Managing Unreasonable Customer Behaviour Policy

Managing Unreasonable Customer Behaviour Policy

This policy enables staff to understand the Managing Unreasonable Customer Behaviour Policy and procedures they should follow when applying it. It applies to unreasonable customer contact and may also be applied when customers have made a Corporate Complaint.

This policy does not replace any statutory guidance that may be in place for a service, for example, social care or education, but compliments the range of options available to the Council.

1. Introduction

1.1 Council staff will engage with a small number of customers use a disproportionate amount of council resources or impede the investigation of an enquiry, service request or complaint they have made. The aim of this policy is to identify and manage situations where customer behaviour could be considered unreasonable.

1.2 It is important to distinguish between people who make a number of contacts (or complaints) because they think things have gone wrong, and people who are unable or unwilling to accept a decision. We must recognise that customers may sometimes act out of character when anxious or distressed and reasonable allowances should be made for this. We must also recognise that some customers require support when contacting us and provide them with guidance where appropriate.

1.3 We do not expect staff to tolerate unacceptable behaviour from customers. Unacceptable behaviour includes behaviour which is abusive, offensive or threatening and may include:

  • Using abusive or foul language face to face, on the telephone, in writing or on social media, or 
  • Making multiple contacts without giving officers reasonable time to respond.

We will deal with our customers politely and with respect and we expect the same in return from them.

1.4 The aim of this policy is to ensure that we deal with all customer contact in ways which are demonstrably consistent, fair and reasonable. The policy will help staff to understand what is expected of them, what options for action are available, and who can authorise these actions in relation to complaints. For the purpose of transparency to customers this policy will also be published on the Council’s website.

1.5 In preparing this policy we have considered the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman's guidance on managing unreasonable complainant behaviour. Staff should also consider other contact channels with the authority, such as:

  • Freedom of Information Act requests
  • Contact via a councillor, Leader of the Council or Chief Executive
  • Social media messages/posts

when considering whether a customer’s contact falls to be treated in line with the Managing Unreasonable Customer Behaviour Policy.

2. Definition of Unreasonable Behaviour

2.1 We use the following terms in our policy:

  • Unreasonable customer or complainant behaviour;
  • Unreasonably persistent customers or complainants, and
  • Vexatious complaints – without sufficient grounds, especially so as to cause annoyance or disruption.

In this policy, the terms ‘customer’ and ‘complainant’ are interchangeable.

2.2 For us, unreasonable customer behaviour and unreasonably persistent customers are those customers who, because of the frequency or nature of their contacts with the authority, hinder the authority’s ability to deal with other council business, other customer enquiries and/or consideration of their own or other people’s complaints.

2.3 Vexatious complaints are those complaints made without sufficient grounds but made to cause annoyance or disruption.

2.4 Features of customer behaviour and contact that this policy covers can include the following:

  • Refusing to give specific information or details which are needed for us to handle the enquiry or refusing to specify the grounds of a complaint despite offers of help.
  • Insufficient grounds or no grounds for an enquiry or complaint; following the enquiry/complaint through for reasons not made clear.
  • Refusing to co-operate with requests for clarification or with the complaints investigation process whilst still wanting the matter to be resolved.
  • Raising many detailed questions, and insisting they are all answered.
  • Submitting falsified documents from themselves or others.
  • The customer’s expectations exceed the level of service we can offer.
  • Refusing to accept that certain issues are not the council’s responsibility, not services that we offer, or are not within the scope of the Corporate Complaints Procedure (because there is a suitable alternative procedure to follow).
  • Insisting on the enquiry/complaint being dealt with in ways which are incompatible with good practice (such as insisting that there should be no written record of the complaint) or council standards, policy, procedure or protocols.
  • Making unjustified complaints about staff who are trying to deal with the issues, or to unnecessarily escalate the matter higher. The council will determine which member of staff is the right person at the right level in the organisation to handle the customer’s enquiry/complaint.
  • Making an unreasonable number of contacts with us, by any means in relation to a specific enquiry/complaint(s) and expecting immediate responses.
  • Adopting a 'scatter gun' approach: pursuing parallel enquiries/complaints on the same issue via more than one channel or with various organisations.
  • Refuting statements they made at an earlier stage.
  • Introducing new information at a later stage in an attempt to get a different answer from someone else or attempting to submit a ‘new’ complaint to have those details further considered.
  • Changing the basis of the complaint as the investigation proceeds.
  • Electronically recording meetings and conversations without the prior knowledge and consent of the other person involved.
  • Refusing to accept the council’s decision; repeatedly arguing points with no new evidence and/or denying that an adequate response has been given.
  • Harassing or verbally abusing or otherwise seeking to intimidate staff dealing with their complaint.

The list is not exhaustive, nor does one single feature on its own necessarily imply that the person will be considered as being in this category.

2.5 If you feel that the inappropriate behaviour displayed is for a reason related to a disability, or you are experiencing difficulty because the customer’s first language is not English, please contact your Directorate Equality Representative for advice.

3. Managing contact

3.1 Investigate the contact history: Compile a timeline of all types of contact received from the customer concerned about the same issue. If the matter is being handled as a complaint, we must ensure that the complaint is being, or has been, investigated properly in accordance with the Corporate Complaints’ Procedure.

3.2 Issue a warning: The Service Manager responsible for the service area concerned with the customer’s contact may decide to take appropriate action. If the concerns are in relation to a corporate complaint, the service manager with responsibility for Corporate Complaints will consult with the Corporate Complaints’ Team before issuing a warning to the customer.

3.3 The Service Manager will contact the customer by phone, in writing or by email to explain why this behaviour is causing concern, and to ask them to change their behaviour. The Service Manager will explain the actions that the council may take if the behaviour does not change and ensure this is put in writing to the customer. The following considerations need to be taken into account:

  • Explain what the council’s current position is in relation to the matter the customer’s contact is about.
  • Advise the customer that their behaviour is unreasonable and why.
  • Ask them to stop, moderate or change their behaviour when contacting the council.
  • Warn the customer about what actions their behaviour may lead to restrictions that may be applied to the customer’s contact with the council for a period of time if their behaviour does not change.

The sort of restrictions imposed could include:

  • Restricting telephone calls to specified days and limited times;
  • Limiting contacts to one form only (for example, a maximum of one letter or email per week);
  • Requiring contact to take place with one named staff member;
  • Requiring the complainant to enter into an agreement about their future behaviour before their case proceeds, and/or
  • Managing contact with the help of an independent advocate.

3.4 Implement restrictions on the customer’s contact with the council: If the disruptive behaviour continues, the responsible Service Manager will make a decision and inform the customer in writing of what procedures have been put in place and for what period with regards to this matter. The aim of applying restrictions on a customer’s contact with the council is to stop frequent and or repeated contact about this particular issue.

3.5 In addition to that information included in the warning letter, the implementation letter must also:

  • Apply restrictions in a way that will allow completion of the complaints procedure, where necessary; and
  • Inform the customer of the Service Manager’s decision and their right of appeal to an appropriate named person within four weeks. This will usually be the Assistant Director or Director for the service area concerned.

3.6 Where behaviour is so extreme or it threatens the immediate safety and welfare of staff, we will consider other options, for example reporting the matter to the police or taking legal action. In such cases, we may not give the customer prior warning of that action.

3.7 Select an appropriate restriction: Any restriction that is imposed on the customer’s contact with us about a specific issue will be appropriate and proportionate. The customer will be advised of the period of time the restriction will be in place for. In most cases restrictions will apply for a period of six months but in exceptional cases may be extended. The continuing use of restrictions on a customer’s contact with the council will be reviewed by the Service Manager making the decision.

3.8 Restrictions will be tailored to deal with the individual circumstances of the customer. Reasons for the decision made will be given in writing and considerations may include:

  • why we have taken the decision;
  • what action we are taking;
  • the duration of that action;
  • the appeal process of this policy;
  • how they can access services;
  • the right of the customer to contact the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, and
  • arrangements for review at the end of the period of restrictions.

4. Recording and Reviewing Decisions

4.1 Adequate records will be retained by the Service Manager and shared with appropriate officers on a need to know basis, and in any case, the Service Manager responsible for Corporate Complaints. Records must include the details of the case and the action that has been taken. The Service Manager responsible for Corporate Complaints will retain a record of:

  • The name and address of each customer where action has been taken under the Managing Unreasonable Customer Behaviour policy;
  • The nature of the particular concern (this must be specific, it should not be across all subsequent contact with all service areas of the council);
  • The period that the restriction covers, or is in force for;
  • What the restrictions are;
  • When the customer and relevant departments were advised, and
  • The date on which this decision is due to be reviewed.

4.2 The lead Executive Member for Corporate Complaints will be provided with an annual report giving information about instances where the Managing Unreasonable Customer Behaviour Policy has been implemented.

4.3 The status of a customer whose behaviour is considered to be unreasonable will be reviewed by the relevant responsible Service Manager at the end of the period of restrictions implemented. This is primarily to determine if the period of restrictions needs to be extended.

4.4 The customer will be informed of the outcome of this review if the decision to apply this policy to them has been changed or extended. There is no need to instigate further contact with the customer if the period of restrictions is simply allowed to expire.

5. Re-occurrence of the same issue or concerns

5.1 After a period of restriction has expired, we hope that repeated contact about the same issue or concern will cease. However, it is possible that the customer may raise the same issue or concern again.

5.2 If this happens, each case should be reviewed on its own merits by the relevant Service Manager. If necessary, guidance can be sought from the Service Manager responsible for  Corporate Complaints. Factors to be taken into consideration are:

  • Whether there has been a new or recent event or repeat occurrence that might change how we view things now, and perhaps a new investigation is necessary
  • Whether the time that has elapsed since raising original concerns is sufficient to warrant a new investigation taking place
  • Whether council policy or procedure has changed since our last investigation and decision
  • Whether it is appropriate to stand by the original restriction we applied, and to re-invoke the restriction. If this course of action is decided, there is no need for a further warning letter. An appropriate restriction period will be determined by the responsible Service Manager and the customer should be advised directly, together with a further right to appeal to an appropriate person. 
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