Arun council’s unreasonable behaviour policy to deal with ‘challenging’ members of the public

Councillors are being asked to approve a new policy to deal with ‘challenging’ members of the public.

Arun District Council’s corporate support committee – which oversees matters such as customer services, communications and elections – will decide whether to adopt an ‘unreasonable behaviour’ policy.

Council staff say the policy is needed because there has been an ‘increase in challenging behaviour from a minority of customers’ in recent years.

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

The policy would apply to members of the public who act ‘unreasonably’ when making a complaint; making a request under the Freedom of Information Act; requesting information under the Data Protection Act; or making a GDPR complaint.

Arun District Council is set to adopt an unreasonable behaviour policy

The council’s monitoring officer says the new policy could ‘safeguard the mental health of staff’ and ‘ensure that genuine complaints are processed’.

A person or group could be barred from making complaints on the phone, restricted to talking to one staff member, or have legal action taken against them by the council if they breach the policy.

This would happen if they made unjustified or repeated complaints; introduced ‘trivial’ or ‘irrelevant’ information during the complaints process; made ‘excessive’ demands on staff time through lengthy phone calls or emails; or acted in an abusive or aggressive manner.

Ultimately, the council’s information management team would decide whether a person has breached the policy. The policy would then be shared with the person or group, giving them an opportunity to ‘amend their behaviour’.

Any action taken against a person for acting ‘unreasonably’ would be reviewed after six months.

This comes just months after the council reported an ‘unprecedented’ number of complaints about councillor conduct.

This was partially attributed to meetings being live streamed during the pandemic and some of the complaints were about councillors eating, drinking, or smoking during virtual meetings.

The majority of complaints were not investigated further but leaders of the council’s various political groups did ask councillors to be ‘mindful of their behaviour at public meetings’.

Complaints have since returned to normal levels, say council officers, with ‘very few formal complaints submitted’.

Councillors will vote on the policy during a meeting on Tuesday (18 January).