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6.1 Complaints Procedure


This chapter is based on "A Guide to Better Customer Care; Listening, Responding and Improving", published by the Department of Health in February 2009.

It is designed to be accessible to all staff involved in receiving feedback and resolving concerns and complaints from people who use their services and their representatives.


Listening, Responding, Improving - A Quick Guide for all Front Line Staff to the New Adult Social Services Complaints Guidance

Listening, Responding, Improving - A Managers Guide to the New Statutory Adult Services Complaints Guidance


Principles of Good Complaint Handling, issued by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman in February 2009

Listening, Responding, Improving, A Guide to Better Customer Care, issued by the Department of Health in February 2009


This chapter was updated in April 2017.


  1. Introduction
  2. Complaint Definition
  3. Listening
  4. Investigating
  5. Responding
  6. Learning and Improving
  7. Handling Unreasonable Complainants

1. Introduction

On 1 April 2009 the Government introduced a single complaints procedure for Adult Social Care Services and the National Health Service. This means that if a complaint involves two or more organisations, the person who is making the complaint, should receive one co-ordinated response where possible.

Organisations are also encouraged to ask people what they think of their care and inform people of the Complaints Procedure and how they can use it. The Care Act 2014 further emphasises that as an essential part of how the whole system operates, the local authority must provide information and advice on its own local arrangements for receiving and dealing with complaints and what independent support is available to people to do so.

Any literature used to encourage people to give their views regarding the service (which also can relate to compliments) needs to be jargon free, user friendly, available in different formats and languages and give advice on how to obtain more information and support. Translation and interpretation facilities should be available if needed.

Best practice guidance was published for Health and Social Care staff involved in receiving feedback and resolving concerns and complaints, called ‘Listening, Responding and Improving’. The Brighton and Hove City Council Adult Social Care complaints procedure is based on this guidance.

The focus of the complaints procedure is to achieve the best outcome for both the individual concerned and the service and every complaint should be seen as an opportunity to make care better.

Information about the Adult Social Care complaints procedure and how to make a complaints is available online (Brighton and Hove City Council website). There is an easy read leaflet called ‘Comments, Complaints and Compliments about Adult Social Care Services’ which can be printed from the website (Brighton and Hove City Council website).

In Brighton and Hove City Council, there is a Customer Feedback Manager and a Customer Feedback Officer who deal specifically with Adult Social Care complaints, and who sit within the corporate Customer Feedback Team. Their role is to liaise with service users to establish the best way to resolve their disputes, work with the managers of services to effectively handle the management of complaints, to co-ordinate the process, especially where several services or organisations are involved and to provide support on any part of the process.

2. Complaint Definition

A core definition of a complaint is:

‘An expression of dissatisfaction or disquiet, which requires an investigation and a formal response’

It is important to differentiate between queries, concerns and complaints so that there is clarity with regard to the response required. These are best defined as:

  • Query - where someone expresses that they feel a little disgruntled or wish to mention a minor issue. It would usually be resolved within 24 hours to the person’s satisfaction. Judgement can be applied as to where it might be best to log a query, such as the person’s individual record but it is not necessary to inform the Customer Feedback Team. Effective handling of queries can prevent complaints;
  • Concern - this includes a low level, pre complaint issue, where the person does not wish to make a formal complaint and which might be case managed. It is often good practice to follow up in writing the conclusion of these concerns;
  • Complaint - the person is clearly unhappy with the service, wishes to formally complain and would like the matter/s to be investigated, resolved and to receive a formal response.

The Customer Feedback Team should be notified of any concerns and complaints received.

Who can make a complaint?

A complaint can be made by anyone who has applied for or is in receipt of an Adult Social Care service, including a family member, friend, carer or any other person acting on their behalf.

In the event that someone else is raising a complaint on behalf of a service user, permission will be required from the person receiving the service. Consent forms can be provided by the Customer Feedback Team. Should there be concerns relating to the person’s capacity to consent to the complaint being raised, this can be discussed with the Customer Feedback Team or Investigating Manager.

Complaints can preferably be made using the online form; or alternatively by email, letter or phone, either to the service or to the Customer Feedback Team,or in person to the service

No service will be delayed, withdrawn or suspended because a complaint has been made.

What can be complained about?

  • The quality or appropriateness of a service;
  • Delays in decision-making or the provision of a service;
  • Failure to deliver a service;
  • Attitude or behaviour of staff;
  • Application of eligibility or assessment criteria.

What is excluded from the complaints procedure?

The complaints procedure does not apply where:

  • The complaint is about the actions of another local authority or a health trust;
  • The complaint has already been considered and investigated;
  • The complaint is in relation to an event that occurred more than 12 months before (although there is a discretion to extend this time limit, for example where there are good reasons why the person was not able to bring the complaint earlier);
  • The complaint should be dealt with under the following proceedings - court, criminal, safeguarding children, safeguarding adults, disciplinary, grievance, whistle blowing, tribunal, freedom of information, appeals and insurance claims;
  • A safeguarding investigation is underway as this process always supersedes the complaints process. The complaints process can be reverted to at the conclusion of the safeguarding investigation as there may be some remaining issues that need to be addressed;
  • People who are self- funders are not normally eligible to use the procedure unless there is a concern about the process of allocation of resources.

Giving people support and advice when they complain

There are many reasons why someone might need support (e.g. disability, language, age) and there are a number of services that help. The Customer Feedback Team can provide advice and support to people who receive services and their representatives. Advocacy can be used to help some people to make a complaint and to provide support given during the investigative process.

3. Listening

A complaint is generally either received by the service itself or the Customer Feedback Team. As stated, it may come from other sources, who would be expected to refer the complaint to either the relevant manager and/or the Customer Feedback Team. Guidance relating to what managers and frontline staff should do upon receipt of a complaint, can be found under Listening, Responding, Improving - Guidance for Frontline Staff to the Adult Social Care Complaints Procedure.

There are some parts of the process will be actioned by either the Operations Manager or the Customer Feedback Team. This will be clarified through joint working.

Any person expressing a concern about their experiences should be carefully listened to, so that the nature of the complaint is properly understood and the person can see that they are being taken seriously. People also need the opportunity to have their views heard about the most effective way to resolve the complaint.

Wherever possible the issue causing concern should be quickly resolved, for example by a change in the person’s arrangements or an apology. Where a quick resolution is possible without further investigation, this might be a query. If the person is happy with the outcome and there are no risks to others using services, the resolution should be carried out with the agreement of the relevant Operations Manager.

After receiving a complaint where a quick resolution is not possible, the Customer Feedback Team should be notified within one working day and they will acknowledged the complaint within 3 working days. The same timescales and responsibilities apply if the complaint arrives at the Customer Feedback Team. The most appropriate way of resolving the complaint will be determined and a timeframe for a response will be supplied.

The following process should be followed in respect of the ‘Listening’ part of the complaint process:

  • Upon receipt of the complaint, establish with the complainant the issues of concern. This may involve further communication by the Operations Manager and/or the Customer Feedback Team and may involve the offer of a face to face meeting;
  • The person’s desired outcome should be sought and clarified. Complaints can be resolved more effectively if it has been made clear from the outset what the person complaining expects as an outcome. If this is not a feasible or realistic outcome, then this must be explained to the complainant;
  • Where someone has raised the complaint on behalf of someone else, it is essential gain authorisation from the service user. If the service user lacks capacity then supporting information would need to be provided as to the reasons;
  • Define the individual complaint issue/s in order to comprehensively investigate all of the matters raised. Where the complaint is complex and/or involves various services and/or organisations, this will be undertaken by the Customer Feedback Team;
  • The Customer Feedback Team, in conjunction with the relevant Operations or General Manager, will identify a lead person to investigate and respond to the complaint;
  • Where the complaint relates to two or more services and/or organisations, it should be agreed between the relevant parties which of them will take the lead;
  • The lead person will then be responsible for liaising with the other services throughout the duration of the complaint. The Customer Feedback Manager might undertake this role, particularly in circumstances where other organisations are involved;
  • The lead person/ Customer Feedback Manager should agree a Complaints Plan with the complainant about the action required in relation to any support to be provided to the person making the complaint, and the process of the investigation including how and when the complainant will receive progress reports and the timescale for a final response;
  • Timescales for a response should vary according to the complexity of the complaint. For single issue, straightforward complaints, a response should be received within 10 working days. For complex or multi issue complaints either within one service or single issues spread across more than one service, a response should be received within 25 days. For multi issue, multi service and multi organisation complaints, a response should be received within 45 days, however, in exceptional circumstances this may be longer, especially where the Customer Feedback Team is working to timeframes as stipulated by other organisations. Where the complaints process is halted in situations where safeguarding processes need to take precedence, the response timeframe will also be longer. In these situations the complainant should be kept informed of the expected timescales;
  • Where any safeguarding issues are identified, the Operations Manager or Customer Feedback Team should immediately refer the concerns under the Local Safeguarding Children Board or Safeguarding Vulnerable Adults procedures, as appropriate;
  • The process is co-ordinated by the Customer Feedback Team who will log each stage on the person’s complaints record. They will liaise with the relevant managers.

Assessing the seriousness of the complaint

It is crucial to obtain all of the information that will allow the seriousness of the complaint to be assessed correctly, so that the appropriate action can be taken.

The following three-step process enables the seriousness of the complaint to be graded:

Decide how serious the issue is


  • Unsatisfactory service or experience not directly related to care. No impact or risk to provision of care; OR
  • Unsatisfactory service or experience related to care, usually a single resolvable issue. Minimal impact and relative minimal risk to the provision of care or the service. No real risk of litigation.

Examples - cancelled appointments, event resulting in minor harm (e.g. cut, strain), lack of cleanliness, transport problems, single failure to meet care needs.


  • Service or experience below reasonable expectations in several ways, but not causing lasting problems. Has potential to impact on service provision and some potential for litigation.

Examples - delayed discharge, event resulting in moderate harm (e.g. fracture), failure to meet care needs, staff attitude, miscommunication or misinformation.


  • Significant issues regarding standards, quality of care and safeguarding of or denial of rights. Complaints with clear quality assurance or risk management issues, which may cause lasting problems for the organisation and therefore require investigation. Possibility of litigation and adverse local publicity; OR
  • Serious issues that may cause long-term damage, such as grossly sub-standard care, professional misconduct or death. Will require immediate and in-depth investigation. May involve serious safety issues. A high probability of litigation and strong possibility of adverse national publicity.

Examples - as per medium but multiple failures, event resulting in serious harm, abuse or neglect, gross professional misconduct.

4. Investigating

The person appointed to investigate the complaint should be appropriately trained.

In some complex cases, an offline manager within the Council, or an independent investigator from outside the organisation may be appointed.

The purpose of the investigation is to establish the facts of what happened. This may be done through interviews with key staff, reading records, carrying out site visits, considering policy, procedures and guidelines, and where appropriate, taking expert advice.

Where there is a risk of communication breakdown, it may be appropriate to use mediation. Mediation should not be confused with advocacy, counselling or arbitration. A mediator does not usually make decisions or offer solutions to the problem but will help both parties to reach an acceptable conclusion.

All evidence gathered should be assessed in order to give a decision, which is fair and reasonable.

Where any safeguarding issues are identified during the course of the investigation, these should be immediately referred under the Local Safeguarding Children Board Procedures or Safeguarding Vulnerable Adults Procedures, as appropriate.

Further guidance relating to how managers should conduct investigations, can be found under Listening, Responding, Improving - Guidance for Managers to the Adult Social Care Complaints Procedure.

5. Responding

Following the investigation, the investigating manager should produce a written response setting out the complaint, how it was considered, the findings, the lessons learned, the proposed resolution of the complaint and what appropriate action has been taken or is proposed.

The response should establish whether the complaint issue/s was/were upheld, partially upheld, not upheld or inconclusive. This information should be presented sensitively according to the needs of the person. The Customer Feedback Manager can provide support and advice with the preparation of this response. A template for a response letter is available.

The outcome should be agreed with, and the letter signed off by the relevant General Manager before it is sent. It may also be agreed that a face-to-face meeting or telephone conversation with the complainant is also required to go through the letter.

At this stage, the person making a complaint should be reminded of their right to take the matter to the Local Government Ombudsman if they are dissatisfied with the outcome. The contact details should be provided, which are:

The Local Government Ombudsman
PO Box 4771
0300 061 0614

Further guidance relating to how managers should respond to complainants, can be found under Listening, Responding, Improving - Guidance for Managers to the Adult Social Care Complaints Procedure.

6. Learning and Improving

The Customer Feedback Manager and Officer will ensure that a full record is kept of complaints made under this procedure, their outcomes and the lessons learned, together with any actions taken in response to improve services.

Operations Managers should liaise with the Customer Feedback Team to advise them when actions are completed, at which point the record will be closed.

This information will be shared on a quarterly basis with all managers.

A quarterly report is produced and presented to the senior management team, detailing:

  • The number of complaints received;
  • The issues that these complaints raised;
  • Whether complaints have been upheld;
  • The actions taken to improve services as a result;
  • The number of cases referred to the Local Government Ombudsman.

The senior management team will have the opportunity to comment on the reports before they are published.

Further guidance relating to how managers implement learning, can be found under Listening, Responding, Improving - Guidance for Managers to the Adult Social Care Complaints Procedure.

7. Handling Unreasonable Complainants

On rare occasions, the person making the complaint can become aggressive or unreasonable. It is important the service knows how to deal with this. The Customer Feedback Team can provide support and advice but key points to be aware of are:

  • Contact should be overseen by a manager at an appropriate level;
  • A communication strategy might need to be implemented, but it is important to note that the complaint response letter might be crucial to supporting this strategy, in terms of referring the person back to the outcome and next steps.

Further guidance relating to how managers should handle unreasonable complainants, can be found under Listening, Responding, Improving - Guidance for Managers to the Adult Social Care Complaints Procedure.

The Adult Social Care Customer Feedback Manager and Officer will help and support with any part of the complaints process. They can be contacted at the Customer Feedback Team,, marking ASC complaint in the subject line. Or on 01273 291229.