A carers' guide to making a complaint

Illustration of lady standing, holding her laptop and thinking.

I’m sure we’ve all had to make a complaint at some point in our caring role. On top of the usual demands of being a carer, making a complaint can be an exhausting experience.

So what can we do to both manage our energy AND make our complaint a productive tool in getting what we want?

I’d like to make a complaint

We’ve pulled together some evidence based tips, plus practical tips from our community, to help us each make a constructive and effective complaint. And also to manage our own energy and emotions.

Carol, a regular in our cuppas and in our Facebook community got us started, sharing her top tips for making a successful complaint. And then Suzanne, our head of carer support, took the question to carers in our community. Here’s what carers in the Mobilise community with lived experience have shared.

Carers’ practical tips on making an effective complaint

  • Be clear in our own mind, about what outcome we want. And clearly state the outcome we would be satisfied with. In some cases this is simply an apology.

  • Be specific and stick to the points.

“Be reasonable about the outcome we’re seeking”

  • Keep calm and keep it simple.

  • The best way to get someone to do something for us, is to be nice… even if we may not feel like it!

  • Appeal to people’s conscience.

“It can be helpful (although not always easy) to assume the person or service we’re talking to wants the same outcome as us. This allows us to talk collaboratively and is a great tool in moving people in the same direction as us - rather than being at loggerheads”

  • Be constructive.

  • Praise people that help and commend them to their managers - it encourages more of the same helpful behaviour.

  • Continual complainers can end up being ignored and not taken seriously - choose our battles and don't look for reasons to complain.

  • Keep notes, names and date and if we have them, use them to make our point.

  • If we have written information to add (e.g. emails, letters etc) photocopy and send them with our complaint.

“Always put down in writing your complaint and keep a copy with date & time”

  • Check over and change things only where necessary.

  • Let them know that you expect an answer within a certain time scale.

  • If sending by post, send by recorded or signed-for delivery. This requires a signature on delivery, which confirms they have received our complaint.

  • If we are complaining by phone, use the above information and make sure we are speaking to the right person, who can take our complaint forward.

  • Copy managers in on emails or send courtesy copies of letters in the post.

“Don’t be put off and take a deep breath”

Carers’ tips on managing our emotions and energy, when making a complaint

  • Waiting on hold, having emails ignored and being passed around are common scenarios. But advice from our community (who have been there and got the T-shirt) is;

“Don’t let these be fuel for our emotions or a distraction from the actual thing we’re complaining about. Don’t let them fire us up, whilst diluting our point.”

  • Notice the people who ‘do’ help us along the way. It can make us feel better.

  • Are we speaking to the right person? E.g. the decision maker? If not, save our energy. As carers we have to repeat ourselves a lot! Ask to be connected with the right person.

“To help manage your emotions whilst making a complaint, speak to others who get it… BUT don't rev yourself into a rant. Instead let them help you narrow down the key points you want to make and the outcomes that matter most.”

  • Know our limits - there may be a point where we just need to accept this has gone as far as it can, and that we have done all we can do.

If making a complaint is taking a toll on our emotional wellbeing, then our carer support team is available seven days a week. Just chatting things through can feel like a big relief and it’s a great opportunity to organise our thoughts.

How to make an effective complaint - what do the ‘experts’ say?

Condition specific charities and organisations often have tips on making a complaint and sometimes even offer support to do so. Such as the Down’s Syndrome Society who can offer advice and advocacy. Or Cerebra who have a whole library of complaint letter templates we can use and adapt.

We’ve also pulled together some top tips from some well known ‘complainers’ such as Martin Lewis, Paul Lewis and Dominic Littlewood. Many of the tips overlapped with our wonderful carers’ tips above, but here’s what else they’re saying:

1. Know our rights

Martin Lewis, founder of Money Saving Expert, advocates ‘standing our ground’, and the best way to do this is to know our rights. By knowing our rights as carers, we are able to present what we want to happen, referencing the law to back us up and hold people accountable.

Martin Lewis’ step-by-step guide to making a complaint can take us through the process, including when and how to reach out to the ombudsman for support.

2. Keep a note of numbers

Dominic Littlewood suggests we make a note of the long chain of phone numbers (and extensions!), when we make our first call. This way, we can quickly get back to the right person and department when calling back.

3. Listen

Dominic Littlewood thinks we can save energy and achieve better results when we listen well. He says;

“There’s an old saying I use. You've got two ears and one mouth, so you're designed to do twice as much listening as talking. So give the people a chance to sort the problem out. Be courteous, firm but polite.”

4. Use social media

If we don’t feel like we’re getting any traction, Paul Lewis recommends hopping on social media. Airing our complaint politely but publicly, can bring some valuable attention and movement.

What would you add? As always we welcome feedback from carers. Sharing our lived experiences to help one another.

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