Agenda Item No. 7


The Vale of Glamorgan Council


Scrutiny Committee (Social Care and Health): 7th November 2013


Report of the Director of Social Services


Social Services Representations and Complaints – Annual Report 2012/2013


Purpose of the Report

1.             To advise Committee about:

·         the Social Services Representations and Complaints Procedure;

·         activity, performance and achievements within this important area of work during 2012/2013; and

·         improvements planned for 2013/2014.


T H A T the Scrutiny Committee:


1.             Notes the report.

2.             Continues to receive an annual report in relation to complaints and compliments received by the Social Services Directorate.

Reason for the Recommendations

1&2.         To ensure effective scrutiny of performance in Social Services and the direct

impact upon individual service users and their carers.


2.             Officers in the Directorate believe strongly that handling complaints well is a crucial part of our responsibilities.  An effective and properly managed system for doing so plays a key role in ensuring that users receive the services to which they are entitled.  It enables the Directorate to:

·         acknowledge quickly when mistakes have been made;

·         put them right effectively and apologise, where appropriate; and

·         ensure that we learn lessons from complaints and use these to improve services and performance.


3.             The Directorate has sought to ensure that its systems for managing complaints are robust.  Effective monitoring of complaints acts as a valuable source of feedback, highlighting aspects of service delivery which fall below the standard the Council aims to achieve.  Handling complaints promptly, efficiently and responsively enhances the Directorate’s reputation with all its stakeholders.

4.             The Social Services Representations and Complaints Procedure is grounded in statute and must comply with the good practice guidance issued by the Welsh Government, called "Listening & Learning – A Guide to Handling Complaints in Social Services".

5.             The current procedure has three stages.  The third stage is managed by the Welsh Government and involves an independent panel.  If a complainant remains dissatisfied following this stage of the process, it can refer their complaint to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales.  During 2012, the Welsh Government consulted with key stakeholders on proposals to reform the Social Services Complaints Procedure.  One of the proposed changes was that complainants who remain dissatisfied following Stage 2 may take their outstanding complaints to the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales.  There was considerable support for the change and the Deputy Minister decided to implement new arrangements for handling all Social Services complaints.  The Welsh Government is developing detailed guidance and regulations; these will include specifying the timescales for each stage.  In December 2012, the Welsh Government advised that they would consult on the regulations and guidance later this year.  This project is being steered by an Independent Assurance Group.

Relevant Issues and Options

6.             The Annual Social Services Representations and Complaints Annual Report 2012/2013 is attached at Appendix 1

7.             As detailed in the report, the Directorate received 56 concerns or complaints in 2012/2013.  The breakdown across the service is shown below.




Adult Services



Children and Young People Services



Business Management and Innovation







* An enquiry is an issue of concern to the service user, dealt with by the team, without escalation to a complaint.  None of the 29 enquires became a Stage 1 complaint.      


8.             There was a decrease in the number of enquiries recorded, from 38 in 2011/12 to 29 in 2012/13.  In the same period, there was a decrease in the number of complaints, from 106 to 56. 

9.             Increased staff awareness regarding their responsibilities under the Complaints Procedure and their commitment to resolving concerns at the earliest opportunity is considered to be a factor in reducing the volume of complaints.  The Complaints Officer has taken on more of a mediation role during the past year.  Some people who contact social services are not sure if they want to make a complaint.  In these circumstances, the Complaints Officer will arrange to meet with them, to listen to their concerns and to explore how they can be resolved.  This intervention involves using a range of approaches including discussion, supplying information and listening to the concerns of the individual and ensuring that the relevant service area is notified;

10.        To understand the volume of complaints vis-a-vis the number of service users, the proportion was approximately 0.41% in adult services (4657 people receiving social services or referred during the year and 19 complaints) and 1.32% in Children and Young People Services (2281 and 30).  The higher proportion of complaints per service user in Children and Young People Services reflects the fact that families are more likely to experience intervention on an involuntary basis, as a consequence of safeguarding concerns.

11.        The Social Services Procedure includes timescales within which complainants should have received a response to their complaint.  During 2012/2013, there was a small dip in performance, with 79.63% of Stage 1 complaints being responded to within the 10 day timescale. This is a slight reduction from the 80.70% reported in 2011/2012.  Stage 2 and Stage 3 complaints were all completed within the agreed timescales.

12.        The most common complaints received were as follows.

2012/2013 – Most Common Complaints Recieved





Children and Young People  Services


Business Management and Innovation

Charges for care services





Disagreement with assessment policy





Lack of information/ consultation





Lack of response from team





Placement provision





Quality/level of service





Complaint about staff





Unhappy with care provision










13.        Complaints against staff are the most common.  This is a typical pattern within local authority social services, partly because of the sensitive and sometimes contested nature of the work which staff undertake but also because the statutory basis for Social Services is very complex.  A number of complaints arise in circumstances where staff have acted appropriately in delivering the Council’s policies and priorities but this is not acceptable to families.  The improved performance in achieving early resolution of complaints demonstrates the extent to which good investigation can provide opportunities for reconciling different perceptions.  It is often possible to demonstrate that staff have acted fairly or made reasonable decisions, based on all relevant considerations. 

14.        Where staff have acted inappropriately or without sufficient sensitivity, managers remain committed to taking effective action in response and to insist on the highest standards of practice in all cases, especially in treating people with respect and dignity.

15.        Similarly, where the Directorate has not kept to its commitments or failed to meet service standards, we are quick to apologise and to rectify matters.  In seeking continuous improvement, complaints are used to ascertain the need for reviewing policies and procedures.

16.        Compliments are also regarded as important information and used to identify good practice.  The Directorate received 99 compliments during 2012/2013, compared to 58 in 2011/12.  Details are included in the annual report.

17.        The Directorate continues to improve the way in which complaints are dealt with and in the past year

·         Complaints Information reports are issued to managers on a monthly basis.

·         The Complaints Officer worked effectively with the Independent Complaints Secretariat to ensure Stage 3 panels were arranged in a timely manner.

·         Managers can now access on the StaffNet information on complaints processes and templates of letters to be used at each stage of the process.

·         The Complaints Officer has contributed to the development of the following policies – Complaints made by and against foster carers and Appeals against eligibility decisions and appeals against charging decisions.

·         Information leaflets have been reviewed.


18.        The priorities for developing the complaints and compliments service during 2013/2014 include:

·         implementing any changes necessary following Welsh Government consultation on proposals to amend the statutory complaints procedure;

·         ongoing training programme to include complaints awareness sessions with managers and their teams; 

·         improving compliance with set timescales for dealing with complaints;

·         further increasing the numbers of Independent Investigators and Independent Persons on the database;

·         reviewing the complaint information leaflets for use by children and young people;

·         work with the Corporate Complaints Team on the process for collating feedback from complaints;

·         further developing the monitoring and evaluation process to improve the ability of the Directorate to learn from complaints and to use the outcomes and recommendations arising from complaints to improve services; and

·         contribute to the biannual Corporate Complaints report

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

19.        Operating the Complaints Policy and Procedure is a statutory responsibility and the work has to comply with regulations.  There are costs which accrue to the Directorate and officers often devote a considerable amount of time to resolving an individual complaint.  However, the costs have been managed within the budget set for this area of work.

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

20.        Effective delivery of the complaints and representations procedures assists the Council to deliver good governance.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

21.        The NHS and Community Care Act (1990), Children Act (1989 Part III), The Representations Procedure (Children) (Wales) Regulations 2005, The Social Services Complaints Procedure (Wales) Regulations 2005 and the National Minimum Standards and Regulations (2002) for Fostering Services require Local Authorities to maintain a representations and complaints procedure for Social Services functions.  The Welsh Government expects each Local Authority to report annually on the way it operates the procedure.  The Adoption and Children Act 2002 and Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Act 2003 contains provisions in relation to complaints.

Crime and Disorder Implications

22.        There are no Crime and Disorder implications as a direct result of this report.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

23.        All service users and their carers are able to access the Social Services Complaints Procedure.

Corporate/Service Objectives

24.        The Social Services Directorate meets the following corporate objectives: "To make the Vale a safe, healthy and enjoyable place in which individuals, children and families can live their lives to the full"; and "To manage the Council’s workforce, money and assets efficiently and effectively in order to maximise its ability to achieve its service aims".

Policy Framework and Budget

25.        This report is in accordance with the Council’s policy framework and budget.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

26.        There are no matters in this report which relate to any individual Ward.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

27.        Social Care and Health.

Background Papers


Contact Officer

Carys Lord, Head of Business Management and Innovation.

Officers Consulted

Social Services Complaints Officer

Responsible Officer

Philip Evans, Director of Social Services.