Managing unacceptable behaviour policy – Guidance for landlords
We encourage landlords to have a policy in place to help manage complainants who present unacceptable behaviours. These situations can be challenging to landlord staff and can take up an unreasonable amount of time and resources.
This guidance note sets out what the Ombudsman would expect to see included in a landlord’s policy on managing such behaviours from customers. It is intended as a useful guide for landlords as well as for residents who may have had their contact restricted.
Policy aims and objectives
Landlords should set out their approach to managing customers who present unacceptable behaviours. It is important that customers are aware of this policy so they know certain actions will be taken depending on the type and extent of the behaviour. It is also important to state how employees will be supported when dealing with this type of customer.
The policy should reflect the fact that all customers should be dealt with fairly, honestly, consistently and appropriately including those whose actions are considered unacceptable. It is however important to recognise that all customers have a right to be heard, understood and respected. It should also be noted that whilst landlords have a duty to protect employees, they also have obligations towards residents. For example, where there are counter allegations against an employee these need to be investigated properly using the anti-social behaviour policy.
Equality and diversity, and reasonable adjustments
The policy should reflect the requirements of the Equalities Act 2010 and show due regard for an individual’s medical condition and vulnerability such as mental health issues and learning disabilities. Accordingly, any restrictions imposed on a customer’s contact should recognise and be appropriate to their individual circumstances.
Representation and multi-agency approach
It is important to consider if there are other individuals that may be able to represent the customer in the handling of their complaint, for example a family member, friend or support worker. It is also important to consider if a multi-agency approach is necessary when the individual is receiving support from other bodies such as social services.
It is important customers know how information about themselves, particularly with regard to medical information, will be treated. The document should refer to how it will comply with collection, storage, access to, provision and disclosure of data in accordance with the Data Protection Act 2018.
What constitutes unacceptable behaviour?
A policy should clearly set out what a landlord regards as unacceptable behaviour. It should recognise that behaviour is not unacceptable just because a person is assertive or determined. There may have been distressing circumstances leading up to a customer contacting the landlord and people may act out of character. Behaviour may become unacceptable however if it is so demanding or persistent that it places unreasonable demands on the landlord and impacts the level of service that can be offered to others.
It is helpful to provide examples that would normally include:
- unreasonable demands (eg requesting large volumes of information, asking for responses within a short space of time, refusing to speak to an individual or insisting on speaking with another)
- unreasonable persistence (refusing to accept the answer that has been provided, continuing to raise the same subject matter without providing any new evidence, continuously adding to or changing the subject matter of the complaint)
- verbal abuse, aggression, violence (this is not just limited to actual physical or verbal abuse but can include derogatory remarks, rudeness, inflammatory allegations and threats of violence)
- overload of letters, calls, emails or contact via social media (this could include the frequency of contact as well as the volume of correspondence received as well as the frequency and length of telephone calls).
How will such behaviour be managed?
The document should explain what actions a landlord can take to manage such situations. It should stipulate how a landlord should try and reach a voluntary (informal) arrangement with the customer before taking formal action. This is to allow the individual time to consider and adjust their behaviour. Mediation or advocacy through third parties can be considered to try and improve the situation.
If this informal approach fails, it is appropriate to issue a warning to the customer before taking any formal steps. A warning should include examples of where the individual’s behaviour has been considered unacceptable with reference to what formal steps may be taken if the behaviour continues.
What formal actions can a landlord take?
The policy should give details of the types of restriction that a landlord can put in place should the informal arrangements not succeed in the individual changing their behaviour. This would normally include:
- providing a single point of contact
- limiting contact to a single form ie to writing, email or telephone only
- limiting contact to certain times or to a limited number of times per week or month
- declining to give any further consideration to an issue unless any additional evidence or information is provided
- only considering a certain number of issues in a specific period.
The document should note that, in extreme cases such as physical violence or harassment towards an employee, actions could include involving the police, taking legal action and ending direct contact with the customer.
How long should restrictions remain in force?
Any policy should reflect the fact that an individual who has restrictions on their contact should be entitled to an appeal of that decision. Also, any restrictions imposed should not be set indefinitely and a review period should be agreed at the outset.
If the individual’s behaviour has improved at the point of review, consideration can be given to lifting the restriction. If it has not improved, an explanation should be provided as to why the restriction will remain in force for a further period pending the next agreed review date.
Note. We would not recommend using the word ‘vexatious’ in your policies and communication as this is quite an inflammatory word and could provoke unacceptable behaviour.