Early in 2007 the Commission for Social Care Inspection commissioned a mystery shopping exercise, focusing on local councils to see what information they would give someone about social care services at the first point of contact. The mystery shoppers, posing as people asking about care for an older relative, contacted all 150 councils responsible for social care.
On the phone council staff generally gave good information and inspired confidence. However their written information varied considerably. One of the shoppers said: “Some of the stuff they sent seemed like they just picked up whatever they had and chucked it in an envelope. There was no structure to it.”
Nearly a quarter of councils did not send any written information to the mystery shoppers, and of those who said they would send an information pack, 11 per cent didn’t arrive. Just over half of the information packs were rated from adequate to very poor. Some shoppers were given too little information, some so much that it looked more like junk mail and could easily put off or confuse people. Nearly a third of councils, when asked, said they did not have information for someone with poor eye sight.
The Commission will not name the sources of inadequate information, but it does want councils to use the results of the investigation in a constructive way to improve the information they provide to the people they serve. It is essential that local councils have a coherent strategy for providing information for the public. This strategy should consider all the various ways a council has of giving out information to the public, such as telephone help lines, publications, the website and face-to-face enquiries.