1.1. This procedure covers routine complaints and those that could be described as habitual and vexatious. The majority of complaints generally fall under the first category and only occasionally move to the second option covered by paragraph 4 onwards.
1.2. Habitual or vexatious complaints are defined as unreasonable complaints, enquiries or outcomes that are repeatedly or obsessively pursued.
1.3. Some types of complaint are handled outside this procedure: Financial irregularity are handled by the Council’s own auditor / Audit Commission; Criminal activity by the Police; Member conduct by the standards committee of the relevant principal authority; Employee conduct by internal disciplinary procedure.
2 Complaints Procedures for Local Councils
2.1. Councils should handle complaints in full council or nominate councillors who are authorised to deal with complaints but are not involved with the particular case.
2.2. If the complaint is handled by the full council then two nominated councillors should not take part in the proceedings. They will then be available to handle any appeal, if required.
2.3. The Clerk should normally represent the council through the proceedings but a nominated councillor may act instead.
3 The Procedure
3.1. Before the Meeting
The complainant should complain in writing to the Clerk or to the Chairman of the council. Assistance should be given to the claimant if necessary.
- The complainant should be advised when the matter will be considered and whether it will be treated confidentially or heard by a committee. A copy of this procedure should also be given to the complainant.
- The complainant should be invited to attend a meeting with a representative if wished.
- Not later than seven clear working days prior to the meeting, the complainant and the council will exchange copies of any documentation or other evidence to be relied on.
3.2. At the Council Meeting or Committee Meeting
- The Chairman of the meeting should introduce everyone and explain the procedure.
- The complainant (or representative) should outline the grounds for complaint before any questions from the Clerk and then from members if present.
- The Clerk should explain the council’s position before any questions from the complainant, and from members if present.
- The complainant and the Clerk should then summarise their position; they then leave the room while members decide whether or not the grounds for the complaint have been made.
- If the decision is unlikely to be finalised on that day an estimated date will be given.
3.3. After the Meeting
- The decision should be confirmed in writing within seven working days together with details of any action to be taken.
- The result of the proceedings should be reported at the next council meeting after the appeal period has passed, ensuring that agreed confidential issues are appropriately respected.
- Should the complainant not agree with the decision they are entitled to appeal the decision within fourteen days of receipt of the result of the proceedings.
- The councillors nominated to handle the appeal should, within twenty-one days of receiving the appeal, examine the way in which the council dealt with the complaint.
- If procedures were correctly handled by the council then the appellant should be notified that the appeal has not been successful. If the complaint was not handled correctly it must be referred back for consideration as at 3.2.
- The appellant should be notified of the result of the appeals process within fourteen days.
4 Habitual and Vexatious Complaints
4.1. Councils should endeavour to deal with complaints in an efficient, equitable and effective manner.
4.2. The council may have to initiate further action, if the complainant behaves in ways which can: impede the investigation of the complaint; have significant resource implications; hinder the complaints service for others; be offensive, abusive or threatening.
5 Aims of this Section
5.1. The aim of the council is to manage each case properly, consistently, fairly and respectfully and ensure that the complaint, not the complainant, is the issue during any procedure and decision making.
5.2. It is important to establish guidelines for identifying habitual or vexatious complainants and that any decisions made follow agreed guidelines and procedures.
6.1. Councils must try to keep open the lines of communication with appropriate support e.g. clarifying the reason for the outcome; offering relevant support for a complainant with special needs; suggesting an independent representative to help present their case.
6.2. Any action taken as a result of proven persistent and/or vexatious complaint should be proportionate to the degree of annoyance/aggravation caused.
7.1. The possibility of there being an unreasonably persistent and/or vexatious complaint should be brought to the attention of the Chairman or Vice Chairman to ensure that the complaint has been dealt with according to the council’s complaints procedure.
7.2. The Chairman or Vice Chairman should contact the complainant in an effort to resolve the situation.
7.3. In the case of a meeting, if there is a personality issue, the complainant may nominate another councillor who will be made aware of all the facts. A complainant may wish to bring a representative. The council should give appropriate support (e.g. special needs) to the complainant in choosing a representative etc.
7.4. The Chairman/Vice Chairman must:
- Listen to the grievance/complaint
- Assure the complainant of confidentiality with personal details
- Carefully explain what action the council has taken within its remit to resolve the complaint
- Offer any relevant support about the complaints procedure to the complainant
- Suggest complaint routes available if complaint is outside the council’s remit
- Explain how the complainant’s actions are of concern but are hampering the complaints procedure
- Explain what actions the council may take
- Seek an assurance that the persistent/unreasonable nature of complaint will be addressed
7.5. The outcome and relevant details of the meeting should be noted.
8.1. If the complainant continues to behave in unreasonable and/or vexatious way, the Chairman or Vice Chairman should seek the approval of the council to follow the policy and agree what action(s) to take, e.g. restrict or refuse any further contact.
8.2. The complainant must be advised by letter from the Clerk of this action, including any further actions the complainant may take with other bodies including their right to obtain independent advice.
8.3. The council must record the decision and hold all relevant correspondence except all personal details about the complaint and the complainant, which will be stored appropriately in line with the Data Protection Act.
8.4. The Clerk must notify all councillors and members of staff as appropriate.
8.5. Any new complaint from any person who has come under the policy must be treated on its merit.
9.1. The decision taken at Section 8 should be reviewed after 6 months. The complainant must be notified of the result if the decision to apply the policy has been reversed.