Unreasonable Customer Conduct Procedure FAQ

In September 2017, Council introduced an Unreasonable Customer Conduct Procedure and we have prepared this FAQ to help our community understand its context.

If you have any questions about the procedure please email council@esc.nsw.gov.au. We will respond to your query and add your question if it is relevant to the broader community.

Frequently Asked Questions.

1.Why did Council introduce an Unreasonable Customer Conduct Procedure?

The new procedure replaces the Complaints - Repetitive Complainants, and Complaints - Difficult Complainants codes that were in effect in our Council from 2006.  The 4 yearly review of our policies finished in September 2017 and as part of this, we also reviewed some of our related codes and procedures.  For best practice, we took the opportunity to work with the NSW Ombudsman and develop an Unreasonable Customer Conduct Procedure that is based on their model policy and procedure for Managing Unreasonable Complainant Conduct. This also allows Council to take advantage of resources provided by the NSW Ombudsman to support the procedure. Most of the changes relate to language style and format rather than changes to the aim of Council's previous codes of practice on this matter.   The aim of the procedure is to help us manage unreasonable customers to ensure a healthy, safe and secure work environment for staff and councillors, and to ensure we allocate customer service resources fairly for all Council's customers.

2.Do other councils have the same type of procedure in place?

This type of procedure is commonplace in government agencies, organisations and not-for-profit organisations across Australia. It is based on the NSW Ombudsman's Managing Unreasonable Complainant Conduct model policy and procedure. Some examples of other agencies that come up on a Google search using the search term 'unreasonable customer conduct procedure' are Bega Valley Shire Council, City of Sydney, City of Adelaide, Mornington Peninsula Council, City of Casey (Vic), Hume City Council, and Monash University.

3.Why wasn't it put on public exhibition?

Procedures and codes of practice are considered operational matters on which councils are not required to seek feedback through public exhibition. Procedures are different from policies, which councils are required to put on public exhibition. The framework for the Unreasonable Customer Conduct procedure is outlined in the Customer Service Policy (Section 8) adopted by Council on 27 June 2017 after a public exhibition period during which no submissions were received. The intent and application of the Unreasonable Customer Conduct procedure is not new as it was developed from a review of two earlier Council codes on the matter (see Q1). Using Council's Engagement Planning Tool as a guide, it was determined that the new procedure would only have a minimal impact on a very small number of people in the community who would be informed in writing.  Also, as the procedure is based on the NSW Ombudsman's Managing Unreasonable Complainant Conduct model and was developed with, and approved by the NSW Ombudsman and consistent with best practice; there was no reason to seek further feedback.   The appropriate level of engagement was considered to be to let the community know by advertising it in Noticeboard which is available on Council's website and in local print newspapers, and making the procedure available on the website.

4.Will people who contact Council regularly be issued a warning letter?

The Procedure only relates to a very small number of people whose behaviour is considered to be extreme and unreasonable. That type of behaviour is explained in detail in the Procedure, and summarised in Q5.

We believe it is quite reasonable for many customers to be in regular and frequent contact with Council. They may be addressing one or more specific matters they are personally or indirectly involved with.

It is also reasonable that people in our community who have a keen interest and understanding of Council matters have regular and frequent contact with Council and Councillors. We appreciate and respect their interest and feedback and we do our best to provide the information they need so they can be accurately informed. Their feedback gives us a better understanding of the community's needs and expectations, and they can help identify issues and different perspectives.

5.What is Unreasonable Customer Conduct?

Unreasonable Customer Conduct is explained in detail in the Procedure and we encourage readers wanting to know more to read the full Procedure.

Most of Council's customers act reasonably and responsibly, even if they are experiencing distress, frustration or anger about a particular matter. Council has many thousands of positive and productive customer service interactions in person, by email and phone every year.

There are however a very small number who behave in ways that are inappropriate and unacceptable and that compromise the health, safety and security of Council staff, other customers or the customer himself/ herself. Some customers waste staff time and Council resources without good reason and this has an unfair impact on our ability to provide services to everyone who needs them.

They may;

  • be aggressive and verbally or physically abusive towards Councillors and staff
  • threaten harm and violence including the threat to use a weapon
  • stalk staff in person or online
  • inundate Council's offices with unnecessary and excessive phone calls and emails
  • make inappropriate demands on Council's time and resources
  • refuse to accept Council's decisions and recommendations in relation to their matter
  • persistently demand a response to a question, even after the answer has been provided
  • repeatedly send irrelevant and disorganised information without clearly defining any issues
  • repeatedly present arguments that are not supported by evidence
  • persistently demand a response to a question, even after the answer has been repeatedly provided
  • repeatedly demand services that Council cannot provide despite this being explained.

When customers behave in these ways, we will consider their conduct to be 'unreasonable' in one or more of five categories which are explained in detail in the Procedure.

  • Unreasonable persistence
  • Unreasonable demands
  • Unreasonable lack of cooperation
  • Unreasonable arguments
  • Unreasonable behaviours.

6.Do you have an example of unreasonable persistence?

An example might be phoning or emailing more than thirty times a month with demands for detailed information on multiple matters, or in some cases on the same matter such as an adopted policy or legislation, despite already receiving a response.

7.What could happen to unreasonable customers?

Council could issue a warning to the individual that if this behaviour continues, we may restrict the number of requests we will respond to in a given period. For someone who is repeatedly aggressive or offensive to our staff, we might restrict access to staff and only acknowledge emails sent to the council@esc.nsw.gov.au address.

8.How many unreasonable customers does Council have?

As at 12 October, only one warning letter has been issued where the customer acted in a way which put staff at risk.  The person has been asked to limit interaction to phone and written requests rather than come into council's offices. This will be reviewed after six months.

9.Does the procedure mean a person is no longer able to contact Council?

No. The aim of the procedure is to help us manage unreasonable behaviour, not stop contact. If a person behaves in an unreasonable manner the procedure may be applied and certain restrictions may be imposed.