The Labour-controlled Penarth Town Council is considering new get-tough procedures for dealing with “a minority of people” who – it’s claimed – submit council staff to “verbal abuse” and “threatening behaviour”.
An internal report by Town Clerk Emma Boylan says “It is unfortunate to report that of late council staff are having to deal with members of the public and customers of the council who approach staff in a less than professional and courteous manner”.
Councillors meeting tomorrow night will consider a draft policy document which formally spells out – to the residents of Penarth – exactly how they must behave when engaging with council staff – and what the consequences will be if they fail to do so.
The document “sets out what standards of behaviour are expected of customers and the general public when dealing with council staff” – and exactly how local residents “will be dealt with if they do not adhere to this standard”.
The council report says “ A zero-tolerance approach to abusive behaviour will ensure that a level of safety is applied to the council staff and that the council – is protecting the well-being of its staff” .
The report says “ It should be stressed that there are only a few people that bad behaviour relates to” and that “in general council staff have good relationships and strong rapport with the townspeople of Penarth” .
The Town Clerk’s report says “On occasion it may be necessary to exclude a badly behaved member of the public from council venues and this decision is not taken lightly”.
[ PDN Note: The council is said to have banned at least one local resident – Nicki Page – from all council premises. As reported by PDN [ See http://tinyurl.com/yatbrm66], on September 1st, council staff summoned the South Wales Police to remove Ms Page from the Paget Rooms where she had bought a ticket and was attending a concert. Two police vans arrived at the scene.]
The report goes on to say ” Police support advises that this action should be taken and the council is well within its rights to do so”
The report says “It may be the case on occasion that members of the public are not happy with the decisions taken by the Town Ccouncil but this should be confused with how members of the public then go on to deal with employees”.
Appended to the Town Clerk’s report is a detailed and comprehensive 12-page Draft Policy Document entitled “Policy on the Management of Unreasonable and Violent Customer Behaviour” .
This lists – in detail – a total of 19 types of behaviour which the council defines as “unreasonable” including:-
- Making excessive demands on the time and resources of staff by excessive and lengthy phone calls, emails and letters – or detailed letters every few days and expecting immediate responses
- Repeated and excessive pursuit of a complaint or issue which appears to have no substance or is outside the remit of the council
- Contact which may be amiable but which places heavy demands on staff time or may be very emotionally charged and distressing for all involved
- Escalation of unacceptable abusive aggressive or threatening behaviour
- Changing the basis of the complaints whilst under investigation
- Denying or changing statements made at an earlier stage
- Refusing to accept the decision Introducing irrelevant or trial issues
- Providing misleading or false information or documents or adopting false identities
- Refusing to accept the decision with no new evidence
- Persistently approaching the council through different routes or getting others to do so about the same issue
- Refusing to accept the council’s or Ombudsman’s decision
The Draft Policy Document notes that “Some customers that staff consider to be unreasonable may be behaving this way because of a specific circumstance or difficulty, such as a mental health condition or disability ” . Such cases are to be referred to the line manager of the member of staff.
Sanctions which could be imposed on offending local residents – [ the Policy document refers to throughout as “customers”] include the following:-
- Placing limits on the number of occasions and duration of contact with staff in a given time period
- Limiting the ‘customer’ to one method of contact (eg telephone, letter or email) and one disignated member of the council’s management team as a point of contact
- Requiring any personal contact to be in the presence of a witness – and in a “suitable location”.
- Refusing to register and process further complaints on the same issue
- Requiring the ‘customer’ to make contact with the council through a third party only
- Refusing ‘the customer’ access to any council building “as it is the council’s right to do so”
- In exceptional circumstances applying for a civil injunction against the ‘customer’
The document goes on to say that the council “will not ignore” service requests or new complaints from customers who are “classified as unreasonable” .
The Penarth Council’s Draft “Unreasonable Behaviour” Code also states – somewhat surprisingly – that in exceptional circumstances the COUNCIL could refer cases to the “Ombudsman”.
[PDN Note : It is normally members of the public who refer cases of alleged maladministration in public bodies to the Ombudsman for Wales. The Ombudsman is primarily charged with the duty of investigating complaints about public services in Wales and looking into complaints that members of local councils have broken their authority’s code of conduct.]