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Unreasonable Complainant Policy

Hampshire Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner Unreasonable Complainant Policy

1 Introduction

1.1 This policy sets out the approach to be adopted when the behaviour of a complainant or correspondent with the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) or with staff in the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) is considered to be ‘unreasonable’- including unreasonably persistent or vexatious – or ‘unacceptable’ in its nature, be this through written, oral or other means of contact. This policy takes into account the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman guidance.

1.2 It is for the Chief Executive of the OPCC (“Chief Executive”) to determine whether this policy should be applied to a particular complainant/correspondent. Chief Executive to notify Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) of any action taken.

1.3 If there is a conflict of interest for the Chief Executive to act under paragraph 1.2, the matter will be referred to the Police and Crime Commissioner for consideration and action.

2 Aims and scope of the policy.

2.1 The OPCC is committed to dealing with all complainants and correspondents fairly and impartially. OPCC staff are committed to respond to complaints and correspondence with patience and understanding following established policies and procedures, taking into account any specific needs of the complainant or correspondent to help conclude their issue in a fair and proportionate way. This includes, where relevant, taking into account any disability or other protected characteristic under equalities legislation.

2.2 Complainants and correspondents are usually courteous and respectful, whatever the outcome of their issue is. However, there are occasions when a complainant or correspondent conducts themselves in an unacceptable or unreasonable way towards the PCC, the OPCC and/or its staff. Whilst reasonable efforts will be made to understand any underlying cause of the behaviour, some conduct can be detrimental to complaint investigations, the normal running of the OPCC’s business, the resources of the OPCC and the welfare of its staff. The aim of this policy is to create a transparent framework for dealing with such behaviour.

2.3 This policy may be applied to any complainant or correspondent interacting with the PCC or the OPCC irrespective of the person or organisation who is the subject of the complaint/correspondence.

2.4 Where appropriate, this policy may be taken into account in responding to an individual who may be acting unreasonably or unacceptably in pursuing issues and/or complaints that are made through formal processes governed by legislation, such as formal complaints against the PCC and Chief Constable. The policy may also be considered in respect of behaviour associated with requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Data Protection Act 2018 or the General Data Protection Regulation.

3 Actions and behaviour considered to be unreasonable and/or unacceptable.

3.1. Certain behaviour is considered to be unreasonable because it impedes the proper investigation of complaints and impacts the ability of OPCC staff to carry out their jobs effectively. This type of behaviour is detrimental to OPCC operations and will include conduct that is unreasonably persistent in nature.

3.2. Unreasonable behaviour may include (but is not limited to): –

3.2.1. Refusing/failing to specify the grounds of a complaint, despite offers of help.
3.2.2. Refusing/failing to cooperate with the complaints investigation process.
3.2.3. Refusing to provide information needed to conduct an investigation.
3.2.4. Refusing/failing to accept that certain issues are not within the scope of a complaints procedure or the remit of the OPCC.
3.2.5. Insisting on the complaint being dealt with in ways which are incompatible with the adopted complaints procedure or with good practice.
3.2.6. Making unjustified complaints about staff who are trying to deal with the issues and seeking to have them replaced.
3.2.7. Changing the basis of the complaint as the investigation proceeds, including re-framing or re-wording a complaint that has already been finalized.
3.2.8. Denying or changing statements they made at an earlier stage.
3.2.9. Introducing trivial or irrelevant new information at a later stage.
3.2.10. Raising many detailed but unimportant questions, and insisting they are all answered.
3.2.11. Submitting falsified documents from themselves or others.
3.2.12. Adopting a ‘scatter gun’ approach: pursuing parallel complaints on the same issue with various organisations.
3.2.13. Contacting different people in an attempt to secure a different outcome.
3.2.14. Making excessive demands on the time and resources of staff with lengthy phone calls, emails to numerous OPCC staff, or detailed letters every few days, and expecting immediate responses.
3.2.15. Refusing to accept the OPCC’s decision about the complaint and/or repeatedly arguing points with no new evidence.
3.2.16. Submitting repeat complaints with minor additions/variations the complainant insists make these ‘new’ complaints.
3.2.17. Submitting vexatious complaints i.e., those which have no basis and are submitted purely to cause annoyance or disruption.

3.3. Certain behaviour is considered to be unacceptable because it has the potential to cause harm or detrimentally affect the health and safety of OPCC staff.

3.4. Unacceptable behaviour may include (but is not limited to): –

3.4.1. Verbal abuse, derogatory, discriminatory or defamatory remarks (verbal or written).
3.4.2. Using offensive language.
3.4.3. Escalating agitation, intimidating body language or invasion of personal space.
3.4.4. Harassment, intimidation or threats.
3.4.5. Threats of harm to people or property.
3.4.6. Stalking (in person or online).
3.4.7. Psychological manipulation.
3.4.8. Oppressive or coercive behaviour.

3.5. Where such behaviour threatens the immediate safety and welfare of OPCC staff, the police may be contacted, and legal action may be contemplated.

3.6. In extreme cases, where the complainant’s or correspondent’s behaviour is oppressive, they may be guilty of the offence of harassment within the terms of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Where this is being considered, it is recommended that legal advice be sought.

4 Written warning.

4.1 Where an officer, who is dealing with a complainant/correspondent, considers that the actions and/or behaviour of the complainant/correspondent may fall within the type described within this policy, that officer shall normally provide a written warning to the complainant or correspondent explaining:
• the issues that their actions and/or behaviour may be causing,
• why their actions and/or behaviour may be considered unacceptable or unreasonable with reference to this policy, and
• what consequences may follow should the complainant/correspondent behave in an unreasonable or unacceptable manner i.e., that a referral may be made to the Chief Executive for a decision on the application of this policy to the complainant/correspondent and possible implementation of a contact strategy, such as restricting contact, limiting contact to one medium, providing a single point of contact etc.

4.2 In exceptional circumstances, an officer dealing with a complainant/correspondent may decide not to issue a written warning to the complainant/correspondent as envisaged in paragraph 4.1 above and may instead refer the matter to the Chief Executive who may either:
• issue a written warning in accordance with paragraph 4.1 above (adapted as appropriate); or
• decide to dispense with the written warning and proceed immediately to determine in accordance with paragraph 5 below whether the policy shall be applied to the complainant/correspondent and whether a contact strategy shall be implemented.

5 Applying the policy to the Complainant/Correspondent.

5.1 The decision to apply this policy to a particular complainant / correspondent will be made by the Chief Executive having carefully considered the facts as they appear in each case.

5.2 The policy may be applied to a complainant/correspondent where the Chief Executive is satisfied that the following criteria are met and the conduct of the complainant or correspondent falls within the type described within this policy;
• any issues of concern regarding the service provided by the OPCC have been, or are being addressed;
• the complaint or issue raised is being, or has been, investigated or otherwise handled properly and in accordance with the published complaints procedure or any applicable statutory procedure;
• communication with the complainant or correspondent has been satisfactory;
• the outcome of any concluded investigation is fair and proportionate, and the rationale for the decision has been clearly communicated to the complainant or correspondent;
• any additional support that the OPCC considers is required by the complainant or correspondent in order to pursue their complaint or issue has been offered and, if accepted, has been provided or that reasonable efforts have been made to provide it;
• the complainant or correspondent is not providing any new material or new information that is likely to affect the OPCC’s view of the complaint/issue which has been or is being investigated; and
• either that a written warning has been issued to the complainant or correspondent in accordance with paragraphs 4.1 or 4.2 above and the individual has continued to behave in an unreasonable or unacceptable manner, or that a written warning has been dispensed with in accordance with paragraph 4.2 above.

5.3 If the Chief Executive is satisfied that the above criteria are met, they will consider whether any further action should be taken by the OPCC before making the decision to apply this policy to the complainant or correspondent. Where the Chief Executive considers that no further action should be taken, they may designate the behaviour of the complainant or correspondent as unreasonable or unacceptable for the purposes of this policy and, in such a case, the Chief Executive will consider whether a contact strategy needs to be implemented and, if so, what actions will be required, what they will achieve and whether they are reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances.

5.4 If the Chief Executive determines that the behaviour of the complainant or correspondent is unreasonable or unacceptable for the purposes of this policy, they will normally contact the complainant or correspondent to inform them:
• that they have determined that the complainant/correspondent’s behaviour is unreasonable or unacceptable for the purposes of this policy, giving their reasons for their determination;
• where the Chief Executive has decided to impose a contact strategy, they will explain what action will be taken by the OPCC, why it is necessary and how long it will last; and
• when the decision will be reviewed.

6 Options for action.

6.1 Any action taken under this policy should be appropriate and proportionate taking into account the facts and the circumstances of each case.

6.2 Options for action may include (but are not limited to):
6.2.1 Limiting the number and duration of contacts with staff (per week/ per month)
6.2.2 Limiting the duration of calls to specific times.
6.2.3 Requesting contact to be in a particular form (for example, letters or emails only).
6.2.4 Restricting contact to a named person as a single point of contact.
6.2.5 Using a dedicated email address and auto diverting emails.
6.2.6 Refusing to register and / or process any further complaints about the same matter.
6.2.7 Asking the complainant or correspondent to enter into an agreement about their future contact with the office or PCC.
6.2.8 Requiring the complainant to use an advocate for any contact with the complaints handling department.
6.2.9 Blocking email addresses or other communication channels, if appropriate.
6.2.10 Limiting or denying access to OPCC offices or buildings.

6.3. If a complainant or correspondent continues to behave unreasonably or unacceptably, the Chief Executive may instruct OPCC staff to terminate all contact with them. In such cases, OPCC staff will read all correspondence from the complainant but unless it relates to a fresh complaint with no bearing on previous complaints or material new information, staff will simply place it on file with no acknowledgement.

6.4 Any new complaints with no bearing on previous complaints from people whose behaviour has been designated as unreasonable or unacceptable under this policy will be treated on their merits. The Chief Executive will advise officers dealing with the complainant on the appropriate contact strategy. The Chief Executive is responsible for keeping the PCC informed of any fresh complaints or material new information and how the OPCC is handling contact in line with this policy.

7 Safety and welfare of staff.

7.1 Where a complainant’s behaviour is such that it is reasonably perceived that it could threaten the immediate safety and/or welfare of the PCC or the PCC’s staff or their families, or causes the recipient of the behaviour to feel threatened or alarmed, the Chief Executive may for example report the matter to the Police or take legal action. Similarly, where a complainant behaves in such a way that it appears they may be committing a criminal offence, they will be reported to the Police.