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Written Statement - Social Services Complaints

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Gwenda Thomas, Deputy Minister for Social Services

I want to update Members on work being taken forward to modernise and streamline the social services complaints procedure.

I want to bring the social services complaints process in to line with the All Wales Model Complaints Procedures, developed by the Complaints Wales Group, which has been adopted across public services and particularly in to line with the NHS complaints process.  

This is a key priority across public services and was an issue raised by the Health and Social Care Committee during its Stage 1 scrutiny of the Social Services and Well-Being (Wales) Bill.  

In its report the Committee raised  particular concerns that the process for handling complaints when multiple agencies are involved should be simplified. I indicated in my response to the report that I would make a statement about these matters.  
Last year I undertook an extensive consultation, Making Things Better on the current arrangements for complaints in social services. That consultation involved a wide range of stakeholders. A key issue that the consultation considered was how the social services process could be brought closer into line with the All Wales Model Concerns and Complaints Policy developed by the Complaints Wales Group and particularly with the process in place for the NHS Putting Things Right. I was particularly concerned to improve the clarity and transparency of the current process and to make it more straightforward for public service organisations to co-ordinate their work for the benefit of citizens.

The consultation clearly identified that the current arrangements are too complex, that the Stage 3 Panel stage is unnecessary and confusing and that there should be clearer links between social services procedures and the All Wales Model Complaints Procedures.  It also identified issues regarding timescales and how complainants were kept informed about the process of their complaints.

I am taking these matters forward now under the current legislation. I will be consulting on a new two stage process to be introduced in 2014. This will include draft Regulations and Guidance and will be published online. The consultation will start in the fortnight.

The Draft Representations Procedure (Wales) Regulations 2013 are wider in scope than the previous Regulations.  The new provisions included will extend the application of the representation process to specific local authority functions and duties relating to adoption. The current Regulations pre–date the commencement of the primary legislation from which these provisions flow, namely the Adoption and Children Act 2002.

Unnecessary differences between the two sets of Regulations will be removed wherever possible and the requirements to set up procedures to deal with either representations or complaints will be the same. Any differences required by the Acts themselves will be retained. The Guidance will support the whole process and will be simplified and streamlined.  I welcome the views of stakeholders on these matters.

Following analysis of the consultation responses I will bring forward the Regulations and they will be made under the Negative procedure.

The new process which I intend to bring forward will significantly improve the experience for people making complaints. It aligns timescales across other public service process and particularly the NHS. Overall it will simplify the process for handling complaints when multiple agencies are involved. As now, citizens will continue to have recourse to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales at any stage.

I am clear that it is important to align the social services process more closely with other public services processes.  I am also clear that this more generic approach must be set within the context of the social services functions and duties in the primary legislation from which the complaints process derives and that the new process recognises that people making complaints about social services may need additional support and assistance. That is why I intend to retain specific requirements to ensure that people who use the process are offered assistance and guidance about the process and information about advocacy and in specific circumstances help in obtaining an advocate.  

The focus of the new proposed process is on early, local resolution and on tackling issues quickly and providing a response. Where matters need to progress to a formal investigation, I intend to  introduce a new requirement which will mean that all complaints that are considered at this second, formal stage are investigated by a person who is independent of the local authority being complained about.  These steps are being taken as a direct response to deal with issues raised through my original consultation about the independence of investigations undertaken by local authorities.      

All of these matters can be dealt with under the current primary legislation.        

The Making Things Better consultation also asked people about access to advocacy and support and whether the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales should be enabled to consider complaints from adults who fund their own care.  

I am taking these matters forward through the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill.  Provisions in the Bill enable a statutory duty to be placed on local authorities to provide assistance to people who make complaints or representations. This is a new provision and one that I know is welcomed.

The Bill also includes the necessary provision to enable the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales to consider complaints from adults who fund their own care. This is a significant enhancement for citizens and one which I believe will contribute to our overall objective of improving care and support for all people.

We will be working closely with stakeholders through the consultation period to ensure that we get the new process right and to ensure that we have a smooth transition from the current three stage process.  I look forward to bringing the final Regulations forward to the Assembly in 2014.  

Members will also wish to be aware that the intention is for an amending set of Regulations to be made following the enactment of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill. At that stage they will take account of the new provisions being set out in the Bill which I have described above.