- Customer Service Charter
- New feedback
- Providing information
- The role of the Council
- The approach and procedure
- Definition of unreasonably persistent
- Definition of unreasonable behaviour
- Prior notification
- Decision to restrict contact with Cambridgeshire County Council
- Reviewing the decision to restrict contact
We welcome feedback from customers and will always try to resolve issues as quickly as possible.
In certain and exceptional circumstances customers may be pursuing complaints, and other service-related issues, in ways that could be considered to be unreasonable. This is very rare and when this happens, it is important that we are clear about why we consider a customer’s actions to be unreasonable and for us to be transparent about how we deal with such circumstances. We need to do this whilst bearing in mind our duty of care to our staff alongside our commitment to be responsive to our customers.
As these situations are rare, this Customer Handling Policy will only be applied when absolutely necessary. It describes how the Council may deal with customers where the customer is unreasonably persistent or otherwise acts unreasonably whilst raising a complaint or issue.
This policy covers behaviour which we consider is unreasonable. This 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.
Customer Service Charter
Our Customer Service Charter and Standards and this Customer Handling Policy help staff and customers to understand clearly what is expected of them. It assists staff to manage the expectations and behaviour of customers and ensure that Cambridgeshire County Council deals with all customers in ways which are consistent and fair.
We recognise that any new complaint or issue may represent a genuine service failure and therefore needs to be reviewed objectively. New feedback from customers who have been subject to this Customer Handling Policy will be dealt with in accordance with our Feedback Policy. We will make a judgement where there are repeat complaints or issues, with minor additions/variations as to whether this constitutes a new complaint and apply the Feedback Policy, if appropriate.
We expect that, where possible, all information to be provided to enable us to investigate the complaint or issue as fully as possible. Introducing new information at a late stage which the customer expects to be taken into account and commented on, or raising a large number of detailed questions, and insisting they are all fully answered can hinder our ability to respond within the appropriate timescales.
To help us resolve your issue, please ensure that any questions raised are concise and clear and within the context of your complaint or issue.
We will use our judgement to determine if there is a change to a current issue or if it is a new complaint which will be dealt with in accordance with our Feedback Policy.
Complaints and issues raised with the Council will be treated in confidence.
The Council will only pass the details of customers who are unreasonably persistent and/ or demonstrating unreasonable behaviour to those Council staff members and partner organisations who absolutely need to know in order to implement the policy or for reasons of protecting staff or other people’s safety.
In circumstances where a vulnerable person is considered to be at risk and safeguarding procedures apply, the Council may have to share the information with other departments within the Council or other external agencies.
If a customer choses to make their complaint or issue public in the media, this may affect their right to anonymity and the confidentiality of any information they have publically disclosed.
The objectives of the policy are to:
- Resolve complaints and issues quickly and as close to the point of service delivery as acceptable and appropriate in accordance with our Feedback Policy
- Promote problem solving to avoid apportioning blame. The emphasis should be on finding a solution
- Satisfy those who provide feedback that they have been dealt with promptly, fairly, openly and honestly
- Protect employees from abusive and unacceptable behaviour from customers
- Protect employees from unreasonable, aggressive or violent behaviour by customers
- Ensure that the time and resources of staff and elected members are utilised appropriately and proportionately
- Ensure all staff understand the objectives and requirements of the Customer Service Charter and Standards and Customer Handling Policy
The role of the Council
Cambridgeshire County Council welcomes feedback from customers and will always try to resolve any complaint or issue as quickly as possible, therefore this policy will only be applied where absolutely necessary.
With each complaint or issue we must consider whether the customer is persistent, unreasonably persistent or raising a new complaint or issue.
Please refer to our Feedback Policy for more information.
It is important to distinguish between customers who make a number of contacts because they really think things have gone wrong as a result of service failures, and customers who are being unreasonably persistent or otherwise behaving unreasonably.
We recognise that customers can be frustrated and aggrieved and it is important to consider the substance of the complaint or issue.
However, sometimes customers pursuing complaints or other issues treat staff in a way that is unacceptable.
While we recognise that some complaints or issues may relate to serious and distressing incidents, Cambridgeshire County Council does not tolerate abusive, offensive or threatening behaviour and will take steps to protect staff who are subject to unreasonable behaviour.
The approach and procedure
It is vital that all attempts are made to maintain effective communication and relationships with customers. Prior to taking action under this policy, the Council should ensure that:
- Every reasonable effort has been made to investigate the complaint or issue in accordance with our Feedback Policy. Our Feedback Policy helps us to resolve issues and complaints and sets out the processes we follow. We may, if appropriate, designate issues as complaints to enable us to implement the Feedback Policy to allow us to resolve and respond in line with the appropriate procedure and timescales.
- Every reasonable effort has been made to communicate with the customer through their preferred method of contact.
- The customer has been given appropriate deadlines to expect a resolution of their complaint or issue.
- The customer is not providing any significant new information that might affect the organisation’s view of the matter.
- The issue is relating to a County Council service or employee, or one we’ve commissioned.
Definition of unreasonably persistent
Customers who are unreasonably persistent are those who, because of the frequency, or nature, of their contacts with Cambridgeshire County Council, hinder the Council’s consideration of the customer’s or other people’s complaints or issues.
Customers who are unreasonably persistent may have legitimate complaints or issues or they may be intent on pursuing complaints or issues which have been through the full complaints procedure. Their contacts with Cambridgeshire 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.
In certain and extreme circumstances, the situation between Cambridgeshire County Council and a customer can escalate and the behaviour becomes unacceptable and unreasonable, for example, abusive, offensive or threatening behaviour. Such customers are in a very small minority, but sometimes Cambridgeshire County Council finds itself in the position of having to instigate action under this policy.
Where there is a risk to the safety of staff and customers, the Council may resort to involving the police or taking legal action to address such behaviour.
Raising legitimate queries or criticisms of an investigation as it progresses, for example if agreed timescales are not met, should not in itself lead to someone being regarded as a customer who is unreasonably persistent.
Similarly, the fact that a customer 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 and reference should be made to the stages detailed in the Feedback Policy.
Definition of unreasonable behaviour
These are some of the customer actions and behaviours which Cambridgeshire County Council expects. It is by no means an exhaustive list but the following are examples that come to our attention:
- We expect customers to clearly specify the grounds of a complaint or issue
- We expect customers to co-operate with the investigation process while still wishing their complaint or issue to be resolved
- We expect customers to accept that certain issues are not within the scope of a complaints procedure
- We expect customers to respect/understand that their enquiry will be handled in accordance with the procedures and deadlines set out in the Feedback Policy and not insist on the complaint or issue being dealt with in ways which are incompatible with the appropriate procedure or within good practice
Conversely we do not expect customers to:
- Refuse to follow the stages within the Feedback Policy
- Covertly record meetings and conversations
- Submit falsified documents from themselves or others
- Behave in a way that has a significant and disproportionately adverse effect on Cambridgeshire County Council’s resources, its staff and other members of the public
- Make excessive demands on the time and resources of staff and members with lengthy and/or repeated telephone calls, emails to numerous Council officers, or detailed letters expecting an immediate response
- Behave in a way that appears to be deliberately targeted over a significant period of time at one or more members of Cambridgeshire County Council staff, without good cause and demonstrable evidence
- Act inappropriately towards Council staff such as inappropriate use of language, aggression or violence
- Refuse to leave Council premises when asked to do so following the use of inappropriate language or behaviour
- Expect a response that we are physically unable to achieve. For example staying on the phone when the officer needs time to deal with the issue, refusing to leave Council premises until an issue is resolved, demanding to see someone who is not available
- Hinder our ability to fully investigate the issue
Where there is criminal activity or Council staff and customers are at risk, no prior warning will be issued and the police will be called.
When a customer is regularly displaying unreasonable and / or persistent behaviour the nature of the customer’s contact will be reviewed. If it is concluded that the behaviour is unacceptable and/or unreasonable, the Council will write to tell the customer why we find the behaviour unreasonable and/or unacceptable and ask them to modify their behaviour.
Decision to restrict contact with Cambridgeshire County Council
In these circumstances we may take action to manage our communications with you as a County Council. Before a decision is taken to manage a customer’s contact with the Council we will:
- Ensure that all relevant factors have been taken into account and that the action taken is appropriate and proportionate to the nature and frequency of the customer’s contacts with the Council at that time.
- Designate a named officer to undertake an assessment of the situation. Decisions to manage contact will be taken following this assessment. However, where there is an immediate risk to staff or offices the Council may make an on the spot decision to restrict access in the short term prior to a more detailed assessment being undertaken.
- Ensure that due consideration is given to the customer’s health, including any related illnesses or disabilities that may be impacting on behaviour If the customer has not responded appropriately or modified their behaviour following the prior notification letter, a decision may be made to manage their contact with the Council. The customer 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 customer will be notified what action will be taken and the duration of that decision, as well as what the customer can do to have the decision reviewed.
The following is a list of possible options for managing a customer’s involvement with the 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 the specific circumstances of the individual case will be relevant in deciding what might be appropriate action:
- Placing limits on the number and duration of contacts with staff per week or month
- Limiting the customer to one medium of contact (telephone, letter, email etc) and/or requiring the customer to communicate only with one named member of staff
- Refusing to register further complaints or issues about the same matter, once it has been dealt with thoroughly through our Feedback Policy process and through any subsequent adjudication of that process by external agencies such as the Local Government Ombudsman, only acknowledging further correspondence on this same issue but not engaging in a more detailed response
- Only meet with the customer in the presence of a witness
- Where a customer’s behaviour is unreasonable and threatens the safety and/or welfare of staff, other action may be taken, for example reporting the matter to the police or taking legal action. Where such action is necessary the Council may not give prior warning
- Only meet the customer at Council offices and by appointment only
A designated point of contact will be assigned to all customers who are unreasonably persistent or demonstrating unreasonable behaviour, providing a liaison role between the customer and the organisation.
If, following a restriction of access being implemented, a customer 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 Council may:
- Implement further, temporary, access restrictions to Cambridgeshire County Council offices
- Seek legal advice on appropriate further action
- Report the matter to the police
Reviewing the decision to restrict contact
A review can be requested by the customer or the Council.
When applying this policy and placing a restriction on contact, the Council will specify a review date, usually 6 months from the initial decision.
The review should be carried out by a senior officer to consider whether the restrictions can be lifted or modified, or should continue. The customer 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 Council will explain the reasons to the customer and state when the restrictions will next be reviewed.
Lessons learned from operation of the Customer Handling Policy and statistical information from the application of this policy will be reported to our Senior Management Team.