The aim of this policy is to give officers guidance to help them identify circumstances where a service user or complainant’s behaviour could be classed as unreasonable and to aid their decisions in how to appropriately respond to such behaviour. This policy should be read in conjunction with the Council’s Complaints Policy.
Any complaints about Doncaster Borough Council are handled in accordance with the Council’s Complaints Policy. In a small number of cases some Council service users act in an unreasonable way when accessing Council services, or if they have a complaint, pursue their complaints in a way that can impede the investigation of their complaint, or take up a disproportionate amount of Council time and resources. The unreasonable behaviour can be displayed during or after a complaint has been investigated.
It should be recognised that service users and complainants may sometimes act out of character at times of anxiety or distress and reasonable allowance will be made for this in the operation of this policy.
As a responsible employer the Council has a duty to ensure that its employees and Councillors have a safe environment in which to work, free from intimidation, threats and aggression (either physical or verbal). Such behaviours will not be tolerated.
Definition of unreasonable behaviour
Unreasonable and unreasonably persistent complainants may have justified complaints but pursue them in inappropriate ways, or they may pursue complaints that have no substance or have already been investigated and determined. Their contacts with the Council might be amicable but take up a disproportionate amount of limited officer time, or may be clearly unacceptable in their nature, causing distress to the officers and possibly other Council service users.
Unreasonably persistent behaviour can include (but is not limited to) one or a combination of the following:
- Refusing to specify the grounds of a complaint, despite offers of help.
- Refusing to accept that certain issues are not within the scope of the Council’s complaints procedure.
- Insisting on a complaint being dealt with in ways which are incompatible with the Council’s complaint’s procedure or with good practice.
- Making unjustified complaints about staff who are trying to deal with the issues, and seeking to have them replaced.
- Denying or changing statements they made at an earlier stage.
- Introducing trivial or irrelevant new information at a later stage.
- Raising many detailed but unimportant questions, and insisting they are all answered.
- Submitting falsified documents from themselves or others.
- Adopting a ‘scatter gun’ approach: pursuing parallel complaints on the same issue with various organisations.
- Making excessive demands on the time and resources of staff with lengthy phone calls, emails to numerous Council staff, or detailed letters every few days, and expecting immediate responses.
- Submitting repeat complaints with minor additions/variations which the complainant insists make these ‘new’ complaints.
Refusing to accept the decision where the complaints procedure (including the Ombudsman) has been exhausted; repeatedly arguing points with no new evidence.
A service user may not have a complaint but may act in an unreasonable way when accessing Council services. The Council will not tolerate abusive, offensive, threatening, deceitful or other forms of unreasonable behaviour. This behaviour may take place in person, over the phone, in writing or by some other form of electronic means such as email, text or social media. This could include (but is not limited to) one or a combination of the following:
- Threatening or using actual physical violence towards Council officers, contractors or agents (or their families and/or associates).
- Harassing, verbally abusing, swearing or being aggressive towards Council officers, contractors or agents (or their families or associates).
- Filming or recording meetings or face to face/telephone conversations without the prior knowledge and consent of other parties involved.
Social media is a rapidly developing form of communication that the Council uses in service delivery and to build relationships with residents of the borough. When used appropriately, social media can provide many benefits for the Council and residents alike. However this form of communication can sometimes be used in an unreasonable or inappropriate way towards Council staff, Councillors, contractors or agents (or their family members or associates). Unreasonable or inappropriate content may include threats, abuse, personal comments that may be regarded as defamatory or malicious, information encouraging criminal activity, or other material that could reasonably offend someone on the basis of race, age, sex, disability, religion or beliefs, disability, sexual orientation or any other characteristic protected by law.
If a member of the public posts such unreasonable or inappropriate content on social media, the Council will, where possible take steps to have the content removed and initiate other action in accordance with this policy (see Options for Action section below).
Managing unreasonable service users/complainants
Where the behaviour is so extreme that it threatens the immediate safety and welfare of our staff, Councillors, contractors or agents (or their family members or associates), action may be taken without first having sent a written warning to the person. Where appropriate, the matter may also be reported to the Police and/or legal action may be taken to address the behaviour.
The decision to designate a complainant as unreasonably persistent or a service user as having acted unreasonably, has to be made by an Assistant Director in the relevant service area, in consultation with the Head of Customer Service. Before a decision is taken the following must be considered:
- Ensuring that, where relevant, the Complaints procedure has been implemented as far as reasonably possible. Even with the most unreasonable complainants, there may be some substance to a part of their complaint which will still need to be addressed. It is important that the Council learns from complaints and uses any findings to improve services.
- The personal circumstances of the service user/complainant and whether any reasonable adjustments should be considered or whether any organisations/support agencies e.g. Citizens Advice Bureau, MIND, advocacy service etc. can provide advice and assistance to the service user/complainant in accessing services/pursuing their complaint in a reasonable manner.
- Is there clear evidence that despite any relevant offers of support, the service user/complainant has acted in such an unreasonable way that this policy needs to be invoked? This should only be invoked in exceptional cases.
If a decision is made to designate a person’s behaviour as unreasonable, checks should be made with all service areas and organisations delivering services on behalf of the Council (e.g. St. Leger Homes, Doncaster Children’s Services Trust) to establish if the complainant has been displaying the same or similar behaviour with other services. If that is the case, then a joint meeting will be held to consider all the issues/behaviour and to agree an approach and designate a single officer to coordinate a required action/response. Depending on the nature of the issues, their interaction with other services might be deemed acceptable, in which case it may not be appropriate to impose restrictions/conditions on that interaction.
Any decision to designate a service user/complainant as unreasonable should be recorded in writing setting out what information has been considered and the reasons for making the decision. This record is important so that the Council can evidence that it has acted in a fair and proportionate way if this later scrutinised e.g. by the Ombudsman.
Options for action
- If the Council’s consideration of a complaint has ended, this might include ending all communication with the complainant on the issue and, where appropriate, advising the complainant of their rights to refer the matter to the Ombudsman.
- Limiting the number of telephone calls/personal contacts that will be taken from the person in a given time period, or only on specified days.
- Limiting the time spent on telephone calls/personal contacts with that person.
- Declining any contact (in person, by telephone email, letter, or any combination of those) with the person except through a single point of contact (which could be a designated person or team).
- Restricting access to Council premises (N.B. this should only be done with conjunction with the Assistant Director of Legal & Democratic Services)
- Informing the complainant in writing that the Council will not respond to any further contact with regard to a specific issue. The complainant will be informed that any correspondence will be read, acknowledged and placed on file by a designated officer (N.B. all correspondence will be checked and if any new issues are identified they will be acted on).
- Placing the person’s details on the Council’s Violent Person’s Database.
Notification of the decision
- The decision that has been taken.
- The reasons why that decision has been taken.
- That any restrictions will remain in force until notified otherwise in writing.
- How a request can be made to have the decision reviewed and the time limit within which to make a request.
The Customer Experience Team in Customer Services will be responsible for ensuring that key staff are aware of the decision and any restrictions in place, including any changes to those decisions/restrictions (see Review of Restrictions below). A central record of decisions/restrictions will be held in the Customer Experience Team.
If appropriate, the person’s details will be provided to the Health and Safety Team with a request to place them on the Council’s Violent Person’s database.Where a valid request has been made to review a decision within the appropriate time limit, the review will be carried out by a Director. The review will be conducted as the Director sees fit, including considering any relevant documents that informed the original decision, the decision letter and the information provided in the request for a review. The Director has the discretion to uphold the original decision/restriction(s), uphold the original decision and amend the restriction(s), or quash the original decision in its entirety. The service user/complainant will be notified of the decision by letter or their preferred method of communication e.g. email.
Review of restrictions
New complaints from persons who are designated as unreasonable/unreasonably persistent
Failure to adhere to restrictions