Managing Vexatious and Unreasonable Communications
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter seeks to provide a framework for those individuals who communicate with the department and staff in a way that is abusive, disproportionately demanding and persistent. However, emphasis is made to acknowledge that individuals can have legitimate complaints and are unhappy with the outcome of services and are often under great personal stress and as such should not be seen within the context of being vexatious.The process described includes a 'warning'; setting boundaries and prescribing communication for the individual and a 'review' process. Template letters are provided to assist communicating these stages to service users.
This policy and procedure is to assist staff in managing their communications with service users and their families. It does not replace the corporate or statutory complaints procedures and should not be used to try and prevent a complaint being registered. Individuals who may wish to register a complaint should be given the details of the Customer Resolution and Information Team with whom they can discuss their concerns, telephone 666 5677 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wirral Children and Young People's Department (CYPD) is committed to dealing with all correspondence equitably and in a timely manner. In general CYPD will not normally limit contact that individuals have with it. There are, however, occasions when the behaviour of an individual hinders social care intervention.
This policy is intended to deal with those individuals who persist in communicating in a vexatious way. Vexatious in the context of this policy is unreasonable and unjustifiable behaviour which causes offence or places unreasonable demands on resources, including staff time.
It is important to distinguish between people who make repeated representations because they really think and believe things have gone wrong, and people who are being vexatious. It must be recognised that service users and their family members may sometimes act out during times of anxiety or distress and reasonable allowances should be made for this.
Raising legitimate queries should not in itself lead to anyone being regarded as vexatious. There are however times when persistence in pursuing an issue becomes unreasonable. This policy gives examples of when this might be the case and sets out a process for dealing with contact that has become unreasonable.
2. Vexatious, Persistent or Abusive Communication
The type of behaviour that this policy covers can include the following (the list is not exhaustive):
- Harassing or verbally abusing or otherwise seeking to intimidate staff involved in providing social care services to their family by:
- Using foul or inappropriate language;
- Using offensive language about their race, gender, disability or sexuality;
- Continuing to make what appear to be groundless complaints about staff.
- Making an unreasonable number of contacts, by any means, in relation to a specific issue, which places unreasonable demands on staff (such as insisting on immediate responses to numerous, frequent and/or complex letters, faxes, telephone calls or emails);
- Recording meetings and conversations without the prior knowledge and consent of the other person involved.
3. Imposing Restrictions
Before any consideration is given to imposing a restriction staff should ensure that correspondence and/or complaints have been dealt with appropriately as failing to deal with an issue promptly or properly can lead people to behave in ways which might be described as vexatious.
Different procedures may apply depending on the issues raised and advice should be sought from the Customer Resolution and Information Team on 666 5677 in relation to any formal process that should be initiated; or confirmation that any formal process has been exhausted.
Before any decision to treat a correspondent as vexatious the Group Manager/Service Manager must review the evidence of the behaviour and consider what has been done to address the issue(s) raised.
The Group Manager should consider whether there is any action they can take to try and resolve the issue such as a meeting with the person or signposting to appropriate support services such as the CAB.
If there is evidence of behaviour which is vexatious or unreasonable and attempts to resolve this have been unsuccessful the Group/Service Manager will issue a written warning. The warning should explain why their behaviour is causing concern and ask them to change their behaviour. They will also be advised that if their behaviour is not moderated CYPD may impose a communication restriction. (See example letter at Appendix 1: Letter of Warning).
If the behaviour continues, the Group Manager/Service Manager will liaise with their Senior Manager who will decide whether a communication restriction is warranted. Any restriction that is imposed on contact with CYPD must be proportionate and subject to regular reviews. The kinds of restriction which may be imposed are:
- Limiting contact to a named member of staff;
- Putting in parameters about when contact should be made;
- Only accepting correspondence in a certain format, e.g. by letter;
- Indicating that correspondence will not be responded to unless substantially new matters are raised (this implies that all incoming correspondence will be read).
Restrictions must be flexible according to individual circumstances and confirm who they can contact if they have safeguarding concerns about a child; and for family members having regular contact with a child who they should contact in respect of confirming contact arrangements.
Other arrangements particular to individual cases, e.g. feedback to an estranged parent following meetings, need to be considered and provision made for this to continue.
When a decision has been taken by a Senior Manager to apply this policy, the individual will be written to confirming reasons for the decision, the restriction imposed, when the restriction is to be reviewed (no longer than six months from the date of the restriction) and how they can contact the department in certain circumstances (as above). A copy of the restriction should be forwarded to the Customer Resolution and Information Team who will maintain a register of restrictions. (See example letter at Appendix 2: Letter Applying Restriction).
The restriction can be reviewed early, amended or cancelled at any time by the Senior Manager if the person has demonstrated that they can moderate their behaviour, if such a decision is taken the Senior Manager should confirm this in writing to the individual. A copy of any amendment to the restriction should be forward to the Customer Resolution & Information Team.
The status of an individual judged to be unreasonably persistent or vexatious will be reviewed by the Senior Manager at the end of the review period.
The Senior Manager will write to the restricted person informing them of the result of the review and whether the decision to apply this policy has been changed, extended or amended. A copy of the review should be forwarded to the Customer Resolution and Information Team. (See example letter at Appendix 3: Review Letter).
5. Record Keeping
The decision making in respect of imposing a restriction must be recorded on a supervision note and placed on the child's file.
A copy of the communication restriction should be placed on the child's file unless it is inappropriate to do so, e.g. restriction placed on an estranged family member who has no contact with the child.
Copies of all communication should be forwarded to the Customer and Resolution Team who will monitor the application of this policy.