Vexatious or unreasonable complaints procedure

E Doherty made this Freedom of Information request to Essex County Council

This request has been closed to new correspondence from the public body. Contact us if you think it ought be re-opened.

The request was successful.

Dear Essex County Council,

Please can you tell me with regards to your vexatious
correspondence and complaints process

(a) how many times this has been used in the last 5 years

(b) how many times in the last 5 years has it been used broken down
by department.

(c) whether a warning system to advise service users of this
procedure is in place.

(d) whether there is any appeal process

(e) has this been used in the last 5 years against families with
children with disabilities who are involved in the SEN Tribunal
process

Yours faithfully,

E Doherty

Ruth Byford Research & Analysis Officer, Essex County Council

3 Attachments

Please find attached an acknowledgement of your Freedom of Information
request.

Ruth Byford
on behalf of ISIS
Internal Audit & Risk Management
Essex County Council | telephone: 01245 435944 | extension: 55944 | email:
[email address]
EssexWorks
For a better quality of life

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Joan Tarrant Customer Excellence Officer, Customer Excellence, Human Resources, Essex County Council

Dear E Doherty

Thank you for your request for information, which was received by Essex
County Council on 21^st August 2011.

You requested the following information regarding vexatious correspondence
and complaints process.

(a) How many times has it been used in the last 5 years - answer 2

(b) How many times in the last 5 years has it been used broken down by
department - Answer, issued by 1Chief Executives Department, 1 Governance
Department

(c) Whether a warning system to advise service users of this procedure
is in place - Answer, the customer is informed in writing of the action
taken

(d) Whether there is an appeals process - Answer, The Information
Commissioner, Local Government Ombudsman.

(e) Has this been used in the last 5 years against families with
children with disabilities who are involved in SEN Tribunal process -
Answer No

You may reuse all or part of this information free of charge in any format
or medium. You must reuse it accurately and not in a misleading context.
The material must be acknowledged as Essex County Council copyright and
you must give the title of the source document/publication.

If you are not satisfied with my response to your request, please let me
know. If I am unable to resolve the issue immediately, I will explain our
complaints procedure.

If after following our complaints procedure, you are still not satisfied,
you are entitled to ask the Information Commissioner to review our
decision. You can contact him at Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow,
Cheshire, SK9 5AF, telephone 01625 545700.

Yours sincerely

Joan Tarrant

Customer Excellence Officer

Customer Excellence

Essex County Council
Telephone: 01245 437869 | Ext: 51869
Email:[1][email address] | [2]www.essex.gov.uk

EssexWorks
For a better quality of life

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Ben Harris left an annotation ()

Owing to mistakes at both Essex County Council and WhatDoTheyKnow, the above message dated 1st September was initially assigned to the wrong request:

<http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/ve...>

In consequence, E Doherty made a reply to it there, which I repeat here for convenience:

Dear Ms Tarrant,

Many thanks for your response. I note you say, in answer to the
question of warning a customer before a determination is made, that
"the customer is informed in writing of the action taken". This
seems to suggest that customers are told of the determination but
not that they are warned that it is being contemplated.

The significance of a warning is, of course, that it allows the
customer to modify/correct their behaviour which may have the
desired effect. This is in line with the LGO's guidance at
http://www.lgo.org.uk/publications/advic...
.

Perhaps, you could clarify this point and provide me with a copy of
your unreasonable complaints policy or procedure document.

Yours sincerely,

E Doherty

--
Ben Harris, WhatDoTheyKnow volunteer.

Joan Tarrant Customer Excellence Officer, Customer Excellence, Human Resources, Essex County Council

1 Attachment

Dear E Doherty

Please find the attached as requested which I trust will give clarity.

Yours sincerely

Joan Tarrant
Customer Excellence Officer
Customer Excellence

Essex County Council
Telephone: 01245 437869 | Ext: 51869
Email:[email address] | www.essex.gov.uk

EssexWorks
For a better quality of life

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Ben Harris left an annotation ()

The above message dated 2nd September was similarly misdirected. E Doherty replied:

Dear Ms Tarrant,

Thank you for this.

This document confirms that your policy does not provide for any
warning and thus does not follow the guidance on proportionality
provided by the LGO.

Yours sincerely,

E Doherty

--
Ben Harris, WhatDoTheyKnow volunteer.

Dear Ms Tarrant,

Further to my correspondence of 2nd September, I would be grateful for your confirmation of why the LGO's guidance regarding such issues is not followed by your authority.

Yours sincerely,

E Doherty

Joan Tarrant Customer Excellence Officer, Customer Excellence, Human Resources, Essex County Council

Dear E Doherty

This is to confirm receipt of your email and to advise that I am
currently making enquiries so will respond to you once I have the
information you require

Yours sincerely

Joan Tarrant
Customer Excellence Officer
Customer Excellence

Essex County Council
Telephone: 01245 437869 | Ext: 51869
Email:[email address] | www.essex.gov.uk

EssexWorks
For a better quality of life

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Joan Tarrant Customer Excellence Officer, Customer Excellence, Human Resources, Essex County Council

Dear E Doherty

 

In response to your question asking why we do not follow the LGO guidance,
I can confirm that the Council have given the guidance set out by the LGO
consideration in the preparation of its policy. However, the LGO only
provides us with suggested action, and does not dictate exactly what
action we must take in situations. Whilst it does suggest “….warning them
that restrictive actions may need to be applied if their behaviour
continues”, this is just one option in a list of actions that “may
assist”. How we proceed with incidents will depend on the individual
circumstances of the complaint.

 

Our policy makes clear that recommending that a complaint is treated
vexatious should be a last resort and states “The procedure should only be
evoked and implemented in exceptional circumstances. It should be
initiated only after it has been confirmed that all other avenues have
been explored and an amicable resolution between the Complainant and the
County Council cannot be reached”. So whilst we don’t specifically include
all the options listed by the LGO guidance within our own policy, we would
expect staff to have taken appropriate steps and have exhausted all other
possibilities first; this may include warning the complainant if the
circumstances are appropriate.

 

I should also clarify that the figures we have provided relate to both
customer complaints regarding council services, and complaints made under
Freedom of Information Act (FOI). Under the FOI Act, we are required to
follow the guidance set out by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO),
not the Local Government Ombudsmen. We have not produced our own guidance
on how to deal with vexatious complaints under FOI, as we advise officers
to refer to the ICO’s own guidance.

 

In hindsight I should have made it clearer that there is a distinction
between the two types of complaint, and I apologise for any confusion. A
copy of the ICO’s guidance can be found [1]here for your information. You
will note that under ICO’s guidance, there is no suggestion that the
applicant should be warned before the decision to class the request as
vexatious.

 

However I would just like to clarify that the decision to treat an enquiry
as vexatious is not taken lightly, which is reflected in the number of
complaints that have been recorded as such in the last 5 years.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Joan Tarrant

Customer Excellence Officer

Customer Excellence

Essex County Council
Telephone: 01245 437869 | Ext: 51869
Email:[2][email address] | [3]www.essex.gov.uk

EssexWorks
For a better quality of life

 

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