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Corporate Complaints Policy

Appendix 1

Protocol on the management of unreasonable complainant behaviour

1    Introduction

1.1 The Council operates the corporate complaints and compliments procedure to make it easier for members of the public to submit compliments and raise issues of concern, ensure that complaints are responded to quickly and in a consistent manner and to enable the Council to learn from the issues raised and amend procedures and practices as necessary.

1.2    The Council recognises that there may be times when a member of the public may not be satisfied with the outcomes reached. Should any individual not be satisfied with the Council's conduct in relation to a complaint, an option open to them is to refer a case to either the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, or the Housing Ombudsman Service depending upon nature of the complaint.

1.3    Most complaints dealt with by the Council are subject to the straightforward three step complaints procedure, but in a small number of cases complainants may pursue their complaints in a way that disrupts the way the complaint is reviewed or disproportionately takes Council officers away from their other duties. Similarly, complainants who have had their complaints resolved by the Council may continue to pursue their complaint, or request outcomes to their case that the Council is unwilling to grant.

1.4    The aim of this protocol is to inform complainants about what the Council considers to be unreasonable complainant behaviour, the options available to the Council and the possible consequences to the individual.

1.5    The Council's Monitoring Officer will only invoke this protocol after very careful consideration, the circumstances for which must be exceptional. Individuals may have justified complaints but may be pursuing them in an inappropriate way, or they may be intent on pursuing complaints which appear to have no substance, or which have already been investigated and determined. Such complaints may rarely occur, but if a complainant's behaviour adversely affects the Council's ability to do its work, or the work of any of its supporting officers, the Monitoring Officer may decide to restrict the contact that person has with the Council.

1.6    If the Council decides to invoke this guidance, the Monitoring Officer will write to the individual concerned to tell them why it is considered that his or her behaviour falls into that category, what action will be taken and the duration of that action.

2    Definition of unreasonable complainant behaviour

2.1    The Council has adopted an equivalent definition to that used by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman. The Council considers that unreasonable complainant behaviour occurs where:

2.1.1    there is repeated and obsessive pursuit of a complaint which appears to have no substance or which has been investigated and determined.
2.1.2    the contact may be amicable but still place very heavy demands on officer or Councillor time or may be very emotionally charged and distressing for all involved.

2.1.3    there is an escalation of behaviour which is unacceptable, for example abusive, offensive, or threatening behaviour.

2.2    Examples include the way or frequency that complainants raise their complaint with the Council, or how complainants respond when they are told of a decision of their complaint.

3    Considerations to be made before taking action to restrict access

3.1    All complainants have the right to have their complaint considered within the Council's complaints procedure. The Council will ensure that the complaints procedure is exhausted or ended at a point that is appropriate to each case and the complainant notified as such.

3.2    The Council will consider and ensure it has an awareness of an individual's circumstances, how and why they feel as they do and what it is that would resolve the matter for them. The Council will ensure that complainants have had a reasonable opportunity to express their views and opinions, that these have been listened to and that appropriate consideration and effort to resolving and explaining the position and the actions of the Council have taken place.

3.3    Before deciding whether the protocol should be applied, the Monitoring Officer will consider be satisfied that:

3.3.1    The complaint is being or has been adequately reviewed and any decision reached has been found to be appropriate based on the information presented to the Council at the time.

3.3.2    Communications with the complainant have been adequate and within the Council's policies.

3.3.3    Any decision reached has been reviewed and is found to be appropriate.

3.3.4    The complainant is not providing any significant new information that might affect the Council's view on the complaint.

3.3.5    There is not another, more specific path for the complainant to follow

3.4    Some individuals that may be considered to be unreasonable complainants may be behaving this way because of a specific circumstance or difficulty. Where this is indicated the Council will take this into account in determining the reasonableness of the complaint made. 
3.5    Any restrictive actions that may be taken will be tailored based on the circumstances and behaviour of the individual and their complaint.

4    Possible actions

4.1    Actions that could be taken to restrict access and contact:

4.1.1    Limiting the complainant to one medium of contact (telephone, letter, email etc.) and/or requiring the complainant to communicate only with one named member of staff. If this is by email, it will be automatically forwarded to the named single point of contact;

4.1.2    Placing restrictions on the amount of time the Council and their officers will spend reviewing their complaints;

4.1.3    Letting the complainant know that the Council will not reply to or acknowledge any further contact from them on the specific topic of that complaint;

4.1.4    Refusing to register and process further complaints about the same matter.

4.1.5    In some circumstances, the Council may decide that it is appropriate to severely reduce or completely stop responding to a particular complainant.

5    Process for the application of the Guidance Note on the management of unreasonable complainant behaviour

5.1    Where possible, the Council should have made a reasonable attempt to reach a voluntary (informal) arrangement with a complainant before taking formal action to allow the individual time to consider and adjust their behaviour.

First stage - notification/warning

5.2    The Monitoring Officer will review why the complainant's behaviour is causing a concern, giving clearly documented evidence to support this, and outlining how the behaviour needs to change.

5.3    The Monitoring Officer will write to the complainant explaining to them the actions that may be taken if their behaviour does not change, along with a copy of this guidance.

Second stage - application

5.4    Should the complainant continue to demonstrate unreasonable behaviour, following receipt of the notification, the Monitoring Officer will determine whether to apply the unreasonable complainant protocol and what actions will be taken. 
5.5    If the Monitoring Officer determines to apply the protocol on the management of unreasonable complainant behaviour, he will write to the complainant explaining to them the actions to be taken. All letters should include:

5.5.1    Why this decision has been reached;
5.5.2    What specific action is being taken;
5.5.3    The duration of that action;
5.5.4    The date the decision will be reviewed;
5.5.5The circumstances that the decision could be reviewed in advance of that date (for example new relevant information).
5.5.6    The right of the complainant to contact the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman about the fact that they have been treated as an unreasonable complainant.

5.6    A log of the decision made and records of contacts with the complainant will be kept. This information will be treated as confidential and only shared with those who may be affected by the decision in order for them to carry out their role.

5.7    Key information to be recorded includes:

5.7.1    when a decision is taken not to apply the guidance, or

5.7.2    when a decision is taken to make an exception to the guidance once it has been applied, or

5.7.3    when a decision is taken not to put a further complaint from the complainant through the complaints procedure for any reason, and

5.7.4    when a decision is taken not to respond to further correspondence, make sure any further letters, faxes or emails from the complainant are checked to pick up any significant new information.

5.8     Any further contact from the complainant, for example on a new issue, will be treated on its merits.

6    Who will be informed about restrictions

6.1    All officers and Councillors who have experienced unreasonable complainant behaviour relating to the specific complaint will be informed of the decision to impose contact restrictions.

7    Reviewing the decision to restrict access

7.1    When imposing a restriction on access, a specified review date should be given. Once that date has been reached any restrictions should be lifted and relationships returned to normal unless there are continuing grounds to extend the restriction.

7.2    The Monitoring Officer will review the restriction at the agreed time. If the decision is made to lift the restriction, the complainant will be informed of that decision. If restriction is to continue, the reasons for the continuation of the restriction will be given to the complainant along with the next review date.

8    Referring complainants to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman

8.1    A complainant who is not satisfied with the determinations of the Council may make a complaint to the Ombudsman, who will consider the case. Should they determine that the referral of a complaint warrants further consideration, they will review the process followed by the Monitoring Officer in reaching any such conclusion.

8.2    A complainant who has been designated as unreasonable may make a complaint to the Ombudsman about the way in which they have been treated. The Ombudsman is unlikely to be critical where the Council has acted proportionately and in accordance with its adopted protocols.

9    Harassment and bullying

9.1    Unreasonable complainant behaviour may amount to bullying or harassment. All Councillors and officers have the right to be treated with respect and dignity in the workplace. Behaviour by third parties that bullies, harasses, or intimidates individuals is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. The Council will take all reasonable steps to prevent such behaviour.