1. Persistent or Vexatious Complaints
Occasionally complainants may become unreasonably persistent or vexatious there are a number of ways they can do this, for example by:
- Making a series of complaints about a range of different issues;
- Making the same complaint in different ways trying to achieve the outcome they want;
- Raising a series of peripheral issues relating to a core complaint;
- Having an unrealistic expectation about the outcome.
Dealing with persistent complainants can be time consuming and frustrating and careful consideration must be given about how to deal with their concerns. Just because someone is a persistent complainant does not mean that the complaint is not valid. We do not want to put a limit on the number of complaints an individual can make and we should always deal with complaints in a positive way seeking to find a resolution with the complainant.
2. Receiving a Vexatious Complaint
When receiving a complaint that may be vexatious the following process should be followed:
- The Complaints Manager and / or Service Manager should review the complaint and, if necessary, seek further clarification from the complainant so that the complaint is clearly defined. A decision is then made about whether the complainant is a person who may complain ‘qualifying individual’ and that the complaint meets the criteria for what a complaint can be made about. If the criterion is met then it is determined whether the complaint is a new complaint, a repeated complaint or a complaint closely related to a previous complaint. The complaint should then be dealt with as follows.
3. New Complaint
The complaint is dealt with through the complaints process. However the Complaints Manager and Service Manager can take a view on ‘proportionality’ if it is clear that:
- The complaint is made as a result of a difficult relationship the complainant has with the service area;
- That seeking a resolution is not the main outcome sought by the complainant;
- The complaint is not raising significant concerns around areas of practice.
The service area may wish to satisfy itself around the subject of the complaint, but may wish to spend a proportionate amount of time and effort in doing so.
The Senior Manager and Complaints Manager should make this decision, clearly recording both the decision and the reasons for making it on the complaint file.
4. Repeated Complaints
If the complaint has already been dealt with through the complaint process then it cannot be dealt with again. The Complaints Manager and Senior Manager to make this decision. Where appropriate, legal advice should be sought. If the complaint did exhaust the procedure, the complainant should be advised their recourse is to the Local Government Ombudsman. The Complaints Manager will write to the complainant advising them of their options.
If the complainant refuses to accept this, once the options have been clarified communication with the complainant can cease.
5. A Similar Complaint
If the complaint raises new issues these should be dealt with as a new complaint as outlined above (see Section 3, New Complaint).
If no new issues are raised it, in that the complaint is raising old issues in a different way, should be dealt with as repeated complaint as above (see Section 4, Repeated Complaints).
If the complaint raises a new issue but the findings are going to be the same as a complaint already investigated, it should be treated as a repeat complaint.
6. Unreasonable Behaviour
In exceptional circumstances a complainant may become excessively obstructive to the process, abusive or threatening. In such circumstances restriction of access to the process can be considered, this could take the form of:
- Requiring communication only in writing;
- Requiring communication through a designated officer;
- Putting time limit on contact;
- Placing restrictions on the number of contacts;
- Reaching an agreement on acceptable conduct.
In extreme circumstances risk assessments may be conducted and the police involved (see Positive Risk Taking Policy). If it becomes too difficult to continue with the complaint then it may be necessary to seek early referral to the Local Government Ombudsman.
The decision that a complainant is to be regarded as unreasonably persistent will be taken by the Complaints Manager in consultation with the relevant Senior Manager and then communicated to the complainant with reasons for the decision and the action that will be taken.