Council chiefs to ignore ‘nuisance’ complainers

Edinburgh City Council will ban and ignore complainers who have been blacklisted. Picture: Martin Smith
Edinburgh City Council will ban and ignore complainers who have been blacklisted. Picture: Martin Smith
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A BLACKLIST of “nuisance” complainers is to be created by the council, sparking fears that residents with genuine concerns will be silenced.

The new measure appears in an updated policy detailing how council workers should handle situations where members of the public are judged to be displaying “unacceptable” behaviour.

Jason Rust. Picture: TSPL

Jason Rust. Picture: TSPL

As part of moves to tighten up procedure in “extreme” cases, a new list will catalogue the names of all those barred from having direct personal contact with staff.

Communication with blacklisted complainers will instead be limited to letters and third-party organisations.

Actions deemed unacceptable will continue to be grouped according to whether they are aggressive or abusive, or involve “unreasonable” demands, levels of contact and use of the complaints process.

City chiefs said they did not envisage having to add many names to the list and insisted it would only be used in exceptional circumstances.

However, opposition politicians voiced concern it could quickly become a tool for stifling legitimate public criticism of those instances where service has fallen short.

Councillor Jason Rust, Conservative member for Colinton-Fairmilehead, said: “The 
criteria needs to be strict and any markers justifying inclusion on such a list used extremely carefully.

“Other than in exceptional circumstances residents need to be fully advised as to why they would be on such a list. This cannot be used for petty disagreements or for trying to silence residents from complaining where an issue is difficult or not easily resolvable.

“I would be concerned if this is a way to reduce transparency and accountability. Existing powers to deal with aggressive or threatening individuals need to be fully considered prior to forging ahead with this and a pilot period would be vital if financial resources are being expended.”

He added: “If this is a centralised list, it’s important that it’s backed up by genuinely legitimate reasons. We don’t want to create unnecessary bureaucracy.”

Fears the new database will be used to repress complaints have been echoed by Cllr Gavin Corbett, Green member for Fountainbridge-Craiglockhart.

“It helps neither the customer nor the staff member if situations descend into abuse or aggression, so it is quite proper for the complaints system to deal with that decisively,” he said.

“However, the council needs to recognise that it has a recent history of spectacular service failures, most obviously in property repairs, and residents will, justifiably, feel angry and frustrated by such failures.

“So a great deal of care is needed to ensure that the policy is not just screening out contacts that are found to be difficult or uncomfortable.”

City chiefs stressed that anyone who has their contact with the council restricted would be able to appeal, with all cases scrutinised by a review panel.

Cllr Alasdair Rankin, finance and resources leader, said: “The main reason for reviewing our existing policy is to ensure it is consistent with the Scottish public services ombudsman guidance. This policy is only invoked in exceptional circumstances where a complainant is showing unacceptable behaviour towards our staff or demands on our service, and has exhausted our complaints handling procedure.

“The amended policy provides clearer guidance for both staff and members of the public. This means customers are supported appropriately and now also have the right to appeal.”