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Unacceptable user action policy

This policy explains how we deal with the small number of cases where the actions of individuals become unacceptable because they involve abuse of our staff or our process

Purpose

Our service is independent, impartial and free. We believe that customers of our Service have a right to be heard, understood and respected. We work hard to be open and accessible to everyone.

Occasionally, the behaviour or actions of individuals using our Service makes it very difficult for us to deal with their complaint. In a small number of cases the actions of individuals become unacceptable because they involve abuse of our staff or our process.

When this happens, we have to take action to protect the health and wellbeing of our staff who have a right to do their jobs without fear of being abused or harassed. We also consider the impact of the behaviour on our ability to do our work and provided a service to others.

This policy explains how we will approach these situations. The policy applies to all areas of our work and to all methods of contact including telephone, face-to-face, letters, e-mails, social media and other digital channels.

Actions the Housing Ombudsman Service considers as unacceptable

People may act out of character in times of trouble or distress. There may have been upsetting or distressing circumstances leading up to a customer approaching the Ombudsman.

However, the Housing Ombudsman will not tolerate unacceptable behaviour nor actions that result in unacceptable or excessive demands on our service in that it prevents staff from carrying out their duties effectively.

It is these behaviours and actions that we aim to manage under this Policy.

Aggressive or abusive behaviour

We understand that many customers are often upset and angry about the issues they have raised in their complaint. If that anger escalates into aggression towards the Housing Ombudsman Service staff, we consider that unacceptable. Any violence or abuse towards staff will not be tolerated.

Violence is not restricted to acts of aggression that may result in physical harm. It also includes behaviour or language (whether verbal or written) that may cause staff to feel offended, afraid, threatened or abused.

We will judge each situation individually and appreciate individuals who come to us may be upset. While we accept that those who contact us may feel angry, it is not acceptable to shout or swear at Housing Ombudsman Service staff.

Unacceptable language is that which:

  • is offensive, derogatory or patronising,
  • is discriminatory in any way, including racist, sexist, homophobic or transphobic comments; or
  • makes serious allegations that individuals have committed criminal, corrupt or perverse conduct without any evidence.

We may decide that comments aimed not at us but at third parties are unacceptable because of the effect that listening or reading them may have on our staff. Examples include rudeness, offensive comments, derogatory remarks, making inflammatory statements, or raising unsubstantiated allegations made towards these third parties.

Threats against staff will be taken very seriously and if staff feel scared or threatened at any point during a conversation with a customer, the interaction may be ended at any time.

Unreasonable demands

A demand becomes unacceptable when it starts to (or when complying with the demand would) impact substantially on the work of this Service.

Examples of this behaviour include:

  • repeatedly demanding response within an unreasonable timescale,
  • insisting on seeing or speaking to a particular member of staff, when that is not possible,
  • repeatedly changing the substance of a complaint or raising unrelated concerns.

An example of such impact would be that the demand takes up an excessive amount of staff time and in doing so disadvantages other customers and prevents their own complaint from being dealt with quickly.

Unreasonable levels of contact

Sometimes the volume and duration of contact made to our service by an individual causes problems. This can occur over a short period, for example, a number of calls in one day or hour.

It may occur over the life-span of a complaint when a customer repeatedly makes long telephone calls to us or inundates us with copies of information that has been sent already or that is irrelevant to the complaint.

We consider that the level of contact has become unacceptable when the amount of time spent talking to a customer on the telephone, or responding to, reviewing and filing emails or written correspondence impacts on our ability to deal with that complaint, or with other customers’ complaints.

Harassment 

Staff have the right to carry out their duties free from harassment or threats of harassment. We ask all customers to respect that staff are delivering services and communication decisions on behalf of the Housing Ombudsman and therefore this may not reflect their own views or preferences.

Examples of behaviours we consider to be harassment against our staff include:

  • recording telephone discussions and publishing the information online such as through YouTube, Vimeo or Twitter;
  • contacting staff using their personal details or social media presence such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn;
  • publishing personal, sensitive or private information about staff online or other public domains such as noticeboards or newsletters.

Unacceptable or excessive demands

A demand becomes unacceptable when it starts to (or when complying with the demand would) impact substantially on the work of this Service.

Examples of this behaviour include:

  • repeatedly demanding a response within a timescale outside of service level agreements,
  • insisting on, or refusing to, speak to a particular member of staff, when that is not possible,
  • repeatedly changing the substance of a complaint or raising unrelated concerns,
  • Making repeated and unnecessary contact during the course of us dealing with a complaint or carrying out an investigation,
  • Refusing to accept a decision where explanations for the decision have been provided.

An example of such impact would be that the demand takes up an excessive amount of staff time and in doing so disadvantages other customers and prevents their own complaint from being dealt with quickly.

Unacceptable and persistence levels of contact

Sometimes the volume and duration of contact made to our service by an individual causes problems. This can occur over a short period or over the life-span of a complaint.

We consider that the level of contact has become unacceptable when the amount of time spent talking to a customer on the telephone, or responding to, reviewing and filing emails or written correspondence impacts on our ability to deal with that complaint, or with other customers’ complaints.

Unacceptable or persistent levels of contact include:

  • Continuous contact while we are in the process of considering a matter,
  • Repeated telephone calls over a short period, for example, a high number calls in one day or week,
  • Lengthy telephone calls repeating the same points of discussion,
  • High volumes of information provided by email or post referencing the same issues,
  • unnecessarily or excessive copying us into emails to other parties.

Refusal to co-operate

When we are looking at a complaint, we will need to ask the individual who has complained to work with us. This can include agreeing with us:

  • the complaint we will look at,
  • to provide us with further information, evidence or comments on request, or
  • help us by summarising their concerns.

Sometimes, an individual repeatedly refuses to co-operate and this makes it difficult for us to proceed. We will always seek to assist someone if they have a specific, genuine difficulty complying with a request.

However, we consider it is unacceptable to bring a complaint to us and then not respond to clear and appropriate requests by staff.

Reasonable adjustments

We understand that some customers may find it difficult for them to express themselves or communicate clearly, especially when they are anxious or upset. In order to do this, we ask that residents explain what adjustments they’re looking for and how this will ensure they can access this Service.

We will always consider making reasonable adjustments for a resident if we are asked to do so. Examples of adjustments we can consider are:

  • we could consider using different methods of communication;
  • providing written communication in large print, coloured text, or in translation;
  • giving clear warnings if conversations become unproductive and allowing customers to opportunity to modify their behaviour before ending a call.

However, we do not expect our staff to accept being subjected to aggressive, offensive, threatening or abusive actions, language or behaviour.

We may still use the policy if there are actions or behaviours which are having a negative effect on our staff or our work even where a reasonable adjustment has been made.

Actions we may take

When we experience behaviour or demands which are unacceptable, we may consider taking more formal action. The actions we will consider can include the following:

  • Warning the customer about their behaviour and requesting that the customer modifies their behaviour in future contact with us.
  • Appointing a specific point of contact for the customer at the Housing Ombudsman Service
  • Communicating only in writing or via a representative
  • Deciding not to investigate a complaint on the basis that it has been pursued in a way that is unacceptable.
  • Stop all communication with a customer
  • Restricting or limiting contact with the Housing Ombudsman Service
  • In exceptional circumstances, notify relevant public authorities

Where it is decided that formal action must be taken to manage someone’s behaviour (for example, declining to investigate a complaint), we will inform them of the decision in writing. A note will be placed on our records to this effect.

Customers have the right to appeal the decision and they will be informed how to do this in the formal letter.

 

Policy approved: June 2021