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PROCEDURE FOR LOCAL ASSESSMENT
OF COMPLAINTS
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1. Introduction
The Localism Act 2011 requires that the Fire Authority adopt arrangements for dealing with
complaints of breach of the Code of Conduct by Fire Authority Members.
The Clerk and Monitoring Officer to the Fire Authority will seek to resolve complaints swiftly
to the satisfaction of the complainant using local resolution whenever possible. Complaints
will only be referred for local investigation as a last resort in view of the disproportionate
amount of time involved and the limited sanctions available to the Finance and General
Purposes Committee under the new legislation.
Any person may make a written complaint to the Clerk and Monitoring Officer alleging
that a councillor has acted in breach of the Code of Conduct for Members.
Any such complaint should be sent (using the Complaint Form at page 9) to the Clerk
Monitoring Officer, County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Authority, County
Hall Durham DH1 5UL
The following procedure will normally be followed on receipt of such a complaint.
2. Initial Notification of Complaint
2.1 Unless paragraph 2.2 applies the Member who is the subject of the complaint will as
soon as practicable after the complaint is received be informed in writing by the Clerk
and Monitoring Officer of the nature of complaint, which paragraphs of the Code of
Conduct have been allegedly breached and (unless the complainant has requested
and been granted anonymity) the name of the complainant.
2.2 The Clerk and Monitoring Officer may withhold this information from the Member
subject of the complaint if s/he considers that disclosure would be against the public
interest or might prejudice any future investigation, or where non-disclosure has been
specifically requested by the complainant for what the Clerk and Monitoring Officer
considers may be good reasons.
The Clerk and Monitoring Officer, in consultation with the Independent Person may
apply the habitual or vexatious complaints policy (see page 6) to a complaint where
appropriate.
3. Initial Assessment
3.1 The Clerk and Monitoring Officer, in consultation with the Independent person where
appropriate, will as soon as reasonable, and normally within 20 working days of receipt
of the complaint, consider and decide if any action should be taken on it.
3.2 The Clerk and Monitoring Officer will decide either:
(a) that no action should be taken in respect of it
(b) to seek local resolution
(c) to refer the complaint for investigation
(d) to refer the complaint to the Finance and General Purposes Committee
3.3 Where the complaint is against a person who is no longer a member of the Fire
Authority, but is a member of another relevant authority, the Clerk and Monitoring
Officer may instead refer the complaint to the Monitoring officer of that other relevant
authority if s/he thinks it more appropriate to do so.
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3.4 After making the decision, the Clerk and Monitoring Officer will produce a written
summary of the decision which will include the main points considered, the conclusion
and the reasons for that conclusion.
The summary will be sent as soon as possible to the complainant and to the Member
who is the subject of the complaint.
That summary will be available for inspection at the offices of the Authority for 6 years
beginning with the date of the decision. However, the summary will not be made
available for inspection, until the member who was the subject of the complaint has
received a written summary of the decision.
4. No action to be taken in respect of the complaint
4.1 Where the Clerk and Monitoring Officer decides that no further action is warranted in
relation to the complaint, the complaint will be closed and there is no appeal process.
5. Local Resolution
5.1 The Clerk and Monitoring Officer will establish whether a complaint is suitable to be
resolved informally before taking a decision on whether the complaint merits formal
investigation. This may involve
a) exploring whether the Member is prepared to apologise for the act or omission
complained of;
b) arranging for the Member who is the subject of the complaint to attend a training
course
c) arranging for that Member and the complainant to engage in a process of
conciliation
d) such other steps (not including an investigation), as appear appropriate to the
Clerk and Monitoring Officer
6. Referral by Clerk and Monitoring Officer for investigation
6.1 Where the Clerk and Monitoring Officer refers the complaint for investigation, the
procedure set out in paragraph 6.3 below will apply.
6.2 The Clerk and Monitoring Officer may reconsider the complaint at any time if:
(a) as a result of new evidence or information presented by the Investigating
Officer, s/he is of the opinion (i) the matter is materially more or less serious
than may have seemed apparent when the s/he referred it for investigation
and (ii) the Clerk and Monitoring Officer would have made a different decision had
s/he been aware of that new evidence or information; or
(b) the person who is the subject of the complaint has died; or is seriously ill; or
has resigned from the Authority, and the Clerk and Monitoring Officer considers that in
the circumstances it is no longer appropriate to continue with an investigation.
If a matter is referred back to the Clerk and Monitoring Officer, s/he will reconsider and
make one of the decisions set out in paragraph 3.2 above.
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Note 1 In forming an opinion for the purposes of paragraph 6.2(a) above, the
Clerk and Monitoring Officer may take account of:
(a) the failure of any person to co-operate with an investigation; or
(b) an allegation that the Member concerned has engaged in a further breach of
the Council’s Code of Conduct or that of another relevant authority; or
(c) an allegation that another member has engaged in a related breach of the
Authority’s Code of Conduct or that of another relevant authority.
6.3 Where the investigation finds evidence of a failure to comply with the Code of
Conduct, the Clerk and Monitoring Officer in consultation with the Independent person
may seek local resolution to the satisfaction of the complainant in appropriate cases.
Where such local resolution is not appropriate or possible the investigation findings
will be reported to a Hearing Panel of the Finance and General Purposes Committee
for local determination.
A Hearing Panel shall in the absence of good reason to the contrary be convened
within three months of the completion of the Investigating Officer’s report to hear and
determine any allegation that a councillor has failed or may have failed to comply
with the Code of Conduct for Members. The procedure for Hearing Panels contained
in the Local Determinations Procedure shall be complied with.
The Hearing Panel shall comprise three Members of the Finance and General
Purposes Committee.
The Hearing Panel shall make one of the following findings, namely:-
(a) that the Member who was the subject of the Hearing had not failed to comply
with the Code of Conduct; or
(b) that the Member who was the subject of the Hearing had failed to comply with
the Code of Conduct , but that no action needs to be
taken in respect of the matters which were considered at the Hearing; or
(c) that the Member who was the subject of the Hearing had failed to comply with
the Code of Conduct and that action should be
taken.
7. Decision to take no action in respect of allegation
7.1 If the Hearing Panel decides that no action should be taken in respect of the
complaint, it must take reasonable steps to give written notice of the decision and the
reasons for it to:
(a) the complainant,
(b) the person who was the subject of the complaint.
It shall endeavour to send this notice within 5 working days of the Hearing Panel’s
decision.
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8. Withdrawing Complaints
8.1 If a complainant requests to withdraw his/her complaint before the Clerk and
Monitoring Officer has made a decision on it, then the Clerk and Monitoring Officer will
decide whether to grant that request. In making that decision s/he will take into
account the following considerations:
Does the public interest in taking some action on the complaint outweigh the
complainant’s desire to withdraw it?
Is the complaint such that action can be taken on it, for example, an
investigation without the complainant’s participation?
Is there an identifiable underlying reason for the request to withdraw the
complaint? For example, is there information to suggest that the complainant
may have been pressured by the Member who is the subject of the complaint,
or an associate of theirs, to withdraw the complaint?
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HABITUAL OR VEXATIOUS COMPLAINTS TO THE FINANCE AND GENERAL
PURPOSES COMMITTEE
1. Introduction
1.1 This policy identifies situations where complainants, either individually or as part of a
group, or a group of complainants, might be considered to be “habitual or vexatious”
and ways of responding to these situations.
1.2 In this policy the term habitual means “done repeatedly or as a habit”. The term
vexatious is recognised in the dictionary of law and means “an action brought for the
purpose of annoying the opponent and with no reasonable prospect of success”.
This policy is intended to assist in identifying and managing persons who seek to be
disruptive to the Clerk and Monitoring Officer through pursuing an unreasonable course of
conduct.
1.3 Habitual or vexatious complaints can be a problem for officers and members. The
difficulty in handling such complaints is that they are time consuming and wasteful of
resources in terms of officer and member time and displace scarce human resources
that could otherwise be spent on council priorities. Whilst the Clerk and Monitoring Officer
endeavours to process all complaints under the local assessment procedure there
are times when there is nothing further which can reasonably be done to assist or to
rectify a real or perceived problem.
2. Habitual or Vexatious Complainants
2.1 For the purpose of this policy, the following definition of habitual or vexatious
complainants will be used:
The repeated and/or obsessive pursuit of:
(i) unreasonable complaints and/or unrealistic outcomes;
and/or
(ii) reasonable complaints in an unreasonable manner.
2.2 Prior to considering its implementation, the Monitoring Officer will send a summary of
this policy to the complainant to give them prior notification of its possible
implementation.
2.3 Where complaints continue and have been identified as habitual or vexatious in
accordance with the criteria set out in Schedule A the Clerk and Monitoring Officer will
consult with the Independent Person to seek agreement to treat the complaint as habitual or
vexatious and for an appropriate course of action to be taken. Schedule B details the
options available for dealing with habitual or vexatious complaints.
2.4 The Clerk and Monitoring Officer will notify complainants, in writing of the reasons why
their complaint has been treated as habitual or vexatious and the action that will be taken.
2.5 Once a complainant has been determined to be habitual or vexatious, their status will
be kept under review after one year and monitored by the Clerk and Monitoring Officer with
reports being taken to the Finance and General Purposes Committee as required. If a
complainant subsequently demonstrates a more reasonable approach then their status will
be reviewed.
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Schedule A - Criteria for determining habitual or vexatious complainants
Complainants (and/or anyone acting on their behalf) may be deemed to be habitual or
vexatious where previous or current contact with them shows that they meet one of the
following criteria:
Where complainants:
1) persist in pursuing a complaint where the local assessment process has been
fully and properly implemented and exhausted.
2) persistently change the substance of a complaint or frequently raise new issues or seek to
prolong contact by frequently raising further concerns or questions whilst the complaint is
being addressed. (Care must be taken however not to disregard new issues which are
significantly different from the original complaint as they need to be addressed as a separate
complaint.)
3) are repeatedly unwilling to accept documented evidence given as being factual or deny
receipt of an adequate response in spite of correspondence specifically answering their
questions or do not accept that facts can sometimes be difficult to verify after a long period
of time has elapsed.
4) repeatedly do not clearly identify the precise issues which they wish to complain about
despite reasonable efforts of officers to help them specify their concerns and/or where the
concerns identified do not fall within the remit of the local assessment process.
5) regularly focus on a trivial matter to an extent which is out of proportion to its significance
and continue to focus on this point. It is recognised that determining what a trivial matter is
can be subjective and careful judgement will be used in applying this criteria.
6) has threatened or used physical violence towards employees at any time. This will itself
cause personal contact with the complainant and/or their representative to be discontinued
and the complaint will, therefore, only be continued to be written communication. The
Authority must determine that any complainant who threatens or uses actual physical
violence towards employees will be regarded as a vexatious complainant. The complainant
will be informed of this in writing together with notification of how future contact with the
Authority is made.
7) have in the course of addressing a complaint to the Monitoring Officer had an excessive
number of contacts with the Authority, placing unreasonable demands on officers. A contact
may be made in person by telephone, letter, email or fax. Judgment will be used to
determine excessive contact taking into account a specific circumstance of each individual
case.
8) have harassed or been verbally abusive on more than one occasion towards officers
dealing with complaints. Officers recognise that complainants may sometimes act out of
character in times of stress, anxiety or distress and will make reasonable allowances for this.
Some complainants may have a mental health disability and there is a need to be sensitive
in circumstances of that kind.
9) are known to have recorded meetings or face to face/telephone conversations without
prior knowledge and consent by the parties involved.
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10) make unreasonable demands on the Authority and its employees and fail to accept
these may be unreasonable, for example insist on an action being taken by Standards
Committee which falls outside of its remit.
11) make unreasonable complaints which impose a significant burden on the human
resources of the Authority and where the complaint:
clearly does not have any serious purpose or value; or
is designed to cause disruption or annoyance; or
has the effect of harassing the Authority; or
can otherwise fairly be characterised as obsessive or manifestly unreasonable
12) make repetitive complaints and allegations which ignore the replies which the
Authority has supplied in previous correspondence
Schedule B - Options for dealing with habitual or vexatious complainants
The options below can be used singularly or in combination depending on the circumstances
of the case and whether the complaint is ongoing or completed.
1) A letter to the complainant setting out responsibilities for the parties involved if the Clerk
and Monitoring Officer is going to assess the complaint. If terms are contravened,
consideration will then be given to implementing other action as indicated below.
2) Decline any contact with the complainant, either in person, by telephone, by fax, by letter,
by email or any combination of these provided that one form of contact is maintained. This
may also mean that only one named officer will be nominated to maintain contact and the
complainant is notified of this person.
3) Notify the complainant in writing, that the Authority has responded fully to the points
raised and has tried to resolve the complaint but there is nothing more to add and continuing
contact on the matter will serve no useful purpose. The complainant will also be notified that
the correspondence is at an end, advising the complainant that they are being treated as a
habitual or vexatious complainant and as such the Authority does not intend to engage in
further correspondence dealing with the complaint.
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County Durham & Darlington Fire & Rescue Authority
COMPLAINT FORM Alleged Breach of Members’
Code of Conduct
Your details
1. Please provide us with your name and contact details
Title:
First name:
Last Name:
Address:
Daytime telephone:
Evening telephone:
Mobile telephone:
Email address:
Your address and contact details will not usually be released unless necessary or to deal
with your complaint.
However, we will tell the following people that you have made this complaint:
the member(s) you are complaining about
any other person whom we consider it necessary to inform to properly investigate
your complaint.
We will tell them your name and give them a summary of your complaint. We will give
them full details of your complaint where necessary or appropriate to be able to deal
with it. If you have serious concerns about your name and a summary, or details, of
your complaint being released, please complete section 6 of this form.
2. Please tell us which complainant type best describes you:
Member of the public
An elected or co-opted member of an authority
Member of Parliament
Local authority monitoring officer
Other authority officer or authority employee
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3. Equality monitoring questions
We have attached an Equality Monitoring Form to the back of this complaint form
which you are invited to complete as well.
Making your complaint
Your complaint will initially be considered, usually within 20 working days, by the
Authority’s Clerk and Monitoring Officer, in consultation with the Independent Person if
appropriate. The Clerk and Monitoring Officer will decide whether any action should be taken
on your complaint. You will be advised of that decision. If the decision is to take action, the
Clerk and Monitoring Officer can appoint an Investigating Officer to investigate the
complaint.
If your complaint is investigated and a breach of the Code of Conduct is found, the
result will be reported to a Hearing Panel of the Authority’s Finance and General Purposes
Committee which will then decide if there has been a breach of the Members’ Code of
Conduct and, if so, what action to take.
4. Please provide us with the name of the member(s) you believe have breached the
Code of Conduct and the name of the authority of which they are a member
Title
First name
Authority
5. Please explain in this section (or on separate sheets) what the member has done
which you believe breaches the Code of Conduct. If you are complaining about more
than one member you should clearly explain what each individual person has done
which you believe breaches the Code of Conduct.
It is important that you provide all the information you wish to have taken into account
by the assessment sub-committee when it decides whether to take any action on
your complaint. For example:
You should be specific, wherever possible; about exactly what you are alleging
the member said or did. For instance, instead of writing that the member
insulted you, you should state what it was they said.
You should provide the dates of the alleged incidents wherever possible. If you
cannot provide exact dates it is important to give a general timeframe.
You should explain whether there are any witnesses to the alleged conduct and
provide their names and contact details if possible.
You should provide any relevant background information.
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Only complete this next section if you are requesting that your identity or details
of your complaint is kept confidential
6. In the interests of fairness and natural justice, we believe members who are
complained about have a right to know who has made the complaint. We also believe
they have a right to be provided with a summary of the complaint and then further
details of it if there is a decision to investigate it or take other action on it.
We will not withhold your identity, or a summary or the details of your complaint,
unless you have exceptional reasons why we should do so.
If you think you have such reasons and want us to consider withholding your identity
Please provide us with the details of your complaint. Continue on a separate sheet if
there is not enough space on this form.
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and/or any details of your complaint, either altogether or for some period of time, you
must cross out the statement in the box below giving your consent to such
disclosure. You must also attach to this form a separate sheet which fully explains
what information you want withheld and your reasons for your request to withhold it.
I understand and agree that my name and details of this complaint will be
disclosed to the persons mentioned in paragraph 1 above.
If you do request confidentiality and this is not granted, we will usually allow you the
option of withdrawing your complaint.
However, it is important to understand that in certain exceptional circumstances
where the matter complained about is very serious, we may still proceed with an
investigation or other action and disclose your name even if you have expressly
asked us not to.
Additional Help
7. Complaints must be submitted in writing. This includes fax and email submissions.
However, in line with the requirements of the Equality Act, we can make reasonable
adjustments to assist you if you have a disability that prevents
you from making your complaint in writing.
We can also help if English is not your first language.
If you need any support in completing this form, please let us know as soon as
possible. You should initially contact the Authority’s Clerk and Monitoring Office
(whose contact details are given below) who will try to arrange appropriate assistance
for you.
……………………………………………. ……….. ……………………
Signed Dated
This form once completed should be sent, along with any supporting
documents, to:
The Clerk and Monitoring Officer
County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Authority
County Hall
Durham
DH1 5UL
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Equality Monitoring Form
County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Authority operate an Equality Policy. To
help us make sure that everybody is treated fairly and equally we need to know who is
making complaints. This information will help us to develop and change our policies and
practices to ensure that no one is discriminated against.
To help us to do this we request that you complete the questions below. You do not have to
do so but this information would be helpful to us. All of the information you give will be
treated with the strictest of confidence and will be used for monitoring purposes only.
Are you:
Male Female
What is your age group?
15 and under 16-24 25-39 40-59 60-64 65-74 75+
Do you have any long standing illness or disability?
(Long standing means anything that has troubled you over a period of time or that is likely to
affect you over a period of time)
Yes No
If yes, does this illness or disability limit your activities in any way?
Yes No
Please state the impairment type(s) which applies to you:
Mobility
Visual impairment
Hearing Impairment/Deaf
Mental Health diagnosis
Other
Prefer not to say
What is your ethnic group?
A. White
British
Irish
Other Please state ………………….
B. Mixed
White and Black Caribbean
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White and Asian PTO.
White and Black African
Any other mixed background Please state ………………….
C. Asian or Asian British
Indian
Bangladeshi
Pakistani
Any other Asian background Please state ………………….
D. Black or Black British
Caribbean
African
Any other Black background Please state ………………….
E. Chinese
F. Any other ethnic group Please state ………………….
What is your sexual orientation?
Bisexual
Gay Man
Gay women/lesbian
Heterosexual/straight
Other
Prefer not to say
What is your religion? (Tick one box only)
None Christian
Buddhist Hindu
Jewish Muslim
Sikh Any other religion Please state. ……………….
Prefer not to say
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