Top tips for managing vexatious families

We are seeing an increase in cases where tensions between providers and the families of service users are escalating to disputes and even placement failures. We’ve set out below our top tips for managing these situations with difficult families.

It is, as ever, best to catch potential disputes early to diffuse them if possible:

  • be transparent
  • involve family members/friends in discussions around the care of their loved ones
  • listen to and act on criticism
  • train staff on how to respond to concerns

However, there will be circumstances where these measures fail to improve the situation, and a family member may become violent/aggressive or requires a disproportionate amount of staff time in responding to emails/phone calls. In these cases, we suggest additional measures as follows:

  • establish reasonable boundaries as to the timing and location of visits, the frequency of calls/emails and behaviour. A care home is private property and visitors are present only by way of the owner’s licence
  • agree a Contract of Expectations with the family including:
    • one spokesperson for the family
    • dedicated staff member(s) to lead on communication with the family when complaints/queries will be communicated and how – eg limited emails per week to a dedicated email address except as regards emergency issues (with a careful definition of what constitutes an emergency issue)
    • how these will be responded to, within what timeframe and by whom
  • follow your own policies and processes. If you do not have policies which deal with violence and/or aggression towards staff and vexatious complainants then consider establishing them as they provide a useful framework for dealing with these situations

A provider has the mammoth task of balancing the care of the service-user, the expectations of family members and the wellbeing of its staff. There will be times when the behaviours of family members threaten that careful balance. The aim of the measures above is to redress that balance. However, if this is not possible, adherence to these steps will stand you in good stead in the event of any legal or regulatory action.

Free advice line for social care providers

Our dedicated social care team is well placed to assist with a wide range of legal issues faced by social care providers, including family disputes, CQC inspections and reports, employment issues, local authority safeguarding alerts, and disputes with local authorities.

The advice line is open between 9am – 5pm, Monday to Friday and offers up to 30 minutes* of free preliminary advice on a range of issues.

Call 01423 724056 and quote ‘social care advice line’ or email

*non-partner organisations are eligible for 20 minutes free advice

Free legal resources for social care providers

We have a range of free resources for social care providers including blogs, webinars, and podcasts.