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What is a complaint?

A complaint is any expression of dissatisfaction with a police force that is expressed by, or on behalf of, a member of the public.  It must be made by a person who meets the definition of a complaint.

Who can complain?

A complainant must be a member of the public who:

  • claims to be the person in relation to whom the conduct took place
  • claims to have been adversely affected by the conduct
  • claims to have witnessed the conduct, or
  • is acting on behalf of someone who satisfies one of the above three criteria

Who can’t complain?

A person cannot make a complaint if:

  • at the time of the alleged conduct they were under the direction and control of the same chief officer as the person whose conduct it was, or
  • they are a person serving with the police, a National Crime Agency officer or a person on relevant service (within the meaning of section 97(1)(a) or (d) of the Police Act 1996) and were on duty at the time that:
  • the conduct took place in relation to them
  • they were adversely affected by it, or
  • they witnessed it

Definition of adversely affected

A person will be considered to have been adversely affected if they have suffered any form of loss, damage, distress or inconvenience as a result of the matter complained about, if they have been put in danger or otherwise unduly put at risk of being adversely affected.

A person will not be considered to have been adversely affected solely by virtue of having seen or heard about the conduct or its effects, (for example, in the news or being told about it by a third party) unless they:

  • were physically present or sufficiently nearby when the conduct took place, or the effects occurred, and saw or heard the conduct or its effects, or
  • were adversely affected due to the fact that they knew the person directly affected by the conduct before it happened.

Definition of witness

A person can be said to be a witness to the conduct if, and only if:

  • they have acquired their knowledge of the conduct in a manner which would make them a competent witness capable of giving admissible evidence of that conduct in criminal proceedings, or
  • they possess or have in their control anything that could be used as admissible evidence in such proceedings.


When should I complain?

There is no time limit for making a complaint, although you should try to do it as quickly as possible.

Are all complaints recorded?

A complaint must also be recorded and handled under Schedule 3 if the chief officer or local policing body (where it is the appropriate authority or it has taken on responsibility for the initial handling of complaints) decides that it is appropriate or if the complaint:

  • is an allegation that the matter complained of resulted in death or serious injury
  • is an allegation that, if proved, might constitute a criminal offence by a person serving with the police or justify the bringing of disciplinary proceedings40
  • is about conduct or any other matter which, if proved, might have involved the infringement of a person’s rights under Articles 2 or 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights
  • meets any of the mandatory referral criteria


What happens if I am not satisfied with the outcome of my complaint?

If, at the conclusion of your complaint you are still dissatisfied you have a right of review. A letter informing you of the outcome of the complaint will tell you how to have your complaint reviewed.