Today Independent Age has launched a report focusing on how people can challenge decisions about the care and support they receive. The Reviewing the case: The right to appeal in adult social care report is calling on the government to introduce a statutory appeals process for adult social care so that clear, consistent processes are in place to allow people to challenge decisions about care which will affect their wellbeing in significant ways.
While the Government itself acknowledged the importance of a robust appeals system for social care and consulted on this in 2015, the issue has made no further progress in recent years. Councils have the ability to introduce an appeals process if they so wish and this is demonstrated by its inclusion in the Care Act 2014. However, this is not a statutory duty, with most instead using the existing statutory complaints system which can be a slow process taking many months to complete.
New Freedom of Information research for the Independent Age report has confirmed that as few as one in five councils have put in place a separate appeals process. Furthermore, the high volume of social care complaints received by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (and high proportions of these complaints being upheld) provides a strong indication that problems are not being dealt with effectively by local authority complaints processes.
The report argues that there are clear advantages to a statutory appeals process for adult social care including:
- A more accessible, less intimidating option for those receiving care and support.
- A more open, efficient approach for local authorities.
- A fairer, more impartial overall process through the introduction of an independent reviewer role.
The report also details key features that the statutory process should have including:
- Be distinct from complaints, with its own separate timelines and process. Some local authorities said there could be confusion between complaints and appeals, so the two must be carefully explained and distinguished in any future legislation.
- Include clear provision for the role of an independent reviewer. To protect against potential conflict of interest, this should be a senior individual within the adult social care team who did not have a role in conducting the original assessment(s) and/or decision(s) related to the appeal in question.
- Stipulate that during an appeals process, the individual’s current level of care is upheld and maintained until the case has been resolved.
- Be clearly explained to individuals receiving care so that they know access to an appeals process is something they are entitled to. The option to appeal should be made clear at multiple stages – when a person first receives a decision about their eligibility and/or funding, and following any changes or reviews to their care package. Clear information should be given about what an appeal is and how to start the process.
- Have assigned timescales, which individuals are kept informed of at all stages. Any delays must also be communicated clearly.
- Include requirements for local authorities to collect data in a consistent way, so that patterns can be identified and lessons learned.
- Be adequately resourced so that it can be properly staffed and administered. Local authorities have previously expressed concerns about the resource implications of a statutory appeals system. There will need to be adequate funding to enable this system to be introduced.
Deborah Alsina, Chief Executive of Independent Age, said:
‘Having to make a complaint is hard enough for many older people and their families, without the added complications of not knowing how to do it, or how long it will take.
‘The one in five councils who do have a process are actually going above and beyond what it expected of them. Although this is brilliant, there needs to be a statutory appeals process so that no matter where you live, the way to appeal a decision will be the same.
‘The government has previously acknowledged the need for this and even consulted on it in 2015, but they never published a response and nothing has moved forward. That’s why we’ve published our report today: too many people are being left without the support they need, and with no idea about how to take control of their own care, and that needs to end.’