Managing unreasonable complainant conduct

What is unreasonable complainant conduct?

Organisations are responsible for managing customer complaints.

While most complainants behave in a cooperative and respectful way, officers are often confronted with unreasonable complainant conduct (UCC).

UCC is any conduct by a current or former complainant which raises substantial health, safety, resource or equity issues for the agency, its staff and other clients.

Identifying and managing unreasonable complaint conduct

Organisations should have policies or guidelines that clearly outline the conduct expected of their staff and complainants. All officers who handle complaints should be trained to identify and effectively manage UCC.

Identifying UCC

  1. Look for warning signs
  • complainant’s history
  • style/content of communication
  • interaction with organisation
  • outcomes sought
  • reaction to advice or decisions.
  1. Assess whether their conduct is reasonable
  • likely impact on staff, other clients and service delivery
  • merit of the issues raised
  • complainant’s circumstances
  • proportionality
  • responsiveness
  • whether personal boundaries have been breached.
  1. Categorise conduct
  • persistence
  • demands
  • level of cooperation
  • arguments.
  1. Consider and select strategies
  • history of complainant’s interactions with organisation
  • history of success  - what methods already used
  • likely level of impact on staff, other clients and service delivery
  • personal thresholds and skill level of complaint handlers
  • organisation policy, procedures and protocol.
  1. Implement strategies
  • put strategies into practice
  • record assessment and strategy
  • communicate strategy.
  1. Monitor strategies
  • complainant/staff response
  • level of success
  • alter strategy as required.

Managing UCC

  • protects the health and safety of officers, complainants and others
  • ensures fairness in the complaints process
  • makes the complaint process more efficient.

Strategies to minimise unreasonable complaint conduct

People have a right to complain about perceived failings or issues that affect them.

However, officers and members of the public also have a right to dignity, physical and emotional safety, and respect.

How officers interact with complainants can also have a significant effect on their conduct and the quality of future interactions.

The following strategies may help prevent or minimise UCC:

  • Set clear expectations for officers who deal with complainants. Officers should treat complainants fairly and respectfully, remain calm, act professionally and impartially and clearly communicate outcomes. Complainants who feel they have been heard, properly informed and treated with respect are more likely to respond positively, even when faced with a negative outcome.
  • Establish ground rules about the conduct expected of complainants and make the organisation's expectations clear and publicly available.
  • Clearly communicate relevant information to complainants. Let them know what the organisation can/cannot do, what communication they can expect, who will be involved, the organisation’s processes, timelines and possible outcomes.
  • Identify, test and manage expectations at the outset, and throughout the complaints process. This involves defining the complaint issues, identifying the complainant’s requested outcomes, correcting misunderstandings, and redefining unrealistic/unreasonable expectations.
  • Exercise ownership of complaints. Make sure complainants are aware that the organisation will decide if and how their complaint will be dealt with.
  • Avoid labelling complainants - this can negatively influence how they are dealt with. Instead, respond to observable conduct.
  • Recognise the early signs of anger and use techniques to avoid escalation.
  • Make and keep good records of complainant interactions.

Managing Unreasonable Complaint Conduct Manual 2012

The Managing Unreasonable Complaint Conduct Manual 2012 (PDF 1.4MB) was an Australian Parliamentary Ombudsman project that sought to minimise the often disproportionate and unreasonable impacts of UCC on public organisations, their staff, services, time and resources by proposing a framework of strategies for managing such conduct.These strategies have been incorporated into a practice manual for organisations and their staff.

Training courses

We deliver the following training:

  • Good decisions training is a program designed to help officers make better decisions. The training is suitable for all public sector decision-makers, including supervisors and managers.
  • Complaints management training helps officers who deal with complaints, including officers who internally review complaints.
  • Public sector ethics training focuses on the guiding principles of the Code of Conduct for the Queensland Public Service introduced in 2011. The program is supported by a suite of scenario-based activities.
  • Managing unreasonable conduct training is a half-day course designed to help officers manage unreasonable conduct they may encounter when delivering services to the public.