Complaints Policy

Adopted 20th October 2016

Reviewed 17/5/2012 – no amendments.
Reviewed 16/5/2013 – no amendments.
Reviewed 15/5/2014 – no amendments.

Reviewed 20/102016 - no amendments.


 

  1. Definitions

    Chairman – The Chairman of Bardney Group Parish Council

    Vice-Chairman – The Vice-Chairman of Bardney Group Parish Council

    Clerk and/or Proper Officer – The Clerk to Bardney Group Parish Council

    Council – Bardney Group Parish Council

    Members – All Councillors of Bardney Group Parish Council

    Parishioner(s) – Residents of Apley, Bardney, Kingsthorpe, Southrey & Stainfield

    Staff/Officer(s) – All employees of Bardney Group Parish Council

    RFO – Responsible Financial Officer

  2. Purpose and Scope

    Bardney Group Parish Council is committed to providing a quality service to benefit all parishioners and visitors.  If you are dissatisfied with the standard of service you have received from this Council or unhappy about an action or lack of action by the Council this Complaints Procedure sets out how you may complain to the Council and how they will try to resolve your complaint.

    The Council welcomes any comments or suggestions on ways that they may be able to improve a service or meet its parishioners & visitors needs more appropriately.

    This Complaints Procedure applies to complaints about Council administration and procedures only, it does not apply to:

  • Complaints regarding Council employees - These matters are dealt with under the Council’s disciplinary and grievance procedures.
  • Complaints against Councillors – These matters are covered by the Code of Conduct for Members.  Therefore all complaints of this nature must be referred to the Monitoring Officer at West Lindsey District Council. 
  • Criminal Activity – These complaints should be referred to the police.
  • Financial Irregularities – These complaints should be referred to the Council in the first instance or alternatively they can be referred to the Council’s Auditors PKF Littlejohn LLP, 15 Westferry Circus, Canary Wharf, London E14 4HD, telephone 020 7516 2200, email sba@pkf-littlejohn.com

    Nothing in this document affects your rights in law.

  1. Confidentiality

    All complaints and hearings of the Complaints and/or Appeals Panel will be dealt with in the strictest confidence and the Council will also take into account the provisions of the Data Protection & Freedom of Information Acts when dealing with complaints.

  2. PART A - Complaints Procedure

    The most appropriate time for influencing Council decision making is by raising concerns before the Council debates and votes on a matter. This can be done by writing to the Council in advance of the meeting at which the item is to be discussed.  Concerns can also be raised in the public participation section of Council meetings. 

    If you are unhappy with a Council decision, you may raise your concerns with the Council, but Standing Orders prevent the Council from re-opening issues for six months from the date of the decision, unless there are exceptional grounds to consider this necessary and the special process set out in the Standing Orders is followed.

    All complaints will be deemed to be Informal Complaints unless a written complaint states that it is a Formal Complaint.

    Informal Complaints

1.In the first instance complaints should be made to the Clerk in person/by phone/in writing/by email. 

2.Wherever possible, the Clerk will try to resolve the complaint immediately.  If this is not possible, the Clerk will acknowledge the complaint (normally within 5 working days).

  1. The Clerk will then report the complaint to the Chairman and/or Vice-Chairman as appropriate who will then investigate the complaint, ensuring that the grievance has been fully considered obtaining further information as necessary. 
  2. Within 20 working days The Clerk, Chairman or Vice-Chairman will contact the complainant with the findings of the investigation and what action (if any) the Council proposes to take as a result of the complaint.   
  3. Once the complaint has been resolved satisfactorily, a report will be made to the Full Council which will provide brief details of the complaint and the resolution (if any).  No names will be disclosed.
  4. If the complainant is dissatisfied with the response to their complaint, they may ask for the complaint to be made Formal and to be referred to the Complaints Panel (this must be done within 10 working days of the Council’s first findings on the complaint being communicated to them. 

Formal Complaints

  1. Complaints must be submitted in writing to the Clerk including:
    1. The name, address and contact telephone number of the complainant
    2. Full details of what the complaint is about and that it is a formal complaint
    3. What the complainant would like the Council to do to resolve the complaint     
  2. The Clerk will then acknowledge the complaint within 5 days and send a copy of same to the Chairman and/or Vice-Chairman as appropriate. 
  3. The Clerk, Chairman and/or Vice-Chairman as appropriate will then investigate the complaint, ensuring that the complaint has been fully considered obtaining further information as necessary. 
  4. Within 20 working days The Clerk, Chairman or Vice-Chairman will then contact the complainant with the findings of the investigation and what action (if any) the Council proposes to take as a result of the complaint.
  5. Once the complaint has been resolved satisfactorily, a report will be made to the Full Council which will provide brief details of the complaint and the resolution (if any).  No names will be disclosed.
  6. If the complainant is dissatisfied with the response to their complaint they may ask for the complaint to be referred to the Complaints Panel (this must be done within 10 working days of the Council’s first findings on the complaint being communicated to them).

    Complaints Panel Procedures

  1. The Clerk will notify all members of the Complaints Panel of the complaint and will send them a copy of same with all available supporting information/documentation.
  2. Within 20 working days of the complaint being referred to the Complaints Panel the Complaints Panel will hold an informal hearing to consider the complaint. 

    Before the Hearing

  1. The complainant will be invited to attend the hearing with a representative if they so wish.
  2. Any documentation not already supplied must be sent to the Clerk at least seven clear days before the hearing.
  3. If either party provides details, documentation or evidence less than seven days before the meeting, the Complaints Panel will decide whether they will be admitted.

    At the hearing

  1. The Complaints Panel will elect a Chairperson to preside over the hearing.
  2. The complainant will be asked to outline the grounds for complaint and the Complaints Panel may ask questions on same.
  3. The Complaints Panel will explain the Council’s position and the complainant may ask questions on same.
  4. The Complaints Panel and the complainant will then summarise their positions if appropriate.
  5. The complainant and their representative will then be asked to leave the room while the Complaints Panel consider whether the complaint is justified and what action (if any) they propose to take on behalf of the Council. The complainant may be asked to come back to the room if a point needs further clarification. 
  6. Once the Complaints Panel has fully considered the complaint, the complainant will be asked to return to hear their decision. If the Complaints Panel cannot make a decision at this time the complainant will be advised when a decision is likely to be made by and in any case a decision will be made within 10 working days of the hearing.

    After the hearing

  1. Once a decision has been made by the Complaints Panel this will be confirmed in writing to the complainant, the Clerk, Chairman and/or Vice-Chairman as appropriate.
  2. A report on the hearing and the decisions made will be made to the Full Council which will provide brief details of the complaint and the resolution (if any).  No names will be disclosed.
  3.  
  4. PART B – Abusive, Habitual and/or Vexatious Complaints
  • Habitual – Done repeatedly or as a habit.
  • Vexatious  - Recognised in law & means ‘donating an action or the bringer of an action that is brought without sufficient grounds for winning, purely to cause annoyance to the defendant’.

    Habitual and/or vexatious complaints can be a problem for Council staff & members.  They can be time consuming and wasteful of Council resources. 

    The Council will respond to all complaints as sympathetically as possible, however there will be instances where there is nothing further that the Council can reasonably do to resolve them.

    This section also includes requests made under the Freedom of information Act 2000 and the Data Protection Act 1998 & subsequent legislations.

    Definition of a Habitual or Vexatious Complainant

    For the purpose of this Section, the following definition of habitual or vexatious complainants will be used:

    The repeated and/or obsessive pursuit of:

    a)  unreasonable complaints and/or unrealistic outcomes; and/or

    b)  reasonable complaints in an unreasonable manner

    The Council deems habitual and/or vexatious complainants as those complainants that, because of the frequency or nature of their contacts with the Council have hindered the Council’s consideration of their or other people’s complaints.  The description ‘habitual’ and ‘vexatious’ can apply separately or jointly to a complainant.

    Procedure

    The Clerk (in conjunction with the Chairman and/or Vice-Chairman) will send a summary of this Policy to the complainant to give them prior notice of its possible implementation. They will be advised why their behavior/contacts are causing concern and ask them to change same. 

    Where complaints continue and have been identified as habitual and/or vexatious in accordance with the criteria set out below, the Clerk will contact the Complaints Panel who will decide whether to treat the complainant as a habitual or vexatious complainant.

    Once the Complaints Panel have confirmed that the complainant is to be treated as habitual and/or vexatious the Clerk will notify the complainant in writing of the reasons why and what action (if any) will be taken (see below for details of possible actions).  The County and/or District Cllr will also be informed that a constituent has been designated as a habitual and/or vexatious complainant.

    The status of the complainant will be kept under review and if they demonstrate a more reasonable approach their status will be formally reviewed by the Complaints Panel.

    Where a complainant continues to behave in an unacceptable manner, the Clerk, Complaints Panel, Chairman and/or Vice-Chairman will meet to decide whether all future contact with the complainant will cease. If agreed, the complainant will be sent one final letter informing them that if they continue all future contacts with the Council will cease.

    Actions (this list is not exhaustive).

  1. Contact with the Council only by postal letters sent to a designated person;
  2. Telephone contact restricted to a particular person or to specified days and/or times;
  3. Contact with the Council only by a named third party (i.e. solicitor, friend, Councillor etc.);
  4. Contact with one named member or staff only;
  5. Contact to take place in the presence of an appropriate witness;
  6. The Council will not enter into any more contact or correspondence on a specific topic or complaint.

    Records

    The Clerk will keep records of the details of the case and actions taken. This will include (but is not exhaustive):

  • name and address of each member of the public who has been deemed as abusive, habitual or vexatious or any other
  • person who aids the complainant
  • actions the Council have taken, when they came into force and when they will be reviewed
  • when the persons and Council were advised

    Habitual and/or Vexatious Behaviours

    A complainant (and anyone acting for them) will be considered habitual and/or vexatious where contact with them meets two or more of the following criteria (the list is not exhaustive):

  • they persist in pursuing a complaint even when the Council’s Complaints Procedure has been fully exhausted;
  • they have insufficient or no grounds for their complaint & are making the complaint purely to annoy (or for reasons they will not admit or make obvious);
  • they refuse to specify the grounds of a complaint and/or do not clearly identify the precise issues they wish to be investigated despite requests;
  • they refuse to co-operate with the complaints investigation;
  • they persistently change the substance of a complaint or continually raise new issues/concerns/questions following receipt of a response (new issues significantly different from the original complaint will be addressed separately);
  • they deny statements they made at an earlier stage in the complaint process;
  • they insist on the complaint being dealt with in ways that are not compatible with the complaints procedure or with good practice  (i.e. insisting no written record of the complaint is kept);
  • they pursue the complaint through many different channels i.e. they send the complaint not only to the Council but to other Councils, District and/or County Councillors, Auditor, Standards Board, Solicitors, Police etc. at the same time;
  • they persistently approach the Council through different routes/persons about the same issue;
  • they are unwilling to accept documented evidence given as being factual;
  • they deny receipt of an adequate response in spite of documentation/correspondence specifically addressing their concerns;
  • they do not accept that facts can be difficult to verify over a long period of time;
  • they do not accept that the subject matters raised are not within the remit of the Council to investigate despite being given information on where the complaint can be referred to;
  • they regularly focus on trivial matters that are out of proportion to their significance & continue to focus on them (what is deemed ‘trivial’ can be subjective & careful judgement will be taken in applying this criteria);
  • they make what appear to be groundless complaints about members or officers dealing with the complaint, and seek to have them dismissed or replaced;
  • they have threatened or used physical violence towards members or staff at any time – if this occurs contact with the complainant will be immediately discontinued and the matter will be documented and may be referred to the police.  The complaint will thereafter only be dealt with through written communication to a designated person within the Council;
  • they harass, verbally abuse, be aggressive or seek to intimidate members or staff dealing with the complaint (reasonable allowances will be made for complainants acting out of character in times of anxiety, stress or distress);
  • they make an excessive number of contacts with the Council regarding their complaint(s) placing unreasonable demands on staff.  Contact can be in the form of telephone calls, emails, faxes, and letters or in person.  Discretion will be used in determining the precise number of excessive contacts based on the specific circumstances of each case;
  • they are known to have recorded meetings or face-to-face/telephone conversations without the prior knowledge and consent of other parties involved;
  • they make unreasonable demands on the customer/complainant relationships and do not accept that these are unreasonable (e.g. insist on responses to complaints more urgently than is reasonably practicable or within the Complaints Procedure);
  • they refuse to accept the outcome of the complaint process after its conclusion, repeatedly arguing/complaining about the outcome and/or denying that an adequate response has been given;
  • they make the same complaint repeatedly, sometimes with minor differences, after the complaints procedure has been concluded insisting that the complaints procedure is instigated again;
  • they complain about/challenge an issue based on an historic and/or irreversible decision or incident;
  • they combine some or all of these features.