Unreasonable or unreasonably persistent complaints policy
We are committed to continually improving the quality of, and access to, the services we provide and in ensuring feedback is dealt with promptly and efficiently. Our staff will respond professionally and sympathetically to all customers and work positively with them to resolve issues and explain the reason for their outcome.
There are occasions when there is nothing further that can reasonably be done to rectify a perceived problem, or further assist, and we recognise that this or other distressing circumstances can cause a person to act out of character. However, the actions of some customers who are angry or persistent may result in unreasonable demands or behaviours on or towards our staff and the Council will take appropriate action to manage such behaviour.
The Council recognises that behaviour is not considered unacceptable just because a person is assertive or determined.
This policy addresses these issues, covers customers who make service enquiries as well as complaints, and should be read in conjunction with our Complaints and compliments Policy .
Purpose of the Policy
This policy sets out the approach of the Council to the very few customers whose actions or behaviour we consider unacceptable.
The Council recognises that all customers have the right to be heard, understood and respected. The Council will deal fairly, honestly, consistently and appropriately with all complainants, including those whose actions we consider unacceptable. The Council will also provide a service that is accessible to all complainants. However, we retain the right, where we consider complainants to be unacceptable, to restrict, or change access to our service.
Who is an unreasonable or unreasonably persistent complainant?
Unreasonable or unreasonably persistent complainants are those complainants who, because of the nature or frequency of their contacts with the Council, hinder the Council’s consideration of their, or other people’s, complaints. Unreasonable complainant behaviour may include one or two isolated incidents, as well as ‘unreasonably persistent behaviour’, which is usually a build-up of incidents or behaviour over a longer period. Such complainants may have a justified complaint or grievance, but may pursue them in inappropriate ways, or they may be intent on pursuing complaints that have no substance, or which have already been investigated and determined. Their contact with the Council may be amicable but still place heavy demands on staff time.
An unreasonable or unreasonably persistent complainant may exhibit behaviours outlined below and in appendix 1. The danger is that their complaint, even if it has merits, is treated without a significant degree of seriousness and consideration, which compounds their complaint and leads to criticism of the Council.
Aggressive or abusive behaviour
Our staff understand the difference between anger and aggression. For example, many complainants feel angry about the events that resulted in them contacting us. However, it is not acceptable when anger escalates into aggression towards our staff. Aggression is not restricted to acts that may result in physical harm. It also includes behaviour or language that may cause staff to feel afraid, threatened, or abused.
Example of aggressive behaviour include (please also see appendix 1):
- Physical violence
- Personal abuse
- Derogatory or discriminatory remarks
- Inflammatory or unsubstantiated allegations
Where the behaviour is so extreme or it threatens the immediate safety and welfare of staff, the Council will consider other options, for example reporting the matter to the Police or taking legal action and using internal safe systems of work to mitigate risks to staff. In such cases, we may not give the complainant prior warning of that action.
Customers may make what we consider unreasonable demands if they impact substantially on our work through the amount of information they seek or provide, the nature and scale of service they expect, or the regularity of number approaches they make.
Examples of this behaviour include (please also see appendix 1):
- Asking for responses within an unreasonable timescale
- Insisting on communicating with a particular member of staff
- Continual phone calls, emails or letters
- Repeatedly changing the substance of the complaint or unrelated concerns
- Refusing to accept the answer provided
Deciding whether a person should be classed as an unreasonable or unreasonably persistent complainant
Before taking the decision to implement this policy, consideration should be given to whether any further action is necessary, such as: -
- Consideration about whether it is appropriate to convene a meeting with the complainant and a senior officer in order to seek a mutually agreeable resolution
- Where more than one department is being contacted by the complainant, agree a cross departmental approach; and designate a lead officer to co-ordinate the Council’s response.
- If it is known or suspected that the complainant has any additional needs (for example, dementia, learning disability, mental illnesses, autism etc), then consider offering an independent advocate or other support e.g. family, friend or support worker or directly assist the complainant with their communication with the Council. A multi-agency approach may be necessary when the individual is receiving support from other bodies such as Social Services.
- Managers must be satisfied before taking any action that, in line with the Council’s reasonable adjustments policy and the requirements of the Equality Act 2010, the complainant’s individual circumstances have been taken into account including age, disability, gender, race and religion or belief. Due consideration should be given to the complainant’s health, including any related illnesses or disabilities that may be impacting on behaviour (for example, dementia, learning disability, mental illnesses, autism etc).
In the first instance the relevant Service Manager will communicate to the complainant, either by phone or in writing, to explain why this behaviour is causing concern and ask them to change this behaviour. The Service Manager will explain what actions the Council may take if the behaviour does not change. This is to allow the individual time to consider and adjust their behaviour.
Mediation or advocacy through third parties can be considered to try and improve the situation.
If the complainant continues with the unreasonable behaviour the relevant Service Manager will consider whether it is necessary to take appropriate action or impose a restriction on the complainant.
Restrictions may be put in place which could include the following:-
- Placing limits on the number and duration of contacts with employees per week or month
- Offering a restricted timeslot for necessary calls
- Limiting the complainant to one method of contact access channel (telephone, letter, email etc with due consideration to any necessary reasonable adjustments)
- Providing a single point of contact
- Managing contact with the help of an independent advocate or external organisation e.g., social services
- Only considering a certain number of issues in a specific period
- Refusing the complainant access to the Council’s premises.
- Requiring any personal contacts to take place in the presence of a witness and in a suitable location
- Declining to give any further consideration to an issue unless any additional evidence or information is provided
- Refusing to process further complaints about the same matter.
- Where a decision on a complaint has been made – only acknowledging future correspondence or informing the complainant that future correspondence will be read and placed on file but not acknowledged. The complainant should be reminded of their right to refer the complaint to the Housing Ombudsman Service (HOS) or the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) as relevant.
In all instances where a complainant’s actions are deemed to be of such gravity that the continuation of events represents potential harm or distress to individuals or the organisation, the Council reserves the right to implement restrictions (as outlined by the process below) with immediate effect.
In the case of Council housing tenants, it may be appropriate to issue a warning to the tenant before taking any formal steps. A warning should include examples of where the individual’s behaviour has been considered unacceptable, with reference to what formal steps may be taken if the behaviour continues. This is to allow the tenant to consider and adjust their behaviour. This is due to the fact that behaviour and actions may have a significant detrimental impact on the contractual and legal duty held between the tenant and the Council as their landlord.
Informing the complainant
When the decision has been made to apply this policy to a complainant, the Service Manager will contact the complainant to explain:
- Why this decision has been taken
- What action the Council will be taking
- The duration of that action
- What the complainant can do to have the decision reviewed
Normally this contact would be in writing, however reasonable adjustments should be made where this is not appropriate.
Any restriction that is imposed on the complainant will be appropriate and proportionate to their individual circumstances. The complainant will be advised of the period of time the restriction will be in place for. In most cases restrictions will apply for between three and six months but in exceptional cases may be extended. In such cases the restrictions would be reviewed on a quarterly basis.
Record of actions taken
Adequate records must be kept by the Service Manager detailing the reason why any decision has been made and all contacts with unreasonable or unreasonably persistent complainants, for example:
- Why a decision was made to designate someone as an unreasonable or unreasonably persistent complainant
- When a decision is taken not to put a further complaint from such a complainant through its complaint’s procedure for any reason
- When a decision is taken not to respond to further correspondence, and to make sure that any further correspondence is read to pick up any significant new information
- When a decision has been made to review or cancel any restriction that has been placed on a complainant
The Service Manager will also inform the Service Manager (Customer Services), and/or the designated Housing Complaints Officer for complaints in respect of Housing Services, of the decision, restrictions, timescales and removals of restrictions for monitoring purposes. Relevant staff who may receive contact from the complainant will also be informed of what restrictions have been agreed and when they have been removed.
Appeals again the decision to impose restrictions
Should the complainant wish to have the decision reviewed they must write (letter or email), unless reasonable adjustments mean it is appropriate for contact to be made verbally, to the relevant Service Director setting out their reasons for the review within 10 working days of the date of that letter.
The complainant should be then informed, normally in writing in writing, unless reasonable adjustments mean it is appropriate for contact to be made verbally, within 10 working days of receipt of the request for review, by the relevant Service Director of the outcome of the review and, if restrictions are to continue to be applied, when these will be reviewed.
A review of the restriction should be taken when the restrictions imposed expire.
Should the decision be taken to extend the period of restriction, the complainant will be advised in writing how the Council plans to go about this and that the decision to restrict contact will be put in place for a further specified period (e.g. six months). The outcome of any subsequent review will be communicated to the complainant, outlining if the restrictions will continue to apply and if so why.
If at the end of the restricted period it is considered that the complainant’s behaviour is no longer deemed to be unreasonable, the Council will confirm this in writing, unless reasonable adjustments mean it is appropriate for contact to be made verbally, advising that the restrictions have now been lifted. Any restrictions imposed for longer than six months will be reviewed on a quarterly basis.
Where the complainant fails to comply with the restrictions or continues to behave unreasonably, the matter will be reviewed by the relevant Service Director to determine whether additional restrictions should be imposed, or further actions are to be taken.
When unreasonable and unreasonably persistent complainants make complaints about new issues these should be treated on their merits, and decisions will need to be taken on whether any current restrictions are still appropriate and necessary.
Ceasing contact with a Complainant
There may be occasions where the relationship between the Council and unreasonable or unreasonably persistent complainants breaks down completely. This may even be the case while complaints are under investigation and there is little prospect of achieving a satisfactory outcome. In such circumstances, there may be little purpose in following all the stages of the complaint’s procedure. Where this occurs, the Council will advise the complainant that they may approach the LGSCO or HOS who may be prepared to consider a complaint before the procedure has run its course.
Recording, monitoring and reporting
The Service Manager (Customer Services) and the designated Housing Complaints Officer (for complaints in respect of Housing Services) will keep a record of all complainants who have been treated as being unreasonable or unreasonably persistent or abusive in accordance with this policy. This will include details of why the policy was invoked, what restrictions were imposed and for what period of time.
Anonymised information will be reported in any complaints reporting.
Any information you give us is covered by the Data Protection guidelines (Data Protection Act 2018 and General Data Protection Regulations). This means that we will:
- Keep personal information secure.
- Keep the complaint confidential as far as possible, with information only disclosed if necessary to properly investigate the matter.
- Not share it with other organisations without your permission, unless the law says we must.
Details of what you can expect when the council collects personal information, when and why it is collected, how it is used, conditions under which it may be disclosed, how we keep it secure and what rights you have in relation to the data we hold about you can be found in our privacy notice.
Help with this Policy
You may require help with this policy or in submitting any contact and the Council may be able to help you to do this, where appropriate to do so. Please contact us for further details or telephone us on 01623 450000 for more information.
Ashfield District Council is committed to equality of opportunity in service delivery. We will not treat you any differently because of your gender, race, disability, religion or belief, sexuality or age.
We are committed to making reasonable adjustments to accommodate a person’s needs in in line with the Council’s Reasonable Adjustments Scheme and in accordance with the Equality Act 2010.
Examples of behaviour
One or more can constitute unreasonable or unreasonably persistent behaviour
Please note this list is not exhaustive and does not cover all forms of behaviour that may be classed as unreasonable or unreasonably persistent
- Refusing to specify the grounds of a complaint, despite offers of assistance with this from the Council’s staff.
- insisting on seeing or speaking to a particular member of staff, when that is not possible
- Publishing personal, sensitive or private information about staff online or other public domains such as noticeboards or newsletters
- Attempting to use the complaints procedure to pursue a personal vendetta against an elected member or officer of the Council.
- Refusing to co-operate with the complaints process while still wishing their complaint to be resolved.
- Refusing to accept that issues are not within the remit of a complaints procedure despite having been provided with information about the procedure’s scope.
- Insisting on the complaint being dealt with in ways, which are incompatible with the adopted complaints procedure or with good practice.
- Making what appear to be groundless complaints about the staff dealing with the complaints, and seeking to have them replaced Council’s
- Changing the basis of the complaint as the investigation proceeds and/or denying statements he or she made at an earlier stage.
- verbal abuse, aggression, violence (this is not just limited to actual physical or verbal abuse but can include derogatory remarks, rudeness, inflammatory allegations and threats of violence) in written correspondence or direct personal contacts with staff.
- Introducing trivial or irrelevant new information which the complainant expects to be taken into account and commented on, or raising large numbers of detailed but unimportant questions and insisting they are all fully answered.
- Electronically recording meetings and conversations without the prior knowledge and consent of the other persons involved.
- Publishing information online and via social media
- overload of letters, calls, emails or contact via social media (this could include the frequency of contact as well as the volume of correspondence received as well as the frequency and length of telephone calls).
- Adopting a 'scattergun' approach: pursuing a number of complaints on the same issue with a variety of council departments and/or other organisations.
- Repeatedly demanding responses within an unreasonable timescale,
- Making excessive demands on the time and resources of staff whilst a complaint is being investigated (i.e., excessive contact to numerous Council staff or lengthy complex correspondence every few days and expecting immediate responses).
- Submitting repeat complaints, after complaints processes have been completed, essentially about the same issues, with additions/variations, which the complainant insists, make these 'new' complaints.
- Refusing to accept outcome decision of a complaint, repeatedly arguing the point and complaining about the decision, with no new evidence.