Complaints Handling Process – in line with current guidance? As published in Caring Times – May 2020

 The Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”) conducted a ‘Care Homes Market Study’  in 2018 and found that many service users and those acting on their behalf found it difficult to complain to care homes and regarded the complaints processes as unclear, complicated and confusing. As a result of this study, the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (“CTSI”) produced a new complaints guidebook for care homes. The guidebook, ‘Care Home Complaints: A guide for registered managers and care home owners’ was published in February 2020 and can be accessed at the following link:

https://www.businesscompanion.info//sites/default/files/BEIS_Care_Home_Complaints_Colour%20reduced.pdf

It seeks to be a clear and informative guide that assists care home providers in understanding and implementing a robust Complaints Handling Process (“CHP”).

The guidance is split into 6 parts:

  • Part 1: Good complaints handling
  • Part 2: How consumer law relates to complaints
  • Part 3: The ‘what, where and why’ of your CHP
  • Part 4: Dealing with complaints internally
  • Part 5: Escalating complaints to outside bodies
  • Part 6: Ensuring your staff are properly trained

Providers’ duties

As providers know, under Regulation 16 of the Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014, providers need to ensure that any complaint that the service receives must be investigated and ‘necessary and proportionate action must be taken in response to any failure identified by the complaint or investigation’.

CQC’s guidance on compliance with Regulation 16 makes it clear that, providers must have an effective system for identifying, receiving, handling and responding to complaints from service users, their representatives or other stakeholders.

CQC can request from a provider, a summary of complaints, responses and other related correspondence or information. A provider must provide the requested information to CQC within 28 days or CQC can prosecute for a breach of regulations without first serving a Warning Notice. If providers can show that they have taken all reasonable steps and exercised all due diligence to prevent a breach of regulations, this will be a defence to a charge where criminal liability arises.

During CQC inspections, inspectors often look to see how providers respond to and manage complaints. If CQC finds that complaints handling is poor, this often leads to a finding of ‘Requires Improvement’ under the domain Well-led. This is because poor complaints handling does not reflect well on the governance of a service.

Practical steps providers can take in relation to complaints handling  

The CTSI guidance contains some helpful and clear information in relation to complaints handling. It explains that it is important to have accessible, effective and easy-to-use procedures in place to help service users complain if any issues arise. The guidance also expresses the importance of recording any concerns that people have, even if they do not become formal complaints.

Providers need to show that they have efficient systems and processes in place which are operated effectively to ensure that the complaints handling process is smooth and efficient. It is worth reviewing your internal procedures in relation to complaints to ensure that they are in line with the CTSI guidance.

The CTSI guidance also makes it clear that enforcers of consumer law, for example the CMA, can also seek redress for service users who have suffered a loss as a result of breaches of consumer law.

At Ridouts, we have seen that the CMA is taking a tough stance in relation to compliance with consumer law, particularly in relation contractual arrangements and practices between providers and service users. Therefore, we would advise providers to review their CHP and update their policies and procedures.

You also might want to consider having staff training in relation to complaints handling so that they know how to address and record concerns. It is also important that employees feel confident in reporting concerns in order to prevent or stop poor care practice and the earlier concerns are raised the sooner they can be investigated.

At Ridouts we are experienced in supporting clients with challenges to various issues with CQC. If you wish to discuss this guidance or require any further information, please do not hesitate to get in contact with us.