Tag Archives: Complaint

Complaints against a public body – a parent’s advice and perspective

We are grateful for the comments of one of our readers ‘C’  who has not had a good experience of social work intervention, nor found that his complaint was dealt with either quickly or competently. He eventually took his complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman and found their response unhelpful. What happens when you have reached the end of the complaints process but you still don’t think you have achieved resolution of your complaint?

For discussion of the various legal remedies against mistakes or poor performance of a public body, see this post. 

When bad mistakes have been made, a kind of bureaucratic protectionism kicks in.

What can you do when things go wrong?

One of the greatest inhibitors in terms of application for Judicial Review is that the decision must almost always be challenged within 90 days – otherwise the judge may rule you out of time.

Individual social workers or hospital professionals registered with Health and Care Professions Council can be investigated by them for malpractice. All members have a duty to follow a code of ethics. So it is worth pursuing things there.

With regard to Freedom Of Information requests,  I would discuss the best way forward here, with the Information Commissioner’s Office. There are exemptions to your receiving personal information but these can be considered and overruled by the  (ICO).

If names were altered  and logged inaccurately, etc. then these are breaches of the Data Protection Act  which the ICO are supposed to police. They are toothless and pettifogging… but if you persist and manage to drill your way through to the upper levels of management, you can get a more sympathetic ear as they are interested in any cases of flagrant data injustice which might end up in them getting stronger powers in data protection from the government. You can sometimes get access to Data Subject Access Request information that is exempted, if the data may be required for future legal proceedings.

Contact the ICO on 0303 123 1113 and open a case with them. Press them to investigate it. Copy everything to your MP. [The professionals] will not want to appear uncompliant in the eyes of the ICO as the ICO is able to hand out hefty fines to corporate bodies. Force them to acknowledge your issue.

Do your best to be clear and concise in your dealings with these people. Remember they are dealing with this stuff all day, every day… and have limited patience for your emotion. Even though of course your outrage is entirely justified, it may just become an extra burden for them – and thus hamper your progress.


Why do things go so wrong?

In terms of [descrbing professionals as]  lying, cheating and betraying – I realise that it is more likely unconscious, systematised behaviour and so defining it as lying, cheating and betraying may be pejorative. It is inept in the sense that a broken food processer throws food all over the room.  The result is a mess: the solution is to fix the processor. Or to throw it out and go back to chewing.

Isn’t simple human error still misfeasance, when those errors represent breaches in frameworks that they are supposed to comprehend and follow?

I see  how chronic ineptness can be portrayed as simple human error, and is not necessarily ‘conscious’. Mind you, being in a stupor is no defence when driving – so it is difficult to appreciate why it should be admissible when administering the law..


And what are the consequences?

The experience of ‘C’ has been that the available remedies are either subject to strict timescales or depend on being able to prove bad faith on the part of professionals, which is difficult to do.

This is a steep track to negotiate with limited funds. It ain’t justice as anyone unaccustomed to bureaucratic process and unlimited time to play with other peoples lives and money, would recognise.

And the consequences are the destruction of any constructive professional relationship and a sense of despair for the parents left without a remedy.

I think bitterness at injustice and lack of closure makes one deaf to rational argument. It is somewhat remarkable that [some parents are] still exploring legal routes, and not investigating home bomb-making, or kidnapping strategies…

As for being a victim, the unfortunate truth of post-capitalism, is everywhere that you pay with your attention. In my complaint, I have helped justify their existence, improved their systems of control, and helped guarantee their salaries. There is no comfort in that.

My heart goes out to [families in a similar position]  – and I fear for them. They seem distorted by unassuageable pain. Whatever the justice of their case, or the LA’s actions, the fruits are only bitterness and despair for everyone except those employed to purvey the misery, and uphold the myth of adversarial justice.


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.