers to complaining about or challenging decisions regarding their care.

The watchdog considered the procedures in place among local authorities across England and Wales as well as gathering insight from social care professionals.

After examining the resources in place, the EHRC discovered some social care users and carers are reluctant to challenge decisions because they are afraid of possible negative repercussions including losing their existing care.

Many people also reported that they felt complaining was pointless due to previous experience of concerns being ignored and key points not being considered, while advocacy providers, lawyers, charities, and voluntary organisations highlighted people often depend on local authority staff for support and want to stay on good terms with them.

The report found issues with signposting people to advice or support that is independent of the local authority to seek information on making a complaint – with only 42% of local authorities in England and Wales saying they do this in every case.

In the findings, published today, the EHRC said: ‘We found that the system for challenging decisions is confusing and subject to long delays. Local authority complaints processes are often complicated and stressful.

‘People may not be given important information about how to challenge decisions. Some fear that, if they challenge a decision, they may lose their care. Too many people do not seek help or feel ignored, often when they are already vulnerable.’

In addition, the watchdog also discovered councils are missing information, due to a poor collection and analysis of equality data, which could help them understand how well they meet the social care needs of different groups, so services can be improved.

However, within the report, the EHRC said various local authorities have agreed they need to improve their collection and analysis of data about those who do and do not challenge adult social care decisions.

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The watchdog considered responses from 153 local authorities – 133 in England and 20 in Wales – in-depth interviews with 12 councils, 332 adult social care users, their representatives and carers, and interviews and focus group discussions with social care professionals, advocacy providers and older and disabled people’s organisations.

Making a vast number of recommendations, the watchdog has made calls for the government to make the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman the statutory complaints standards authority for adults social care in England and for it to employ new powers to initiate investigators into areas of concern without the need for individual complaints.

EHRC Chief Executive, Marcial Boo, said the social care system in England and Wales is ‘struggling, with people’s needs being balanced against tiny budgets’.

Mr Boo added: ‘While local authorities are facing huge pressures, they must protect people’s rights when making decisions about their care. Effective ways for people to challenge those decisions are crucial to ensuring that good decisions are made, and people’s needs are met.’

He said people ‘should not be left in the dark about how to challenge decisions that affect their wellbeing, dignity and independence so fundamentally.’

Photo by engin akyurt and Maxim Hopman


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