Making a complaint about a professional

Social workers and other health and care professionals

There is a very comprehensive and clear guide about making complaints and what happens next  from the Family Rights Group here

Anyone considering a complaint is well advised to download the government’s statutory guidance Children’s social care: Getting the best from complaints. This sets out the frame your complaint is supposed to follow.

The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) is an independent regulator set up by the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001. The HCPC keeps a register for 16 different health and care professions and only registers people who meet the standards it sets for their training, professional skills, and behaviour.  The HCPC will take action against professionals who do not meet these standards or who use a protected title illegally.

The HCPC website has information about cases where social workers have been removed from the register for misconduct

See the standards of proficiency for social workers in England.

Social Workers – the ability to work appropriately with others

Standard 9 demands the ability to work appropriately with others, in particular at 9.3:

be able to work with service users and carers to promote individual growth, development and independence and to assist them to understand and exercise their rights .

The British Association of Social Workers is also clear in their Code of Ethics that this must be done. Social workers must be able to explain what is happening and why. ‘Professional integrity’ demands, amongst other things, that:

Social workers should work in a way that is honest, reliable and open, clearly explaining their roles, interventions and decisions and not seeking to deceive or manipulate people who use their services, their colleagues or employers.

Standards of conduct, performance and ethics.

The HCPC also sets out the standards of conduct, performance and ethics expected from registrants. The standards also apply to people who are applying to become registered.

  1. You must act in the best interests of service users
  2. You must respect the confidentiality of service users.
  3. You must keep high standards of personal conduct.
  4. You must provide (to us and any other relevant regulators) any important information about your conduct and competence.
  5. You must keep your professional knowledge and skills up to date.
  6. You must act within the limits of your knowledge, skills and experience and, if necessary, refer the matter to another practitioner.
  7. You must communicate properly and effectively with service users and other practitioners.
  8. You must effectively supervise tasks that you have asked other people to carry out.
  9. You must get informed consent to provide care or services (so far as possible).
  10. You must keep accurate records.
  11. You must deal fairly and safely with the risks of infection.
  12. You must limit your work or stop practising if your performance or judgement is affected by your health.
  13. You must behave with honesty and integrity and make sure that your behaviour does not damage the public’s confidence in you or your profession.
  14. You must make sure that any advertising you do is accurate


What do I do if I want to complain about the local authority?

Section 26 (3) of the Children Act 1989 provides that

Every local authority shall establish a procedure for considering any representations (including any complaint) made to them by—

(a) any child who is being looked after by them or who is not being looked after by them but is in need;

(b) a parent of his;

(c) any person who is not a parent of his but who has parental responsibility for him;

(d) any local authority foster parent;

(e) such other person as the authority consider has a sufficient interest in the child’s welfare to warrant his representations being considered by them,

about the discharge by the authority of any of their [qualifying functions ]in relation to the child.

Resolution of the complaint at a local level

Ask your LA for a copy of their complaints procedure. Make a complaint as soon as you can to the relevant complaints manager. You usually must make a complaint within 12 months of the incident you are complaining about. You are entitled to expect a response to your complaint within a reasonable time.

There should be three stages of investigation, the third stage being a report from an Independent Review Panel. If you are not happy with the outcome of the third stage then you can consider contacting the Ombudsman.

Detailed procedure for the complaint.

Representations may be made orally or in writing: see the Children Act 1989 Representations Procedure (England) Regulations 2006, SI 2006/1738 reg 6.

The Children Act 1989 s 26A  puts a duty on the LA to make arrangements to provide an advocate to help either adults or children who want to make a complaint.

If the person complaining is NOT a child, parent or foster parent (see Children Act 1989 s26(3) (e)) the local authority will need to consider if that person  has ‘sufficient interest in the child’s welfare’ to mean that that LA should consider his or her complaint.  If the LA considers that he or she has sufficient interest, it will process the complaint; if it considers that he or she has not, it will notify him in writing: SI 2006/1738 reg 12.

The LA must consider the representations with the independent person (appointed under SI 2006/1738 reg 17) and formulate a response within 25 working days of the ‘start date’ (as defined in SI 2006/1738 reg 17(4), (5)): SI 2006/1738 reg 17(3).

Where a LA receives a complaint, it must send to the person complaining and any appointed advocate, an explanation of the procedure set out in the Regulations, and offer help on the use of the complaints procedure, or advice about where to get help. SI 2006/1738 reg 11.


If you are not happy with how your complaint is handled at the local level, you can refer your complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman. See ‘How to Use an Ombudsman in England’.

The Local Government Ombudsman produces a fact sheet:

  • You should normally complain to the council first.
  • You should normally complain to us within 12 months of hearing what the council’s final decision is. When you make a complaint to children and family services you should be given information about what will happen to your complaint and how long this will take.
  • There are three stages, and generally the time to complain to us is if you’re not happy with the outcome at the end of the third stage, after an independent Review Panel has considered your complaint.
  • Social care complaints can take longer than others to complete. But as long as there is evidence that the complaint is being actively investigated, we would normally want you to allow the council’s procedure to be completed before we would accept the complaint.
  • To complain to the Ombudsman phone our helpline on 0300 061 0614 (8.30am to 5.00pm, Mondays to Fridays). You will be able to discuss your complaint with one of our advisers. You can text us on 0762 480 3014.
  • You can complete an online complaint form.

Judicial Review

If you believe you have no other remedy, you can apply to the court for ‘judicial review’ which is the legal mechanism by which the court oversees the actions of public bodies; the court can make declarations that they have acted unlawfully or must stop acting in a particular way. The court also has the power to award damages.

For more information about judicial review, see the Public Law Project or our post here. 


Complaints about Lawyers


You should first complain directly to the solicitor and his/her firm. All firms should have a procedure for handling complaints. You can get the details of each firm’s designated complaints handler from the Solicitors Regulation Authority Contact Centre. Call 0870 606 2555 or email: [email protected]

If you are not happy with the firm’s response, contact the Legal Ombudsman on 0300 555 0333.

There is particular guidance for those with mental health difficulties or who work in the field of mental health. See the Law Society website.


Again, if the barrister is acting for you, raise your complaint first with the barrister or his/her Head of Chambers. If you are not happy with that response you should contact the Legal Ombudsman.

If you want to complain about a barrister who is NOT acting for you, you should contact the Bar Standards Board and fill in their complaint form. You are entitled to complain about professional misconduct which includes behaviour such as:

  • misleading the court
  • failing to keep information confidential
  • acting dishonestly
  • acting in a way that damages the reputation of the Bar
  • discriminating against you



If you have a complaint about the way a Judge has behaved – rather than a complaint about his or her decision, which would require you to appeal against it – you can contact the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office. However, you must make your complaint within 3 months.

With regard to allegations of judicial bias as the basis of an appeal, see the case of Q [2014] discussed by suesspciousminds.



See the General Medical Council website.

The GMC can take action against doctor, including stopping them from practising. They will investigate:

  • serious or repeated mistakes in clinical care, for example mistakes in surgical procedures or diagnosis, or prescribing drugs in a dangerous way
  • failure to examine a patient properly or to respond reasonably to a patient’s needs
  • serious concerns about knowledge of the English language
  • fraud or dishonesty
  • serious breaches of a patient’s confidentiality
  • any serious criminal offence.


See the NHS Choices website.

Since April 2009, the NHS operates a two stage complaint process.

First, ask your GP or hospital for a copy of its complaints procedure which will tell you how to proceed. This is the ‘local resolution’ stage where it is hoped your complaint can be dealt with early. If you are not happy with the response at the first stage, you will need to contact the  Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. Call  0345 015 4033.

10 thoughts on “Making a complaint about a professional

  1. C

    Dear Sarah,
    Thank you.
    This is a good addition to the resource – and put up very swiftly!
    Given my own experience with complaints thus far, I think that in conjunction with this resource, it is vital to add the advice of maintaining comprehensive records of every contact, and of using DSAR ( Data Subject Access request) to obtain all the materials that are being compiled on your profile, and FOI (freedom of Information) for any internal/procedural documents that they should be adhering to. …And always keep at the front of one’s mind, Alan Norman’s wisdom:

    “It is never wise to take your opponents advice”

    whenever dealing with an organisation or profession’s internal, non-independent complaints processes. Or the LGO for that matter.

    The other pre-requisites are patience, and Google.

    Of course another useful resource, for data and its permissible usage, is the ICO…

    Wishing you a good rest of the weekend…

  2. Sarah Phillimore Post author

    Thanks for the comments – if you ever want to contribute a post about the lessons you have learned from your experiences, I am sure others would find it helpful and illuminating.

  3. C

    My best advice for anyone in a similar situation to ours would be avoid the local authority complaints procedure and go straight to law, as the child protection officers in Haringey who got caught up in their own system knew. ( See and read the judgment detail of AB & CD v. Haringey -2013). Get direct legal advice from a barrister or solicitor. Take any data/inaccuracy issues direct to the ICO. Its a free call.
    Also contact Ofsted, and attempt to get them to consider the Local Authority. They have a remit to investigate – not individual complaints, but systematic inadequacies by the L.A.
    The Social Services complaints system is self-serving and corrupt, and designed to exhaust the complainer. It is only useful in the sense that it gives CSC the opportunity to compound their mistakes… to which end it is important to meticulously record everything, and endlessly repeat things. Never leave anything out, assuming that as you have already said something, they already understand it. They will use every opportunity to trick, obscure, omit, distort. With their permission, record every phone call. Get as much as you can in writing. DSAR their records, emails, etc. Do not trust any of them. At all. Especially if they seem to be sympathetic. They are always and only protecting their position.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      But don’t you run the risk of criticism if you don’t go through the LA complaints procedures first?

  4. C

    The child protection officers at Haringay didn’t. The LA complaints process is designed to exhaust the complainant. If it is useful in order to avoid criticism, make sure they stick to the timeframes: our Stage One process supposed to take 10 days ( max. 20 days) went on for over six months. When we finally went to the LGO, the LA were made to apologise for delays… I’m sure it was painful for them to have to do that, but the effect of the six month of protest and delay on our family was devastating. Financially and emotionally.
    All we got was that “the complainant must take responsibility for the effort he puts into the complaint.”
    Meanwhile they maintained misleading and untrue information all the way up to the LGO, who they presented false evidence to. It is tiring to keep pointing this stuff out to them, and to be ignored, because they feel untouchable. (See comments on Proportionality, duty of care, etc.)

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  6. Sjwatcher

    Hi can I ask some advice we are involved in a unlawful Section 47 our report came out 2nd class stamp from a local Authority ( it’s always been a franking machine in the past ) we have a dodgy Rogue landlord and she keeps dropping out the LA are working with her for information. The report came out I have reported this landlord for post not being secure and my report has been opened and it had been turned over and read I had someone’s oily finger marks. I have complained saying my daughters cancer diagnosis all of our GDPRA has been breached why didn’t this come out recorded delivery.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      That does seem odd, I would expect it to be a franking machine – can you ask the LA? But I don’t think its common practice to send them recorded delivery – perhaps that practice needs to change! As you say this is highly sensitive data.

  7. .k

    Anyone know the best way to take la to court for discrimination and false allegations aswell as dishonesty .. I have been dealing with this for a year and a half . It all started because I had to go for a hospital checkup. The school my child attended lied and said I had noone down to pick my little one up .its been a year and a half nightmare they tried saying neglect. That soon changed they now try to say because of what I bern thru in my past .as I was the victim . I therefore must be doing that to my child there allegations are emotionally damaging . For anyone of us having been thru this and I have been saying for so long I belive my child needs extra sen support again they keep distgusrding my concerns . And I’m at a stage where I want to go to see a judge and have my say but I dont know how to go about it . They’ve tried twisting words for so long telling me my childs said stuff but then back tracking evruthing they’ve all said they say there here to help support us .I dont belive this one bit has anyone got any advice can u go to a judge being under a cp plan what rights do you have to be able to testify against the la .thankyou for reading guys hope we can help one n another through these painful times ;(

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