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FAQ about making a complaint

What can I complain about?

You can complain about behaviour that has directly affected you, adversely affected you or you have witnessed. If you wish to make a complaint on behalf of someone else who falls into one of the above categories, you require written permission from the person affected. Solicitors must also gain such written permission if they are acting on a person’s behalf.

If you think that a police officer or member of police staff has behaved incorrectly or unfairly, you have a right to make a complaint.

People who work in the police service should behave appropriately at all times. Expectations about the behaviour of both police officers and staff are set out in the Code of Ethics.

These expectations include requirements to:

  • act with honesty, integrity, fairness and impartiality
  • treat members of the public and colleagues with respect
  • not abuse their powers and authority
  • act in a manner that does not discredit or undermine public confidence in the police service

If you feel that someone working for the police has not met these standards, you can make a complaint. These types of complaints are dealt with under the Police Reform Act 2002.

How can I make a complaint?

  • By completing our online complaints form
  • By visiting your local police station and requesting a police officer or member of staff to take details of your complaint.
  • By calling 101.
  • By writing to the IPCC at: Independent Police Complaints Commission, 90 High Holborn, London, WC1V 6BH.
  • By visiting www.ipcc.gov.uk or calling them on 0300 020 0096
  • By contacting your local Citizens Advice Bureau
  • By contacting your solicitor or your MP
  • For complaints about the Chief Constable visit the website of the Police and Crime Commissioner.

What do I need to include in my complaint?

When making your complaint you should include information such as:

  • what happened
  • when it happened
  • who was involved
  • what was said or done
  • were there any witnesses
  • was there any damage or injury caused
  • any reference numbers given

This will enable your complaint to be dealt with more efficiently. Please also include your full name, date of birth and full address.

What is the role of the Professional Standards Department?

The Professional Standards department (PSD) is responsible for the management of all public complaints, whether they are made about police officers, police staff or special constables. PSD is completely separate from the officers or members of staff who are complained about and are responsible for recording when a complaint is made. In addition, they investigate the more serious allegations of misconduct involving police officers and special constables. PSD provide the link between the police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and ensure that any serious matters are referred to the IPCC as soon as possible.

What is the role of the Independent Police Complaints Commission?

Complaints about the conduct of people serving with the police can be sent to the IPCC, but the IPCC does not have the power to record complaints. If you complain to the IPCC, it must by law, forward the complaint back to the force involved for consideration. It can take a number of weeks before a complaint is forwarded to the relevant force. In order to have your complaint dealt with as quickly as possible, we advise you to complain directly to the police force concerned.

The IPCC also investigates the most serious complaints and allegations of misconduct against the police in England and Wales. These complaints are referred to the IPCC by police forces. The IPCC may decide to investigate an incident using its own investigators (an independent investigator). Alternatively, it can manage or supervise a police investigation into the matter. The IPCC will only conduct independent investigations into incidents that cause the greatest level of public concern - for example, deaths in, or following police custody.

What is the role of the Police and Crime Commissioner?

The Police and Crime Commissioner has responsibility for delivering an efficient and effective police service in their area. The Commissioner’s role is to support and, when necessary, challenge the Chief Constable. With respect to complaints, the Police and Crime Commissioner is required to monitor all complaints made against officers and staff, while having responsibility for complaints against the Chief Constable.

Who will my complaint be dealt by?

Once your complaint is accepted and recorded as being about the conduct of a police officer or member of police staff, it will be dealt with in one of two ways:

Local resolution

Local resolution is an informal approach to resolving complaints. It allows forces to learn lessons and improve the way they do things. Many people prefer their complaint to be dealt with in this way. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) believes that when it is carried out effectively and used appropriately, local resolution of less serious matters has a key part to play in the complaints system and in ensuring public confidence.

A local manager will discuss your complaint with you and draw up an action plan covering the issues you have raised. Once the action plan has been completed, you will be written to and a copy of the action plan sent to you.

If at the end of the local resolution process you are dissatisfied with the outcome, you have a right of appeal. In most cases your appeal will be dealt with by a senior police officer within the Professional Standards Department, although in some cases the appeal will be dealt with by the IPCC. You will be advised in writing at the end of the local resolution process who will deal with any appeal you wish to make.

Local investigation

If your complaint is not suitable for local resolution, a local investigation will be carried out by a police investigator. The investigator will usually be assigned from your local police area, however, more serious complaints will be dealt with by an investigator from the Professional Standards Department.

You will be informed how your complaint will be investigated, what co-operation is required from you, how a decision will be reached and what action will be taken at the end of the investigation. The type of investigation will depend on the nature and seriousness of your complaint and the likely outcome. An investigation might range from telephone enquiries conducted in a few hours to a more extensive process, perhaps taking a number of months.

You can appeal if you are unhappy with the outcome of the police investigation into your complaint. Most appeals will be dealt with again by a senior officer within the Professional Standards Department. However, appeals about more serious matters, and those dealt with by investigators from Professional Standards, will be dealt with by the IPCC.

How do I appeal against the way the police have handled my complaint?

If you have made a complaint against the police and you are not happy with the way it has been handled, you may be able to appeal. The appeal will be dealt with by either a senior officer within the Professional Standards Department or the IPCC. This is dependent on a number of factors. Generally, appeals in respect of the more serious allegations will continue to be dealt with by the IPCC. There are four types of appeal:

  • appeals against a complaint not being recorded. These are always dealt with by the IPCC - appeal to the IPCC
  • appeals against the local resolution outcome. These can be dealt with by the IPCC or the police. The correct route will have been explained to you in the letter we have sent you.
  • appeals against the police investigation into your complaint. These can be dealt with by the IPCC or the police. The correct route will have been explained to you in the letter we have sent you.
  • appeals against a decision to disapply or discontinue dealing with your complaint.

Please check your complaint decision letter (sent to you by the local police). This will tell you whether to appeal to the IPCC or appeal to the local force. For more information please visit ipcc.gov.uk/appeals

What about complaints about force policy and procedure?

Not all complaints received relate to members of staff, some relate to the policies and procedures in place which support the day to day running of the force, such as operational policies, organisational decisions and management and general policing standards. These types of complaints are known as 'direction and control'. They fall outside of the Police Reform Act 2002 and therefore do not carry an appeal right at the conclusion of this type of complaint.

These are recorded within the Professional Standards Department and a responsible officer/staff member asked to provide a response to any matters raised. For example, if a member of the public expresses dissatisfaction with the number of officers in their neighbourhood, this is considered to be a direction and control complaint.

Dependent upon the nature of the complaint, a direction and control matter could result in:

  • an explanation of a particular policy or procedure and the reason for it
  • a review or reconsideration of a particular policy or procedure
  • an alteration of a particular policy or procedure

In every case you will receive a response in writing, in relation to the issues raised, with the findings and decisions.

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