1. The OIA is committed to providing a fair, consistent and accessible service for all of our Users. However, the OIA must also provide a safe working environment for our staff, and ensure that our work is undertaken in an efficient and effective manner. We believe that everyone who approaches us has the right to be heard, understood and respected. We also consider that OIA staff have the same rights.
2. We aim to provide a service that is accessible to everyone who is entitled to it. However, the OIA retains the right, where we consider User actions to be unacceptable, to restrict or change such access. We need to ensure that other Users and OIA staff do not suffer any disadvantage from Users who act in an unacceptable manner.
3. This policy sets out the approach which will be taken in circumstances where the actions or behaviour of an individual are considered to be unacceptable. This policy applies to all Users of the scheme; anyone who is interacting or communicating with the OIA, including complainants, their representatives and higher education providers.
4. The OIA recognises that certain forms of mental illness or disability may make it difficult for people to express themselves or communicate clearly. The OIA will always consider making reasonable adjustments for the individual if we are asked to do so – but we may still need to manage contact in these circumstances if considered necessary.
Definitions and examples of unacceptable actions or behaviour
5. The OIA is often the last resort for complainants and we understand that bringing a complaint can be a stressful experience. People may act out of character in times of frustration or distress. Our staff recognise this and, as such, would not necessarily view a User’s actions or behaviour to be unacceptable solely because they appear to be assertive or determined.
6. However, the actions of Users who are angry, demanding, or persistent may result in unreasonable demands on, or unacceptable behaviour towards, OIA staff. It is these actions or behaviour that we consider unacceptable and aim to manage under this guidance. We have grouped these actions or behaviour under two broad headings: ‘aggressive, offensive or abusive actions or behaviour’ and ‘unreasonable demands or persistence’.
Aggressive, offensive or abusive actions or behaviour
7. All of our staff have the right not to be subjected to aggressive, offensive or abusive actions, language or behaviour, regardless of the circumstances
8. Examples of actions or behaviour grouped under this heading include any actions or behaviour that may have the potential to cause staff to feel intimidated, threatened or offended. These include, but are not limited to: threats, physical violence, personal verbal abuse, derogatory remarks, and rudeness. We also consider that inflammatory statements and unsubstantiated allegations can amount to abusive actions or behaviour.
9. Violence is not restricted to acts of aggression that may result in physical harm. It also includes behaviour or language, whether oral or written, that may cause staff to feel afraid, threatened or abused.
Unreasonable demands or persistence
10. The OIA has a responsibility to ensure that our work is undertaken in an efficient and effective manner. Under the Rules of the Scheme, it is for the OIA to decide what information it requires and when. On occasions, Users may make what we consider to be unreasonable demands on the OIA or its staff, through the amount of information they seek or provide, the nature and scale of service they expect, or the frequency of requests for contact. This will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
11. We recognise that some Users will not or cannot accept that the OIA is unable to assist them further or provide an unrealistic level of service. Users may persist in disagreeing with the action or decision taken in relation to their case or contact the OIA persistently about the same issue.
12. Examples of unreasonable demands may include: requesting responses within an unreasonable timescale; insisting on seeing or speaking to a particular member of staff; continual phone calls, emails, or letters; repeatedly changing the substance of the complaint, or raising unrelated concerns. We consider it unreasonable for Users to attend our offices without an agreed appointment, unless they are delivering documents to our reception desk only.
13. Examples of unreasonable persistence include: continual refusal to accept a decision made in relation to a complaint; persistent refusal to accept explanations relating to what the OIA can or cannot do, or continuing to pursue a case once it has been closed by the OIA. The way in which these Users approach the OIA may be entirely reasonable, but it is their persistent behaviour in continuing to do so that is not.
14. We consider that the level of contact has become unacceptable where the amount of time spent talking to the User on the telephone or dealing with written correspondence negatively impacts on our ability to deal with that complaint, or with other complaints.
Our approach to handling unacceptable actions or behaviour
15. When we consider that the actions or behaviour of a User is unacceptable we will tell them why we find it unacceptable and we will give the User the opportunity to modify their actions or behaviour. If the unacceptable actions or behaviour continue, we will take appropriate measures.
16. OIA staff who experience unacceptable behaviour over the telephone have the right to either place callers on hold or end telephone calls. Staff are accountable for their actions and are required to log all instances of when calls have been terminated, noting the reason(s) for ending the call. All telephone calls to the OIA are recorded for service and training purposes.
17. We have to take action when unreasonable actions or behaviour impair the functioning of the OIA. We aim to do this in a way that, wherever possible, allows a complaint to progress through our process. We will try to ensure that any action we take is the minimum required to address the unacceptable actions or behaviour, taking into account any relevant personal circumstances of the User.
18. It may be necessary to apply restrictions to the User’s contact with the OIA or its staff. A decision in this regard may be taken by any OIA manager.
19. The OIA will take any action(s) that it considers to be appropriate in relation to any unacceptable actions or behaviour. Normally we will write to tell the complainant why we believe their behaviour is unacceptable, what action we are taking and the duration of that action. Some of the options that we are likely to consider are:
19.1. To restrict or block future contact from a User. For example, we may:
19.1.1. Limit a User to making telephone calls on a specified day and time per week;
19.1.2. Require that contact is with a specified member of staff only;
19.1.3. Decline to accept any further telephone calls from a User, while still maintaining at least one form of contact.
19.2. To require a User to communicate with the OIA through a representative. Alternatively we might require a User to appoint a different representative.
19.3. Read and file future correspondence but acknowledge or respond to it only if the User is raising new information or making a new complaint.
19.4. To terminate or suspend consideration of a complaint in accordance with the Rules of the Scheme (Rule 9). The User may appeal a decision to suspend or terminate consideration of a complaint (Rule 10). In exceptional cases, we also reserve the right not to consider a future complaint from a User. We will take into account the impact on the User and also whether there is a broader public interest in considering the complaint further.
19.5. Where appropriate, to report the matter to the Police, appropriate governing body or take legal action. In such cases, we may not give the User prior warning of that action.
20. We will record all incidents of unacceptable actions or behaviour by Users and any action taken by the OIA to address these.
21. Any User who is unhappy with a decision made by the OIA under this policy has the right to submit a complaint to the Head of Leadership Office. S/he will consider it in line with the OIA’s 'complaints about our service' policy. If the User has appealed against a decision to suspend or terminate our review under Rule 9, that appeal will be considered before the Head of Leadership considers the service complaint.