Unreasonable behaviour policy

January 2023


1.1 Article 2 of the Council’s Constitution gives residents the right to complain.  Article 2 also explains the corresponding duty on residents to act reasonably when dealing with the Council.  We are committed to dealing with all complaints fairly and comprehensibly.

1.2 This Unreasonable Behaviour Policy is required because a small minority of those who make complaints act unreasonably. The Policy is intended to explain to residents what happens when the duty to act reasonably is not complied with.


2.1 The purpose of the Policy is to give guidance on when a complainant’s behaviour has become unreasonable. It identifies situations where a complainant, either individually or as part of a group of complainants, might be unreasonable.

2.2 This Policy and associated procedures apply where unreasonable behaviour is identified.


3.1 Demonstrating unreasonable behaviour is defined by the Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman as “…those complainants who, because of the nature or frequency of their contacts with an organisation, hinder the organisation’s consideration of their, or other people’s, complaints.” 

Examples of the types of behaviour that this Policy covers can include the following (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):

  • Refusing to specify the grounds of a complaint, despite offers of help
  • Refusing to cooperate with the complaints investigation process
  • Refusing to accept that certain issues are not within the scope of a complaints procedure
  • Insisting on the complaint being dealt with in ways which are incompatible with the adopted complaints procedure or with good practice
  • Making unjustified complaints about staff who are trying to deal with the issues and seeking to have them replaced
  • Changing the basis of the complaint as the investigation proceeds
  • Denying or changing statements they made at an earlier stage
  • Introducing trivial or irrelevant new information at a later stage
  • Raising many detailed but unimportant questions, and insisting they are all answered
  • Submitting falsified documents from themselves or others
  • Adopting a 'scatter gun' approach: pursuing parallel complaints on the same issue with various service areas organisations
  • Making excessive demands on the time and resources of staff with lengthy phone calls, emails to numerous ADC staff, or detailed letters every few days, and expecting immediate responses
  • Submitting repeat complaints with minor additions/variations the complainant insists make these 'new' complaints
  • Refusing to accept the decision; repeatedly arguing points with no new evidence
  • Continuing to complain about an issue despite explanation that the issue is caused by something beyond the Council’s control
  • Using abusive or aggressive language in correspondence or contact which may also constitute nuisance or anti-social behaviour and may be dealt with under the Council’s Customer of Concern Protocol.  Whilst this may include communications relating to the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Data Protection Act 2018 and/or UK General Data Protection Regulation it does not retract any of the statutory legislative entitlements of an individual.

3.2 In all cases where it is considered by the Group Head that a complainant’s behaviour may be becoming unreasonable, a referral is to be made to the Information Management Team who will review the matter in consultation with the relevant Group Head and the Leader or Deputy Leader of the Council and make a determination as to whether or not this Policy applies.  If it is considered that that the behaviour displayed may be for a reason related to disability and/or any language barrier the Group Head of Organisational Excellence will also be contacted for advice.

3.3 Before treating behaviour as unreasonable, the complainant will be given a copy of this Policy along with notice of its possible implementation and given the opportunity to amend their behaviour.

3.4 Where there is no change in behaviour, or the behaviour has been identified as unreasonable in accordance with this Policy the Group Head will review the matter with the Information Management Team and obtain agreement to treat the complainant as unreasonable and for this Policy to be applied. Matters to be considered, evidenced and satisfied by the Service as part of this review will include (this list is not conclusive or exhaustive):

  • That the complaint is being or has been properly investigated
  • That any decision reached on the complaint is the right one
  • That communications with the complainant have been adequate
  • That the complainant is not now providing any significant new information that might affect the Council’s view on the complaint
  • The proportionality and appropriateness of the proposed restriction in comparison with the behaviour and the impact on staff.
  • The Leader or Deputy Leader of the Council have been consulted.


4.1 If a decision has been made that the policy is to be applied the relevant Group Head will decide how complaints are dealt with going forward. This may mean that the complainant is advised as follows (this list is not conclusive or exhaustive):

  • that all complaints must be put in writing only
  • that telephone contact is prohibited
  • that the Council will accept contact with the complainant via only one method of communication only (either in person, by telephone, letter, email or any combination of these)
  • that all communication must be made to one named officer or email address only (single point of contact)
  • that unless in the case of an emergency response is due the complaints will be limited, for example, to once per week and/or
  • that the Council has no option but to consider taking legal action

4.2 The methods above can be used singularly or in combination depending on the circumstances of the matter and whether the complaint remains ongoing or is concluded. These methods are to ensure that officer time is not unreasonably expended responding repeatedly to unreasonable complaints.


5.1 Once a decision has been made that this Policy shall apply, the Group Head will notify the complainant in writing of:

  • the reasons their conduct has been treated as unreasonable;
  • the action that will be taken and details of any restrictions placed on the complainants contact with the Council (see 7.1);
  • How long any restrictions will last (for example 6 months, 1 year, etc); and
  • The complainant’s right to a review of the decision – see 6.1


6.1 Once a customer has been notified that their behaviour has been classified as unreasonable, they are entitled to request an appeal of this decision within 10 working days.  This appeal will be carried out by the Leader/Deputy Leader (whichever party was not involved with the original decision) and the Group Head within a 4-week period.

6.2 A review of the decision to treat the complainant as unreasonable will be carried out after a period defined by the Group Head of Service (no more than 12 months). The complainant will be informed of the outcome by the Service. If restrictions are to continue to be applied a new review date will be set.


7.1 If a complainant makes a complaint that is essentially about the same matter as a previously concluded complaint and does not contain any new information, then in the event that the complainant has not used all stages of the complaints procedure they should be advised to proceed to the next stage up to and including the final stage of the relevant complaint policy or procedure.

7.2 If the complainant has had a decision from the Ombudsman that is not in their favour, then they should be advised in writing that the matter has been concluded and that the Council will not respond to any further correspondence or complaints relating to the same issue. Where a complaint is under consideration, new items, unless they relate in substance to the matter which is being considered, cannot be added for consideration, and will need to be the subject of a further complaint.


8.1 In some circumstances the conduct of the complainant will be such that it is causing nuisance or annoyance and if at any time a member of the Council’s staff feel that they are being abused, threatened, or harassed by a complainant this must be addressed.  

8.2 Where the conduct of the complainant is such that it is threatening, abusive or constitutes harassment, further action may include restricting the complainant’s contact with the Council in accordance with this policy and/or taking steps in accordance with the Council’s Customer of Concern Protocol


9.1 Records of all decisions relating to this Policy will be kept. Such decisions for which records will be kept include but are not limited to:

  • When a referral under Section 3 of this Policy is made
  • When any decision is made because of such referral to include:
    • A decision not to apply the Policy
    • A decision to make an exception to the Policy once it has been applied
    • A decision to apply the Policy
  • When a decision is taken not to deal with a further complaint from the complainant via the complaints procedure and/or this Policy
  • When a decision is made to not respond to further correspondence from the complainant


10.1 Supporting policies/procedures and documentation:

This policy was adopted by the Corporate Support Committee on 19 January 2023 and will be reviewed after one year by the Group Head of Law & Governance.

This Policy can be applied to all parties engaging with Arun District Council.