How the Adjudicator's Office deals with unacceptable actions

Find out what unacceptable or unreasonable actions are and how we approach them.

Unacceptable Actions Policy

Our service is independent, impartial and free. Our customers have a right to be heard, understood and respected. We work hard to be open and easily accessible to all.

Sometimes, an individual’s behaviour or actions can make it difficult for us to deal with their complaint. On a small number of occasions, an individual’s behaviour or actions become unacceptable because they involve abuse of our staff or our process. When this happens, we have to take appropriate action to protect our staff. We also consider the impact of the behaviour on our ability to do our work and provide a service to others.

This policy explains how we will approach these situations.

What actions do we consider to be unacceptable?

Sometimes, individuals may act out of character in times of trouble or distress. There may have been upsetting or distressing circumstances leading up to a complaint to our office. Although we acknowledge that customers may feel strongly about their complaint, we do not consider unreasonable demands to our office, or unreasonable behaviour towards our staff to be acceptable.

We aim to manage the following actions under this policy:

Aggressive or abusive behaviour

We do not expect our staff to tolerate any form of behaviour that could be considered abusive, offensive or threatening.

Violence is not restricted to acts of aggression that may result in physical harm. It also includes behaviour or language (verbal or written) that may cause staff to feel afraid, threatened or abused, and may include threats, personal verbal abuse, derogatory remarks and rudeness.

We also consider inflammatory statements and unsubstantiated allegations to be abusive behaviour.

Unreasonable demands

Any behaviour or actions which impact substantially on the work of the office, is unacceptable. We will judge each situation individually, and appreciate that some individuals that come to us may be upset.

Some examples of what we consider to be ‘unreasonable demands’, include:

  • Repeatedly demanding responses within an unreasonable timescale
  • Constantly changing the basis of the complaint, and introducing unimportant or irrelevant new information as the investigation proceeds
  • Refusing to accept our decisions
  • Repeatedly arguing points with no new supporting evidence
  • Insisting on seeing or speaking to a particular member of staff or the Adjudicator, when it is not necessary or possible to do so

The impact of these demands takes up an excessive amount of staff time or resources resulting in other customers being disadvantaged.

Unreasonable level of contact

Occasionally, the volume and duration of contact made by an individual to our office causes problems.

Levels of contact become unacceptable when the amount of time spent talking to a customer on the telephone, or responding to, reviewing and filing written correspondence impacts on our ability to deal with that complaint, or with other people’s complaints.

This can occur over a short period of time, for example, a number of emails or telephone calls to our office in one day or one hour. This can also occur over a life-span of a complaint when a customer repeatedly makes long telephone calls to us, or inundates us with emails or copies of information that has already been sent, or that is irrelevant to the complaint.

What actions may we take?

  • End all direct contact with the customer if staff feel threatened. This may be the threat or use of physical violence, verbal abuse, or harassment. Incidents will be reported to the police if physical violence is used or threatened
  • Not accept any correspondence that is abusive to staff or contains allegations which lack sufficient evidence
  • Terminate a call if a customer’s behaviour is unacceptable. We will not tolerate any telephone calls where the caller is aggressive, abusive or offensive to staff. We make a written record of all telephone calls
  • Limit contact from the customer to telephone calls at set times, on set days
  • Restrict contact to a nominated member of staff who will deal with all future telephone calls or correspondence from the customer
  • Restrict contact from the customer to writing only
  • Return any documents to the customer or, file them and not respond
  • Take any other action that we consider to be appropriate

We will always let the customer know what actions we are taking and why.

Our Service Level Agreement with the relevant organisation sets out what we can and cannot look at. When we consider continued correspondence on a wide range of issues to be excessive, we will inform the customer that only those matters within our remit will be considered.

In exceptional cases, we reserve the right to refuse to consider a complaint or future complaints from an individual. We will take into account the impact on the individual and also whether there would be a broader public interest in considering the complaint further.

The process we follow to make a decision about unreasonable behaviour

Any member of our staff who directly experiences aggressive or abusive behaviour from a customer, has the authority to deal immediately with that behaviour in a manner they consider appropriate to the situation, and in line with this policy.

With the exception of such immediate decisions taken at the time of an incident, decisions to restrict contact with the Adjudicator’s Office are only taken after careful consideration of the situation by a senior member of staff.

Wherever possible, we will give a customer the opportunity to change their behaviour or actions before we take any action. We will inform the customer that we consider their behaviour is unacceptable (by reference to the policy) and warn them of the actions that we will take if they persist with their conduct.

How do we let people know that we have made this decision?

When a member of our staff makes an immediate decision in response to aggressive or abusive behaviour, the customer is advised at the time of the incident.

When a decision has been made by a senior member of staff, customers will always be informed in writing why a decision has been made to restrict future contact. Customers will also be informed what the restricted contact arrangements are, and if relevant, the length of time that these restrictions will be in place. This ensures that the customer has a record of the decision.

How do we record a decision to restrict contact?

We will always record all incidents of unacceptable actions by customers. Where it is decided to restrict customer contact, an entry noting this and all letters confirming the situation with the customer will be kept on the relevant file.

Can we review a decision to restrict contact?

Yes, a customer can request a review of a decision to restrict contact. If a request is made, we will only consider arguments that relate to the restriction and not to either the complaint made to us, or to our decision to conclude a complaint.

For example, a customer could say that their actions were incorrectly identified as unacceptable, the restrictions were disproportionate, or that they will adversely impact on the individual because of personal circumstances.

We have discretion to remove or alter the restrictions as we think best. Our decision will be based on the evidence available to us. We will advise the customer in writing that either the restricted contact arrangements still apply, or a different course of action has been agreed.

Policy availability

Copies of this policy are available free online, and on request from the Adjudicator’s Office.

On request, this policy can be made available in other languages and formats (such as large print or Braille).

Published 17 July 2014
Last updated 8 December 2020 + show all updates
  1. Removed PDF and published entire document as HTML as part of our accessibility review.

  2. Replaced attached document with updated version, removed reference to faxes.

  3. First published.