Unreasonable’ complaints could see people banned from communicating with council staff

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The new policy being proposed by Waverley Borough Council would protect staff from ‘harassment and alarm’, as well as saving time and money

11:36, 29 March 2015 By Henry Bodkin

Waverley Borough Council sign
Waverley Borough Council

Residents who make ‘unreasonable’ complaints to Waverley Borough Council may be all but banned from further communication with council staff, according to a draft policy.

Senior backbench councillors this week questioned the details of proposed new rules that would allow executive director Paul Wenham the power to unilaterally brand individual complainants ‘unreasonable’ or ‘unreasonably persistent’.

This would in turn give him the right to order measures such as limiting the number and duration of contacts made to the council by the resident, or refusing to acknowledge repeated complaints about the same matter.

According to the draft document debated by the corporate overview and scrutiny committee on Tuesday (March 24), the policy would protect council staff from harassment and alarm, as well as saving time and money.

Complainants judged to be unreasonable would be likely to face restrictions for a 12-month period ‘in the first instance’.

Cllr Michael Goodridge told the meeting: “I agree that a policy is useful and I welcome it, but once the executive director has decided a complainant is unreasonable, I can’t see any way it could be reviewed or appealed against.”

He said the report was ‘misleading’, as it implied a complainant could take action to have restrictions reviewed, and argued that a body of two or three councillors could act as an appeal panel for those handed restrictions. However, director of operations Damian Roberts said that there were appeal opportunities along the normal complaints procedure and the purpose of the new policy was to ‘draw it to a conclusion’.

He said: “This is for the tiny proportion of our complaints where we have done everything we can do and they’re actively having a detrimental impact on an officer’s time and the public purse.”

Cllr Goodridge also queried what would happen if the complainant criticised the executive director.

The draft policy lists 15 examples of scenarios that could lead to restrictions being imposed, such as ‘pursuing parallel complaints on the same issue with other organisations’, or ‘making unjustified complaints about staff who are trying to deal with the issues, and seeking to have them replaced’.

Bramley councillor Richard Gates said: “I have just been reading a book about a gentleman called Stalin. I’m pretty sure you could exclude any complainant every way with this list.”

The report’s author, Sue Petzold, answered that the list was not definitive and was based on suggestions made by the local government ombudsman.

David Munro, who represents Farnham Shortheath and Boundstone, disagreed with the idea of an appeal panel made up of councillors, but suggested elected members could be given oversight of the list of restricted people to check its size.

The comments made on Tuesday will be forwarded to the executive committee when it comes to decide on the policy.

Editor’s Comment

Might a policy like this be open to misuse as we approach a new iteration of the draft Local Plan or object to huge housing development sites on our Green Belt here in the Guildford Borough Council area?  You can leave a comment, on our Contact Us page, which can be added to this article.