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Unacceptable Behaviour by Complainants Policy

Please note we are currently working on the latest version of this policy. We expect to publish it towards the end of 2023. You may find some of the documents referred to in this policy have since changed.

1. Introduction

In relatively few cases complainants can pursue their complaints in a manner which can impede an investigation or can cause a significant resource issue for the council. In these circumstances, the behaviour of the complainant may be defined as unreasonable, overly persistent or unacceptable. This policy sets out how the council will decide which complainants will be defined as demonstrating behaviour which is considered by the council unacceptable, and what the council will do in those circumstances.

We will not tolerate behaviour from complainants which is deceitful, abusive, offensive, threatening or other forms of unacceptable behaviour from complainants. When it occurs, we will take proportionate action to protect the wellbeing of our staff and the integrity of our processes. Our complaints staff manage a number of cases at any one time, using their time and resources to best effect. They cannot do so if someone tries to dominate our attention with frequent, lengthy contacts and repetitive information. This hinders the consideration of their, or other people’s, complaints. When necessary, we will take action to restrict access to our service when behaviour of this nature persists.

2. Our definition

The council’s definition of this behaviour are those complainants who, because of the frequency or nature of their contacts with the authority, hinder the authority’s consideration of their, or other people’s, complaints.

Examples are:

  • Refusing to cooperate with the complaint investigation process
  • Refusing to accept that certain issues are not within the scope of a complaints procedure
  • Demanding to make secondary complaints about the complaints process, delays or the staff handling their complaint and insisting they be handled separately from the substantive complaint
  • Using repeated abusive remarks about council staff and not desisting from this behaviour when asked to do so
  • Refusing to specify the grounds of a complaint, despite offers of help
  • Making excessive demands on the time and resources of staff whilst a complaint is being looked into, by for example excessive telephoning; sending emails to numerous council staff or other officials (a scattergun approach) or writing lengthy complex letters every few days and expecting immediate responses
  • Changing the basis of the complaint as the investigation proceeds
  • Introducing trivial or irrelevant new information at a later stage
  • Refusing to accept the decision – repeatedly arguing the point and complaining about the decision and trying to have subsequent complaints registered about the same matters
  • Electronically recording meetings and conversations without the prior knowledge and consent of the other persons involved

3. Warnings

t is important that we make customers aware when we find their behaviour unreasonable so that they have the opportunity to moderate their behaviour.

In most instances when we consider someone’s behaviour is unreasonable or unreasonably persistent we will explain why and ask them to change it. We will also warn them that, if the behaviour continues, we may take action to restrict their contact with our officers. Where the behaviour is so extreme that it threatens the immediate safety and welfare of our staff we may report the matter to the police or consider taking legal action. In such cases, we may not give the complainant prior warning.

4. Other policies which may be applied

This policy includes unacceptable behaviour by a complainant. Incidents of violence, threats of violence and abusive behaviour may also be handled under the Harassment and Aggression policy (currently under review). The council defines violence as any incident in which an employee is abused, threatened or assaulted by a member of the public in circumstances arising out of the course of his or her employment.

The council does not tolerate violence towards their employees. If an employee should find themselves subject to abuse, for example, swearing or name-calling, the employee must point out to the customer that their behaviour is unacceptable. In the event of a telephone call, which is abusive or becomes abusive, the caller must be told that their abusive behaviour must cease immediately. The service provided by the officer can only be continued if the person can behave reasonably.

5. Applying a restriction

The decision to restrict access to officers will be taken at head of service level in consultation with the central complaints office who will provide evidence for assessment to support their view of the complainant’s unreasonable behaviour. Any restrictions imposed should be appropriate and proportionate to the behaviour and actions of the unreasonably persistent complainant.

The Head of Service will determine which policy applies to the situation under consideration.

The sort of restrictions imposed could include:

  • Restricting telephone calls to specified days and limited times
  • Limiting contacts to one form only (for example, a maximum of one letter or email a week)
  • Requiring contact to take place with one named staff member
  • Requiring the complainant to enter into an agreement about their future behaviour before their case proceeds, and/or
  • Managing contact with the help of an independent advocate

In extreme cases, the council may consider the following actions:

  • Referring the complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman before the complaints procedure has been exhausted; or
  • Advising the complainant that the council cannot assist further and that they have the right to approach the Local Government Ombudsman

The complainant will be sent receive written confirmation of the behaviour that has led to the restriction and what they can do to challenge the decision.

This will include:

  • Why the council has taken the decision
  • The type of restriction applied
  • The duration of the restriction and when it will be reviewed
  • Their right to challenge the decision by contacting the Local Government Ombudsman

6. Other sanctions

If the complainant continues to behave in a way which is unacceptable, the council may then decide to terminate contact with that complainant and discontinue any investigation into their complaint.

Where a complainant whose case is closed persists in communicating about it, the council may decide to terminate contact with that complainant. In such cases, the council must still read all correspondence from that complainant, but, unless there is fresh evidence which affects the decision on the complaint, it should be place on file with no acknowledgement.

New complaints from people who are on the unreasonably persistent complainant register must be treated on their individual merits.

7. Reviewing restrictions

The complaint manager will conduct a review after six months to consider if the restriction should continue or be removed. The review should evaluate the success of the decision and whether the complainant has changed their behaviour.

The complainant will be informed of the result of the review in writing. If the decision is to continue the restriction the reasons for this decision will be explained along with the next review date and the further right of appeal to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO).

The LGSCO are unlikely to be critical of the decision of the council to restrict a complainant if the council have applied a fair policy and acted proportionately.

Any person restricted will be notified to all senior managers to cascade within their service as appropriate to help them manage contact with the complainant and will be notified again when a restriction is reviewed or removed.