We welcome feedback from service users and will always try to resolve complaints as quickly as possible.
The majority of complaints are dealt with through the complaints procedures without difficulty and the Compliments and Complaints Policy will therefore apply to most complaints received by Norfolk County Council.
Sometimes, however, complainants may be pursuing complaints in unreasonable ways. The Unreasonably Persistent Complaints Policy should only be applied where absolutely necessary and describes how the County Council may deal with complaints effectively where the complainant is unreasonably persistent in pursuing complaints or otherwise acts unreasonably.
An Unreasonably Persistent Complaints Policy helps staff and complainants to understand clearly what is expected of them, what options for action are available, and who can authorise these actions. It also assists staff to manage the expectations and behaviour of complainants while their complaint is addressed.
This policy should be read in conjunction with any other relevant County Council policies relating to exclusion of services and employee health and safety.
Most complaints are dealt with through the complaints procedures without difficulty.
Having a policy on how to deal with unreasonably persistent complainants or other unreasonable behaviour by complainants, together with guidance for staff on the complaints procedure, should help Norfolk County Council deal with complainants in ways which are demonstrably consistent and fair.
The policy covers behaviour which is unreasonable, which may include one or two isolated incidents, as well as unreasonably persistent behaviour, which is usually an accumulation of incidents or behaviour over a longer period.
The objectives of the policy are to:
Norfolk County Council welcomes feedback from service users and will always try to resolve any complaint as quickly as possible and therefore this policy should only be applied where absolutely necessary.
With each complaint we must consider whether it is persistent, unreasonably persistent or a new complaint.
Anyone who raises informal or formal issues and complaints can expect the Compliments and Complaints team to:
It is important to distinguish between people who make a number of complaints because they really think things have gone wrong as a result of a series of service failures, and people who are being unreasonably persistent or otherwise behaving unreasonably.
Complainants can be frustrated and aggrieved and it is therefore important to consider the substance of the complaint.
Sometimes, however, service users pursuing complaints or other issues treat staff in a way that is unacceptable.
While we recognise that some complaints may relate to serious and distressing incidents, Norfolk County Council does not tolerate abusive, offensive or threatening behaviour and will take steps to protect staff who are subject to unreasonable behaviour.
Unreasonably persistent complainants are those complainants who, because of the frequency, or nature, of their contacts with Norfolk County Council, hinder the County Council’s consideration of the complainant’s, or other people’s complaints.
Almost all complainants see themselves as pursuing justified complaints.
Unreasonably persistent complainants may have legitimate complaints but be pursuing them in inappropriate ways, or they may be intent on pursuing complaints which appear to have no substance or which have already been investigated and determined. Their contacts with Norfolk County Council may be very emotionally charged and distressing for all involved, or they may be agreeable but still place very heavy demands on staff time.
Sometimes the situation between Norfolk County Council and a complainant can escalate and the behaviour moves to behaviour which is unacceptable and unreasonable, for example, abusive, offensive or threatening behaviour. Such complainants are in a very small minority, but sometimes Norfolk County Council finds itself in the position of having to instigate action under this policy.
In extreme situations, the County Council may resort to involving the Police or taking legal action to address such behaviour.
Raising legitimate queries or criticisms of a complaints procedure as it progresses, for example if agreed timescales are not met, should not in itself lead to someone being regarded as an unreasonably persistent complainant.
Similarly, the fact that a complainant is unhappy with the outcome of a complaint and seeks to challenge it once, or more than once, should not necessarily cause them to be considered unreasonably persistent /vexatious.
These are some of the actions and behaviours of unreasonably persistent complainants which Norfolk County Council’s departments and the Compliments and Complaints team often find problematic. It is by no means an exhaustive list, but they are examples that frequently come to our attention:
It is vital that all attempts are made to maintain effective communication and relationships with complainants. Prior to taking action under this policy, the complaints case manager should ensure that:
When the County Council considers that the complainant is unreasonably persistent in pursuing complaints or otherwise is acting unreasonably a risk assessment will be completed in line with health and safety policies and, if it is concluded that the behaviour is unacceptable/unreasonable, the complaints case manager will write to tell the complainant why they find the complainant’s behaviour unreasonable and/or unacceptable and ask them to change the behaviour.
Decision to restrict or terminate contact with the County Council
The following actions will be taken before a decision is taken to restrict or terminate a complainant’s contact with the County Council:
During this meeting, the designated officer will:
When making decisions on how to manage the unreasonably persistent complainant or unreasonable behaviour of a complainant, all relevant factors should be taken into account to ensure that action taken is appropriate and proportionate to the nature and frequency of the complainant’s contacts with the authority at that time.
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).
If the complainant has not responded appropriately to the prior warning letter and/or the agreements during the meeting with the complainant, a decision may be made to restrict contact with the Council. The complainant will be notified in writing (or alternative formats appropriate to the individual) why it is believed their behaviour falls into the category of unreasonably persistent and/or unreasonable behaviour. The complainant will be notified what action will be taken and the duration of that action, as well as what the complainant can do to have the decision reviewed.
The following list is a ‘menu’ of possible options for managing a complainant’s involvement with the County Council from which one or more might be chosen and applied, if warranted. Any action taken should be appropriate and proportionate. It is not an exhaustive list and often the specific circumstances of the individual case will be relevant in deciding what might be appropriate action:
Where following restriction of access being implemented a complainant continues to behave in a way that is unacceptable or where the behaviour is so extreme that it threatens the immediate safety and welfare of staff, the County Council may:
Reviewing the decision to restrict contact
When imposing this policy and placing a restriction on contact, the County Council will specify a review date, usually 6 months from the initial decision.
The review should be carried out by the Departmental representative and the Customer Services Complaints Manager to consider whether the restrictions can be lifted or modified, or should continue. The complainant will be notified of the outcome of the review.
Restrictions should be lifted and relationships returned to normal unless there are grounds to continue with the restrictions. If the restrictions are to continue, the County Council will explain the reasons to the complainant and state when the restrictions will next be reviewed.
Referral to the Local Government Ombudsman
In extreme cases the relationship between the complainant and the County Council may breakdown. In these cases the County Council may consider the following actions:
Appeals against decisions
Complainants must be informed in writing of the County Council’s decision resulting from application of this policy and procedure.
They should also be given information on how to appeal any decision.
An appeal will be heard by a review panel made up of a member of staff outside of the service area complained about, as well as the Customer Services Complaints Manager and the Departmental representative.
The panel will write to the complainant with their decision which will be final.
The Local Government Ombudsman has a role to examine complaints about the County Council and this includes the administration of the complaints procedures and County Council policies. Therefore, complainants who are dealt with under this policy and procedure should be given information on their right to contact the Local Government Ombudsman if they feel the County Council has not acted correctly in the administration of the complaint.
New complaints from people who have been subject to this policy will be dealt with on their merits. It is recognised that any new complaint may represent a genuine service failure and therefore needs to be reviewed objectively regardless of who is bringing the complaints.
Once the complaint has been considered, a risk assessment will also be carried out based on past and current knowledge of the complainant’s behaviour and the likelihood of re-occurrence of any unacceptable behaviour.
Any decision not to pursue a new complaint must be clearly recorded on the complaints database.
Recording actions and contacts with the complainant
Any decision to apply this policy must be notified to the Customer Services
Complaints Manager and recorded on the complaints database.
The Compliments and Complaints team will keep adequate records to show:
Complaints made to the County Council will be treated in confidence.
The Compliments and Complaints team will only pass the details of unreasonably persistent complainants and/ or unreasonable complainant behaviour to those County Council staff members and partner organisations who need to know in order to implement the policy or for reasons of protecting staff safety.
Confidentiality cannot, however, be guaranteed where a vulnerable person is considered to be at risk and safeguarding procedures apply. In these circumstances, the County Council may have to share the information with other departments within the Council or other external agencies.
Customers who make their complaints public in the media may forfeit their right to anonymity and the right to confidentiality.
Overall responsibility for the Unreasonably Persistent Complainants Policy will lie with the Practice Director, nplaw in the role of monitoring officer under the Local Government and Housing Act 1989.
The administration of the Unreasonably Persistent Complainants Policy lies with the Head of Customer Services and Communications.
The Compliments and Complaints team will take responsibility for the application of all aspects of the procedures at departmental and organisational level.
A complaints case manager will be assigned to all unreasonably persistent complainants entering the formal complaints process, providing an objective liaison role between the complainant and the organisation.
The Customer Service Complaints Manager will act as overall coordinator for unreasonably persistent complaints handling.
The operation of the Unreasonably Persistent Complainants Policy and statistical information will be presented as part of the compliments and complaints half-yearly report to the Corporate Resources Overview and Scrutiny Panel and in the annual report provided to Cabinet.