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Scarborough Council Tightens Complaints Policy

Scarborough Council Tightens Complaints Policy

Published by Local Democracy Reporter Carl Gavaghan at 4:34pm 12th June 2020.

Scarborough Council is to tighten up its policies around how it deals with people who abuse and harass its staff.

The borough authority’s Cabinet will be asked to approve amendments to what is now called the council’s “Unreasonably Persistent Complainants and Unacceptable Behaviour” policy when it meets on Tuesday.

A report into the policy, which has operated since 2009, found that council staff as well as being subjected to racist and homophobic abuse were also the target of false accusations.

The policy also covers people who make multiple Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, which the council claims lead to it getting “considerable volumes” of correspondence from just a handful of people.

The controversial element of the policy is the filtering of emails from those who get designated as being unreasonable under the policy.

In the “single point contact” system, emails from flagged addresses go to a single mailbox where they are checked for their content by a council employee before being forwarded on to the intended recipient.

In 2017, Cllr Tony Randerson, who now sits on the cabinet, called the practice of intercepting emails meant for councillors “disturbing” adding that while staff should be protected he felt that elected members like himself “did not need protecting by Big Brother” and that there should be no delay between a resident sending a councillor an email and it being received.

The following year, Cllr Randerson again questioned whether the council’s policy as it was written covered the intercepting of emails directed to councillors.

In response, the council’s legal director, Lisa Dixon, said the policy was “lawful and robust” and that staff had been left in tears by some of the “six or seven” individuals out of a population of 110,000 who were on what was then referred to as the “vexatious” correspondents list.

The council has now completed a review of the policy, the details of which have been released ahead of Tuesday’s cabinet meeting.

Scarborough Council sought information from 200 other local authorities and used the responses from 100 of them to measure against its policy.

The report states that “most authorities operate a single point of contact system” and, like Scarborough, the policy is based on one developed by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

The report adds:

“At the current time, eight individuals within Scarborough borough are designated under the policy.

Of these, two are designated for sending emails to staff which are considered to be racist, homophobic, abusive, and/or offensive emails.

Six individuals are designated due to their persistent behaviour in making unsupported allegations against council officers and members, refusing to accept the outcome of complaints, including independent assessments by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO), decisions made through court proceedings, etc.

It should be noted that individuals do have a right to appeal to the LGSCO against the designation, but often do not take up the opportunity to do so.”

The report adds that the “unsupported” allegations made by the individuals are often then reproduced online.

The author of the report, Petra Jackson, the council’s policy and governance manager, writes that:

“Dealing with this correspondence places a significant and disproportionate burden upon the resources of the council, which impacts upon service delivery and customers, and the well-being and health of both members and officers.”

The people added to the list are reviewed after six months, with two people being removed after altering their behaviour in the last year, she added.

Following the review, a number of changes are proposed to the policy, including changing its name to make it clear what behaviour is included and ensuring that every person who gets a warning will be sent a letter and copy of the policy.

A detailed report will also be submitted annually to the authority’s Audit Committee and the policy will more clearly reflect what happens to emails that are sent to the single point of contact.

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