- The Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey (the Commissioner) is committed to dealing with complaints fairly, thoroughly, impartially and in a timely way. Generally, complaints can be satisfactorily resolved following established policies and procedures. The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s (OPCC) staff are committed to respond with patience and understanding to the needs of all complainants and to seek to resolve their complaints. This includes, where relevant, considering any disability or other protected characteristic under equalities legislation which may make the process more difficult for any particular complainant. The OPCC recognises that people might be dissatisfied with the outcome of a complaint and might express that dissatisfaction, and that people may act out of character at times of anxiety or distress. The simple fact of a person being dissatisfied or acting out of character should not by itself lead to their contact being categorised as unacceptable, unreasonable, or unreasonably persistent.
- There are times however, when a person’s contact with the OPCC is or becomes such that warrants restrictions being placed on that contact. Their actions and behaviour may impede the proper investigation of their complaint or may impede the normal running of the Commissioner’s business. This may lead to significant resource implications for the Commissioner which are out of proportion with the nature/seriousness of the complaint. Further, or in the alternative, their actions may cause harassment, alarm, distress or upset to OPCC staff. The Commissioner defines such behaviour as ‘Unacceptable’, ‘Unreasonable’ and/or ‘Unreasonably Persistent’.
- This policy also applies to correspondence and contact with the OPCC, including by telephone, email, post, and social media, which does not fall within the definition of complaint but which meets the definition of Unacceptable, Unreasonable or Unreasonably Persistent. In this policy, where the word “complainant” is used, it includes any person who has made contact with the OPCC and whose conduct is being considered under this policy, whether or not they have made a formal complaint.
- This policy is designed to help the Commissioner and OPCC staff to identify and deal with unacceptable, unreasonable and unreasonably persistent complainant behaviour in a demonstrably consistent and fair way. It assists the Commissioner, any Deputy Commissioner and OPCC staff to understand clearly what is expected of them, what options are available, and who can authorise these actions.
2. Scope of the Policy
- This policy and guidance apply to any complaint made in relation to:
- The level or quality of service in respect of complaints about the Commissioner, the Deputy Commissioner, a member of the OPCC staff or a contractor engaged on behalf of the Commissioner;
- The conduct of a member of the OPCC staff or of a contractor engaged on behalf of the Commissioner;
- Complaints in relation to the work of the Independent Custody Visitors;
- Complaints about the conduct of the Police and Crime Commissioner or Deputy Commissioner; and
- Complaints about the conduct of the Chief Constable of Surrey;
- as well as any contact to the OPCC that does not constitute a formal complaint but that could be categorised as Unacceptable, Unreasonable and/or Unreasonably Persistent.
- This policy does not cover complaints about officers or employees of Surrey Police. All matters relating to complaints made against officers or employees of Surrey Police, including any actions and behaviours by someone who has made such a complaint, will be dealt with in accordance with the legislation governing conduct complaints against Police Officers, namely the Police Reform Act 2002 and any associated secondary legislation.
- This policy does not cover complaints or any actions and behaviours by someone arising from a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act. Such matters will be considered on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000, taking account of the Information Commissioners Office guidance. Moreover, this policy does not apply to potentially vexatious requests under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
- Where a complaint has been recorded under Schedule 3 to the Police Reform Act 2002,the complainant has a right to apply for a review of the outcome of the complaint. In this case, “The Complaints Review Manager” will provide an initial written response to a complainant who expresses dissatisfaction (either over the phone to OPCC staff or in writing) after receiving the OPCC’s final review letter. This response will advise that there is no further action to be taken in the police complaints procedure and that, if still dissatisfied with the outcome, the complainant is entitled to seek independent legal advice on alternative avenues that may be available to them. Consequently, the OPCC will not be responding to any further correspondence on the matter.
3. Unacceptable, unreasonable and unreasonably persistent complainant behaviour
- The OPCC will apply this Policy to behaviour that is:
- Unacceptable behaviour;
- Unreasonable behaviour and/or;
- Unreasonably Persistent Behaviour (including unreasonable demands).
- Unacceptable behaviour:
Complainants will often have experienced traumatic or distressing circumstances that lead them to contact the OPCC or to make a complaint. Anger or frustration is a common response, but it can become unacceptable if these emotions lead to violent, threatening or abusive behaviour. Anger and/or frustration may also be unacceptable where it is directed at OPCC staff personally. OPCC staff should not endure or tolerate violent, threatening, or abusive behaviour and the safety and wellbeing of staff will always be protected.
- In this context, Unacceptable Behaviour is any behaviour or contact that is violent, threatening, aggressive or abusive and which has the potential to cause harm, injury, harassment, alarm or distress to OPCC staff, or behaviour or contact that might negatively impact on the health and safety of OPCC staff. Unacceptable Behaviour may be isolated to a single incident or form a pattern of behaviour over time. Even if a complaint has merit, a complainant’s behaviour can still be Unacceptable Behaviour.
- Unacceptable behaviour may include:
- Aggressive behaviour;
- Verbal abuse, rudeness, derogatory, discriminatory, or defamatory remarks (verbal or written);
- Escalating agitation, intimidating body language or invasion of personal space;
- Harassment, intimidation, or threats;
- Threats or harm to people or property;
- Stalking (in person or online);
- Psychological manipulation and/or;
- Oppressive or coercive behaviour.
This list is not exhaustive.
- Unreasonable behaviour:
Unreasonable Behaviour is any behaviour that disproportionately impacts on the ability of staff to effectively do their jobs and goes beyond someone being assertive or expressing their dissatisfaction. It may be isolated to a single incident or form a pattern of behaviour over time. Even if a complaint has merit, a complainant’s behaviour can still be Unreasonable Behaviour.
- Complainants may make what the OPCC considers unreasonable demands on its service through the amount of information they seek, the nature and scale of service they expect or the number of approaches they make. What amounts to unreasonable behaviour or demands will always depend on the circumstances surrounding the behaviour and the seriousness of the issues raised by the service user. Examples of behaviour include:
- Demanding responses within unreasonable timescales;
- Insisting on dealing with or speaking to particular members of staff;
- Seeking to have staff replaced;
- Continual phone calls, letters and emails that adopt a ‘scattergun approach’ and pursuing issues with numerous staff;
- Unreasonably persistent behaviour (including unreasonable demands):
The OPCC recognises that some complainants will not or cannot accept that the OPCC is unable to assist beyond a level of service already provided. A complainant’s behaviour may be considered Unreasonably Persistent if they continue to write, email or telephone about their complaint(s) excessively (and without providing new information) despite being assured that their complaint is being dealt with or being told their complaint has been concluded.
- Unreasonably Persistent Behaviour is considered unreasonable because of the impact it can have on staff time and resources which in turn can impact on their capacity to manage other workload demands.
- Examples of unreasonably persistent behaviour include but are not limited to:
- Persistently calling, writing, or emailing to demand updates, despite being assured matters are in hand and having been given reasonable timescales for when an update can be expected;
- Persistent refusal to accept explanations relating to what the OPCC can or cannot do despite having information explained and clarified;
- Refusing to accept reasonable explanations following the conclusion of a complaint, and/or failing to follow appropriate appeal/review routes;
- Refusing to accept a final decision made in relation to a case and making repeated requests to reverse that decision;
- Contacting different people in the same organisation to try to secure a different outcome;
- The volume or duration of contact impacting on the ability of complaint handlers to carry out their functions (this can include calling several times repeatedly on the same day);
- Re – framing or re – wording a complaint that has already been finalised;
- Persisting with the complaint despite failing to provide any new evidence to support it after numerous requests to do so;
- Demanding a review of the complaint outside of the appropriate legislative avenue for doing so;
- Repeatedly making an issue of trivial matters.
- Excessive contact with OPCC staff, attending the office throughout the same day, or sending multiple lengthy emails without specifying the issues they wish to complain about (using the scattergun approach to simultaneously contact numerous departments or bodies repeating the same matters). Continued contact with the OPCC in relation to a matter or group of matters may be Unreasonably Persistent even where the content does not itself meet the definition of Unacceptable Behaviour or Unreasonable Behaviour.
- Making repeated unreasonable demands may be considered to be Unreasonable Behaviour and/or Unreasonably Persistent Behaviour because of its impact on the time and resources of the OPCC, its services and staff, and on the ability to thoroughly deal with the complaint by:
- Repeatedly demanding responses within an unreasonable timescale or insisting on speaking to a particular member of staff, despite being told that it is not possible or appropriate;
- Not following appropriate channels for engagement, despite receiving information more than once about the appropriate method to use;
- Issuing demands about how their complaint should be handled, despite being told about the process and receiving regular updates;
- Insisting on unattainable outcomes;
- Providing an extraordinary degree of irrelevant detail.
- Creating unnecessary complexity where there is none;
- Insisting that a particular solution is the correct one;
- Demands to speak to senior managers at the outset, before the OPCC staff member has fully considered the complaint;
- Repeatedly copying staff into emails sent to other public bodies where there is no demonstrateable reason to do so;
- Refusing to provide adequate information needed to deal with the issue being raised;
- Demanding disproportionate outcomes such as criminal investigations into staff or staff dismissal;
- Demanding a re–investigation into the complaint, without reason or by a different member of staff;
- Refusing to accept a decision made by the OPCC and presenting unfounded allegations of corruption because the decision was not in their favour;
- Refusing to accept explanations on the limits of the powers and remit of the OPCC.
This list is not intended to be exhaustive.
4. How the Commissioner will deal with such complaints
- Each complaint submitted to the OPCC will be assessed on its own merits. Where a member of staff who is dealing with a complaint believes that a complainant has demonstrated Unacceptable, Unreasonable, and/or Unreasonably Persistent behaviour, they shall refer the matter to the Chief Executive for consideration.
- The Chief Executive will consider the matter fully and ensure that the relevant policy/procedure has been correctly followed and that each element of the complaint (where applicable) has been appropriately addressed. They will also check whether any new issues are raised which are significantly different from the original complaint
- Having considered the circumstances of the case, the Chief Executive may come to the view that the behaviour of the complainant is Unacceptable, Unreasonable, and/or Unreasonably Persistent and therefore that this policy applies. If the Chief Executive does come to that view then the matter shall be referred to the Commissioner.
- The decision to treat a complainant’s behaviour as Unacceptable, Unreasonable and/or Unreasonably Persistent and to determine what action is to be taken will be made by the Commissioner having regard to all of the circumstances of the case, following consultation with the Chief Executive.
- The Chief Executive will ensure a written record of the Commissioner’s decision and the reasons for it are made.
5. Actions that may be taken in unacceptable, unreasonable and unreasonably persistent complaint behaviour
- Any action taken in relation to the decision to treat a complainant’s behaviour as Unacceptable, Unreasonable and/or Unreasonably Persistent should be proportionate to the circumstances and it shall be for the Commissioner, following consultation with the Chief Executive, who decides what action to take. The action taken may consist of (and this is not an exhaustive list):
- Use of mediation by inviting the complainant to a face-to-face meeting either held in person or virtually. At least two of the OPCC staff will meet with the complainant and the complainant may be accompanied.
- Continuing to proceed with the complaint under the relevant policy/procedure and providing the complainant with one point of contact within the OPCC, who will keep a record of all contacts made.
- Issuing the complainant in writing with terms of behaviour to be adhered to and setting out expected mutual responsibilities upon which the continued investigation of the complaint will be conditional.
- If the decision is taken to write to the complainant in accordance with paragraph 5.1(c) above, unless there are circumstances that justify the immediate imposition of a contact strategy, the OPCC shall write to the complainant as follows:
- Firstly, an initial warning letter setting out the that the Commissioner has determined the complainant’s behaviour to be Unacceptable, Unreasonable, and/or Unreasonably persistent and setting out the basis for that decision. This initial warning letter shall also set out the expectations for any further contact from the complainant to the OPCC, as well as any responsibilities of the OPCC (for example, the frequency with which the OPCC shall contact or update the complainant);
- Secondly, where the complainant has not complied with the terms of the initial warning letter, a final warning letter setting out that the initial warning letter has not been complied with and informing the complainant that, should they continue to fail to adhere to the expectations set out in the initial warning letter, the OPCC shall implement a formal contact strategy; and
- Thirdly, where the complainant has not complied with the terms of the initial nor the final warning letter, the OPCC shall implement a formal contact strategy which will set out a limited basis upon which the complainant may contact the OPCC and which will set out a limited basis upon which the OPCC shall return contact to the complainant (including the frequency and manner of doing so) – sections 9 and 10 of this policy apply to contact strategies.
- An initial warning letter, final warning letter and/or contact strategy (subject to sections 9 and 10 of this policy) may do any one or any combination of the following:
- Advise the complainant that they have exhausted the complaints procedure and that there is nothing more to add to the points raised;
- Explain to them that further contact with the Commissioner will serve no useful purpose;
- Decline contact with the complainant either in person, by telephone, by letter or email in relation to that complaint;
- Notify the complainant that further correspondence will be read but, where it contains no fresh information which affects the decision, it will not be acknowledged but will be placed on the file;
- Limit contact to a single, prescribed means of contact (e.g., in writing to a single mailbox or a single postal address);
- Prescribe time limits on any meetings or telephone calls;
- Prescribe a third party through whom all contact must be made; and/or
- Set out any other step or measure that the Commissioner considers to be necessary and proportionate in the circumstances of the case.
Where Unacceptable, Unreasonable or Unreasonably Persistent behaviour continues the Commissioner reserves the right to suspend all contact with the complainant whilst legal advice is sought.
6. Unreasonable complaints in relation to the Commissioner
The Surrey Police & Crime Panel provides delegated authority to the Chief Executive of the OPCC to manage the initial handling of complaints against the Commissioner.
Details of this process and the complaints procedure adhered to by the Panel can be found on the Surrey County Council website. The process further sets out how the Chief Executive of the OPCC may decline to record a complaint.
7. Future dealings with persons who have been deemed to have behaved in an unacceptable, unreasonable and unreasonably persistent manner
Even though an individual has made complaints that were pursued in an unacceptable, unreasonable, or unreasonably persistent manner in the past, it must not be assumed that any future complaints or contact from them will also be unacceptable or unreasonable. If a new complaint, on a separate matter is received, it must be treated on its own merits whilst ensuring that OPCC staff members’ wellbeing is protected.
8. Contact that raises concern
- The OPCC is an organisation that comes into contact with thousands of members of the public including some who may be physically or mentally vulnerable. OPCC staff have a duty of care and may identify and report any indications of/risk of abuse or neglect under the requirements of the Care Act 2014.
- This extends to contact that raises concerns for an individual’s physical and/or mental welfare where there is an indication of harm. If a member of OPCC staff receives a contact that raises safeguarding concerns, they will forward the details to Surrey Police and ask them to raise a concern for safety.
- Similarly, any contact or behaviour considered to be of a violent, aggressive, or harassing nature, or where it threatens the safety and welfare of OPCC staff, will be reported to Surrey Police and where appropriate legal action may be taken. The OPCC may not give the service user prior warning of this action.
- Contact where incidents of suspected crimes are being reported and those that raise the suspicion of OPCC staff from a crime perspective will also be reported to Surrey Police. The OPCC may not give the service user prior warning of this action.
9. Contact Strategy
- The OPCC may develop and implement a contact strategy on its own or together with Surrey Police Professional Standards Department (PSD), in relation to a complainant if they continue to display Unacceptable, Unreasonable or Unreasonably Persistent behaviour that impacts adversely on the work or welfare of staff.
Contact strategies will be put in place to:
- Ensure that the complainant’s complaints/requests for information are dealt with promptly and accurately;
- Protect staff welfare;
- Limit the disproportionate cost on the public purse when dealing with the individual;
- Ensure that the OPCC can function and manage its workload effectively;
- Ensure a joint plan with Surrey Police PSD manages any contact with both organisations effectively.
- A contact strategy will be unique to each complainant and will be implemented on a case-by-case basis, to ensure that it remains appropriate and proportionate. The following list is not exhaustive; however, the strategy may include:
- Arranging for the complainant to communicate with one specific point of contact only – where appropriate to do so;
- Placing time limits on telephone conversations and personal contacts (for example, one call on one specified morning/afternoon of any week);
- Restricting communication to one method of contact.
- Confirming that the OPCC will only contact the complainant on a bi-weekly/monthly or other basis;
- Reading and filing correspondence, but only acknowledging or responding to it if the complainant provides new information relevant to the consideration by the OPCC of a current ‘live’ complaint or is making a substantially new complaint;
- Requiring that any requests for information must be submitted through a formal process, such as a Freedom of Information or Subject Access Request, otherwise any such requests for information will not be responded to;
- Taking any other action that is deemed appropriate and proportionate, e.g. in extreme cases, the OPCC may choose to block telephone numbers or email addresses;
- Record or monitor telephone calls;
- Refuse to consider demands to re-open a closed case or case decision.
- Prior to any action being taken, the complainant will be informed of the reasons for such a contact strategy being implemented. The contact strategy will be presented to them in writing (this includes via email). However, where OPCC staff safety or welfare is threatened due to unreasonable behaviour, the complainant may not receive prior warning of action being taken.
- A contact strategy shall be reviewed at 6-month intervals by the Chief Executive and the Head of Complaints to consider whether the terms of the strategy remain appropriate or require amendment, and to consider whether the contact strategy is still required. Where the decision is taken that the strategy is no longer required, that fact shall be recorded and any further contact from the complainant may be dealt with under the normal process for contact/complaints from the public (subject always to the re-application of the process set out in this policy).
10. Restricting contact access
- A manager can request authorisation to restrict contact from the Chief Executive. However, the Chief Executive, in consultation with the Commissioner, should be satisfied that the following criteria has been considered before any action is taken:
- The matter – whether it be a complaint / case / query / request – is being, or has been, considered and addressed properly;
- Any case-related decision reached as a result of an investigation is the right one;
- Communication with the complainant has been adequate and the service user is not providing any significant new information that might affect the consideration of the case;
- All reasonable efforts have been made with the complainant to dispel misunderstandings and move matters towards a resolution;
- Any specific access requirements and appropriate solutions have been considered to ensure that the complainant is not being denied access to the OPCC;
- Putting the complainant in touch with a suitable gateway organisation, such as a Citizens Advice Bureau, has been considered – or the complainant has been urged to seek legal advice.
- Where a complainant continues to display unacceptable behaviour, the OPCC will exercise its right to restrict contact. It will, however, always tell complainants what action it is taking and why. It will write to them (or an alternative accessible format) explaining the reasons for managing future contact, describing the restricted contact arrangements and, if relevant, clarifying how long these restrictions will be in place.
- Complainants will also be told how they can dispute the decision to restrict contact via the internal OPCC complaints procedure. After consideration of their request, complainants will be informed in writing either that the restricted contact arrangements still apply or that a different course of action has been agreed.
- If the OPCC decides to carry on treating someone under this category, and is still investigating their complaint six months later, it will carry out a review and decide if restrictions will continue. A decision to restrict complainant contact may be reconsidered if the complainant demonstrates a more acceptable approach.
- Where a complainant’s case is closed and they persist in communicating with the OPCC about it, the OPCC may decide to terminate contact with that complainant. In such cases, the OPCC will continue to log and read all correspondence, but unless there is fresh evidence which has an impact on the decision made, it will simply place it on the file with no acknowledgement.
- If a restriction has been put in place and a complainant breaks its conditions, staff have the right not to engage in conversation or respond to requests as appropriate.
- Any new complaints from people who have come under the unreasonably persistent and unacceptable complainant policy will be treated on the merits of each new complaint. It should be made clear the complainants should not be prevented from contacting the police in relation to non-complaint issues or be left unsure about this due to unclear or incomplete contact arrangements.
- In implementing this policy, the OPCC will:
- Comply with legislative or regulatory requirements and associated advice on effectively managing persistent complainants, to ensure that all forms of complaints are dealt with properly and effectively;
- Provide clear information and guidance regarding the policies and procedures of the OPCC for managing persistent and vexatious complainants;
- Ensure that the lessons from such matters are considered and assessed to inform the development of practice and procedure for the effectiveness of the OPCC;
- Promote an open and responsive complaints system;
- Any restrictions imposed will be appropriate and proportionate.
11. How this Policy links to other policies and procedures
- In situations where a member of OPCC staff feels unsafe or unfairly treated by a service user, the managing service user contact, health and safety, dignity at work, diversity at work policies and OPCC equality procedures would also apply.
- The Freedom of Information Act (Section 14) covers vexatious and repeated requests for information and section 14 of the Act should be referred to in conjunction with this policy. The Act gives the OPCC the right to refuse information to members of the public on the grounds that the request is vexatious or unnecessarily repeated. The OPCC will adhere to its responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act in respect of the storage and retention of personal data.
12. Human rights and equality
- In implementing this policy, the OPCC will ensure that its actions are in accordance with the requirements of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Convention Rights embodied within it, in order to protect the human rights of complainants, other users of the police services and the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey.
- In implementing this policy, the OPCC will ensure all due consideration is given to the OPCC’s obligations under the Equality Act 2010 and will consider whether any reasonable adjustments can be made to allow the complainant to communicate with the OPCC in an acceptable manner.
13. GDPR Assessment
- The OPCC will only forward, hold or retain personal information where it is appropriate for it to do so, in line with the OPCC GDPR Policy, Privacy Statement and Retention Policy.
14. Freedom of Information Act 2000
- This policy is suitable for access by the General Public.
- The OPCC reserves the right to seek legal redress if necessary or refer any communication to the police.
Policy date: December 2022
Next review: December 2024
Police and Crime Commissioner Lisa Townsend has welcomed the support for policing pledged by government in tackling activists whose climate protests caused widespread disruption on the M25.
A new project dedicated to the welfare of police dogs in Surrey has been launched thanks to the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Office in partnership with the Dogs Trust and RSPCA.
Commissioner Lisa Townsend affirmed her commitment to tackling violence against women and girls on International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.