Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC - formerly IPCC)
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Police forces prepare for new complaints system

As police forces in England and Wales continue to implement reforms to the complaints system, the Independent Office for Police Conduct has today published the final statistics for complaints recorded under the old system.

The police complaints system changed on 1 February 2020 as a result of regulations introduced by the government under the Policing and Crime Act 2017.

The changes aim to simplify the complaints system, making it easier to navigate and putting a greater emphasis on handling complaints in a reasonable and proportionate manner.

Director General Michael Lockwood said:

“An effective complaints system is vital for public confidence in policing and that is why we have welcomed the significant reforms introduced earlier this year.

“We welcome the broader definition of a complaint to “any expression of dissatisfaction with a police force” and agree that all complaints should receive a reasonable and proportionate response.  We also welcome the introduction of a simplified process when complainants are not satisfied with that response.

“We know many police forces began to adopt the spirit of the reforms when the legislation was delayed last year. This report shows an increased use of local resolution which could suggest police forces are already taking a more proportionate approach to handling complaints.

“We will continue to work closely with the police and other policing bodies to help them embed the new reforms and deliver an improved complaints system for both complainants and the police.’’

To find out more about the complaints system, including how to make a complaint, see our website.

Statistical findings this year:

These are the last statistics before the police complaints and disciplinary systems were significantly reformed (with effect from 1 February 2020). Complaints recorded after 1 February 2020 are not included in this report and will be published alongside the 2020/21 statistics.

The changes to the complaints system are significant and we know that some forces began to adopt the spirit of the reforms throughout the year. In this context and without a full year’s data it would not be meaningful to compare these statistics to previous years, establish trends and draw conclusions about any changes.

Between 1 April 2019 and 31 January 2020 police forces recorded 28,223 complaints containing 54,015 allegations, 86% were recorded within the target of ten working days.

Allegations of ‘other neglect or failure in duty’ accounted for 41% of all allegations recorded, in line with the trend in previous years. This category relates to how officers responded to or investigated incidents and can cover a wide range of issues.

Almost half of all allegations were handled through local resolution (48%), with over a third subject to a local investigation (39%). This reflects the trend seen last year to use local resolution for an increasing number of complaints. On average, local resolutions took significantly less time to conclude than local investigations (73 and 151 working days respectively).

When a complainant is unhappy with the way their complaint has been handled, there is a right of appeal. Appeals are handled by the appropriate body which under the 2012 regulations was the Chief Officer of the police force or the IOPC.

Chief officers received 3,512 appeals and upheld 16% of those following local resolution and 15% of those following local investigations.

The IOPC dealt with 2,858 appeals and upheld 49% of those following local resolution and 34% of those following investigation by the police force.

The IOPC dealt with 1,305 appeals relating to the recording of complaints and upheld 40% of those.  

  • Police forces deal with most complaints themselves, with the IOPC handling only the most serious and sensitive cases.
  • Under the 2012 regulations, the first stage of complaint handling is for the relevant police force to decide whether to record the complaint. When a complaint is recorded, it must be dealt with according to certain rules and guidance. If the force does not record a complaint, the complainant can appeal against this decision to the IOPC.
  • People can also appeal at the end of their complaint if they are not happy with how the police have handled it. In some instances, this appeal right is to the IOPC. Other appeals are handled by police forces.
  • The 2020 regulations have made significant changes to the police complaints system. These include that if the complaint can be resolved quickly and the complainant is satisfied, then it will not be recorded under the Police Reform Act 2002 (although details about it will be logged). If the complaint cannot be resolved quickly then the police force must record it and handle it under Schedule 3 to the Police Reform Act 2002. This may or may not involve an investigation.
  • Complainants can ask for their complaint to be recorded if they are unhappy that it has not been recorded.
  • By law, certain serious complaints must be recorded. This includes complaints that could result in criminal charges for an officer, if the allegation was proven.
  • For certain serious complaints, the force may carry out an investigation.
  • Certain types of serious complaints must be referred to the IOPC, such as when someone dies or is seriously injured during contact with the police, cases of serious corruption, or allegations that an officer seriously assaulted someone or committed a serious sexual offence. The IOPC then decides whether the complaint should be handled by us or by the police force. 
  • If a complainant is unhappy with the outcome, they can apply for a review of the outcome. Depending on the complaint, the review may be done by the police and crime commissioner for the police force involved in the complaint, or it may be done by the IOPC.


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