Agenda Item No
The Vale of Glamorgan Council
Cabinet Meeting: 28 July, 2014
Joint Report of the Cabinet Member for Adult Services and the Cabinet Member for Children's Services
Representations and Complaints in Social Services: New Guidance from Welsh Government
Purpose of the Report
1. To advise Cabinet about new guidance and regulations in relation to Social Services Representations and Complaints, which will be implemented on 1st August 2014.
1. That Cabinet endorses the content of this report.
2. That Cabinet authorises the Director of Social Services, in consultation with the Cabinet Member for Adult Services, the Cabinet Member for Children's Services and the Managing Director to revise the Social Service Complaints and Representations Procedure, to ensure compliance with the new guidance and regulations once these have been finalised by the Welsh Government.
3. That Cabinet refers this report to the Social Care and Health Scrutiny Committee for information.
Reasons for the Recommendations
1. To ensure that the Cabinet is aware of and endorses the changes to the Council's procedures for managing complaints and representations in Social Services that will be required.
2. To ensure compliance with the new regulations and guidance.
3. To ensure that the Scrutiny Committee is informed about the changes.
2. The Council's current Social Services Representations and Complaints Procedure has been in use since 2006; it was designed to conform with the national guidance 'Listening and Learning'. In November 2013, the Deputy Minister for Social Services made it known that the Social Services Complaints Procedure was to be brought in line with the All-Wales 'Model Concerns and Complaints Policy and Guidance' issued the Welsh Government July 2011 and the NHS Complaints Procedure 'Putting Things Right'.
3. An extensive consultation exercise was undertaken by the Welsh Government during 2012/13 and a wide range of stakeholders were invited to take part in the exercise. The exercise identified that the current arrangements were too complicated and that service users often did not understand how to complain about services they had received.
4. The post-consultation draft, â€˜A guide to handling complaints and representations by local authority social services’, was issued by Welsh Government on 14th May 2014. It is attached at Appendix A. This new guidance replaces supports implementation of the Social Services Complaints Procedure (Wales) Regulations 2014 and Representations Procedure (Wales) Regulations 2014. The implementation date for the new Regulations and Guidance is 1st August 2014.
Relevant Issues and Options
5. The current process consists of three stages as follows.
6. Stage 1: Local Resolution
The policy and procedure aims to ensure that people who complain have their concerns resolved swiftly and, wherever possible, by the people who provide the service locally.
7. Stage 2: Formal Consideration
Where a complaint cannot be resolved at Stage 1, it is referred to Stage 2. An Investigating Officer (who is independent of the service about which the complaint has been made) is appointed by the Director (or his representative) to investigate the matter. In the case of children’s complaints, an Independent Person (not employed by the Authority) is also appointed to oversee the investigation process in accordance with statutory requirements.
8. Stage 3: The Independent Panel
Complainants who are dissatisfied with the outcome of the complaint investigation at Stage 2 have the right to have their complaint reviewed by an Independent Panel. Both the panel membership and the administrative arrangements for the panel are wholly separate and independent from the Local Authority.
9. The key changes within the new guidance are summarised below.
· a twelve-month time limit in which to bring a complaint, unless there are exceptional circumstances;
· a focus on local resolution initially – complainants are to be offered a discussion to resolve their complaints within 10 days of the complaint being received;
· an independent investigator has to be independent of the local authority ;
· removal of the Stage 3 Panel - from August 1st 2014, if a complaint or representation is not resolved at the Formal Investigation Stage (Stage 2), the complainant must be advised that they have the right to complain to the Public Services Ombudsman. The Ombudsman’s office will aim to complete all investigations within 12 months: and
· greater emphasis on learning lessons.
10. The focus of the new procedure is on informal resolution and the regulations require that all those who raise a concern are offered a discussion (either face-to-face or by telephone) in an attempt to informally resolve the matter. A further major difference is the removal of the independent panel stage. The new two-stage process is in line with the Model Concerns and Complaints Policy and Guidance and the NHS Complaints procedure, 'Putting Things Right'.
11. This new approach will result in a more straight forward approach to complaints resolution which is more citizen focused in that the service will concentrate on addressing the issues for the individual rather than on the complaint process itself.
12. The new guidance also requires local authorities to monitor the number of complaints received by the service and to learn from complaints in order to improve service delivery and design. This is already undertaken in the Vale with monthly summaries of complaints being shared with managers across the service. The lessons learnt from complaints are summarised in the annual complaints report that the Directorate is required to produce.
13. Within the new guidance, responsibilities of key roles (such as the Director of Social Services, the Senior Officer with statutory responsibility for complaints and the Complaints Officer) are clarified and expanded.
Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)
14. Operating the Complaints Policy and Procedure is a statutory responsibility and practice has to comply with regulations. As officers can often devote a considerable amount of time to resolving an individual complaint, there are opportunity costs which accrue to the Directorate. Also, the new Welsh Government guidance states that all formal (Stage 2) complaints are to be investigated by an independent investigator with the assistance of an "independent person". An independent person takes separate oversight of how the local authority handles a complaint and responds to it. In the role, the individual should take part in the investigation and any discussions held by the local authority about the action to be taken in light of the investigation.
15. This has resource implications for the Directorate of up to £3,000 per complaint. The number of complaints received by the service has been reducing in recent years with an average of four complaints a year reaching this stage of the complaints procedure in the past three years. The costs have been met within the Directorate's budget.
Sustainability and Climate Change Implications
16. There are no sustainability of climate change implications as a direct result of this report.
Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)
17. This report supports implementation of the Social Services Complaints Procedure (Wales) Regulations 2014 and Representations Procedure (Wales) Regulations 2014.
Crime and Disorder Implications
18. There are no crime and disorder implications as a direct result of this report.
Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)
19. All service users and their carers are able to access the Social Service Complaints Procedure.
20. Implementation will help the Council to achieve the following objective:
· To ensure that people have access to comprehensive information about Social Services and other forms of help and support, are appropriately signposted to help and supported by proportionate assessments, care and support plans, and services which meet their individual assessed needs.
Policy Framework and Budget
21. This report is in accordance with the Council's policy framework and budget.
Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)
22. There are no matters in this report which relate to any individual Ward.
Relevant Scrutiny Committee
23. Social Care and Health.
Carys Lord, Head of Business and Innovation
Social Services Complaints Officer
Philip Evans, Director of Social Services