Complaints about councillors - guidance notes
Making a complaint
The complaint must be made in writing and include evidence as to why you believe the councillor has breached the code of conduct, and which particular paragraph(s) of the code you feel may have been breached.
It is important that you provide all the information you wish to have taken into account by the Monitoring Officer when he or she decides whether to take any action on your complaint. For example:
- You should be specific, wherever possible, about exactly what you are alleging the member said or did. For instance, instead of writing that the member insulted you, you should state what it was they said.
- You should provide the dates of the alleged incidents wherever possible. If you cannot provide exact dates it is important to give a general timeframe.
- You should confirm whether there are any witnesses to the alleged conduct and provide their names and contact details if possible.
- You should provide any background information – but this must to be relevant to the alleged breaches of the Code of Conduct or may be disregarded
Please note that complaints can be withdrawn by the complainant at any stage with the agreement of the Monitoring Officer.
Contact details and requesting confidentiality
We cannot accept complaints that have been made anonymously. Your address and contact details will not usually be released unless necessary or to deal with your complaint.
However, we will tell the following people that you have made this complaint:
- the member(s) you are complaining about
- the monitoring officer of the authority
- parish or town clerk (if applicable)
We will tell them your name and may give them a summary of your complaint. We will give them full details of your complaint where necessary or appropriate to be able to deal with it. If you have serious concerns about your name and a summary, or details of your complaint being released, please complete Section 5 of our web form.
Please note that requests for confidentiality or requests for suppression of complaint details will not automatically be granted. The Monitoring Officer will consider the request alongside the substance of your complaint. We will then contact you with the decision. If your request for confidentiality is not granted, we will usually allow you the option of withdrawing your complaint.
What will happen to your complaint?
Your complaint will first be reviewed by the Monitoring Officer. You need to be aware that the Monitoring Officer may dismiss your complaint or request additional information if:
- the person you are complaining about is no longer a councillor
- the conduct you are complaining about happened more than six months before you complained
- the conduct you are complaining about happened in the councillor's private life, not when they were acting as a councillor
- the complaint is essentially against the action of the council as a whole and cannot properly be directed against individual member(s)
- the complaint is made anonymously
- there is no evidence that the code has been breached or there is not enough information to take the matter further
- the same or substantially the same issue has been the subject of a previous code of conduct allegation and there is nothing further to be gained
If your complaint is not dismissed for any of these reasons, it will then be considered in three stages - the aim being to reach a satisfactory resolution.
Under stages one and two only the details contained on your complaint form will be considered. Therefore it is very important that you set your complaint out briefly, clearly and provide all the information you wish to be considered.
We will tell the councillor what you are complaining about and that we have received a complaint and provide them with a copy, unless you have completed section 5 of the form requesting confidentiality and there is a good reason for your identity to be withheld.
The councillor will be invited to respond within 20 working days, including in his or her response any suggestion to resolve the complaint. This response will be made available to you and you will be asked if you are satisfied with it, or whether you wish your complaint to be considered further under stage two. If you are satisfied with the response, no further action will be taken, or the action proposed by the councillor will proceed.
Your complaint will then be considered by the Council's Monitoring Officer in consultation with a duly appointed independent person whose views will be taken into account. The Monitoring Officer will decide whether your complaint should be referred for investigation. This will normally happen within 20 working days of the date of the commencement of stage two. Where your complaint relates to a Parish Councillor, the Monitoring Officer may also inform the Parish Council or your complaint and seek the views of the Parish Council before deciding whether the complaint merits formal investigation.
The possible outcomes at Stage Two are:
- No action – if the complaint is determined as not serious enough to be investigated or without foundation.
- Informal resolution of the complaint – where appropriate, the Monitoring Officer will seek to resolve the complaint by informal and immediate action such as the giving of an apology or explanation by the Member concerned.
- Formal investigation - if a complaint is serious enough to merit formal investigation and it meets certain referral criterian an investigator be appointed to investigate the complaint.
If a complaint is serious enough to merit formal investigation the Monitoring Officer will appoint an investigator, who will review the evidence submitted. The investigator may meet with the complainant and the councillor who is the subject of the complaint and others as appropriate to the complaint. An investigation report will then be provided to the Monitoring Officer.
If a breach is identified, the Monitoring Officer may either decide:
- Local resolution - after consulting with the independent person that a local resolution is appropriate and can be achieved or
- Standards hearing panel - that the matter should be referred to a standards hearing panel, in line with the hearing panel procedure
Hearing panel - possible outcomes
If a complaint has been assessed, then investigated and referred to the hearing panel, the panel has a range of possible actions including, in serious cases, censure or reprimand of the councillor concerned.
The hearing panel has no power to suspend or disqualify the councillor or to withdraw councillors' basic or special responsibility allowances.
It is important to note that our hearing panel and the Monitoring Officer have no powers to instruct parish councils to take any particular action, but can recommend a particular action to them.
There is no right of appeal for you as complainant, or for the councillor, against a decision of the Monitoring Officer or of the hearing panel.