A young person's guide to the police complaints system
You have a right to complain if you’re not happy with how you’ve been treated by the police. If you’ve got a problem or you’re unhappy about something that happened to you which involved the police, it can usually be sorted out by speaking to the police force. But if they can’t put things right for you, then you can make a complaint.
What do I need to know about making a complaint?
- We have oversight of police complaints made to 43 police forces across England and Wales. This means we have access to data and can analyse it to look at trends, patterns and issues.
- We are not the police - we make decisions independently of the police and government.
- We set the rules that police forces must follow when handling complaints.
- Police forces handle most complaints locally.
- We investigate the most serious complaints, like those involving deaths, serious injuries or corruption.
How can I complain about the police?
- You can contact the police force directly.
- You can fill in our online complaint form and we will send your complaint to the police force involved.
- If you want to complain in person at the police station, you can bring someone with you.
- With your permission, someone can make a complaint on your behalf.
What are the possible outcomes?
- The police may give you an explanation for what happened.
- The police may provide you with an apology.
- The officers involved could be given training and development.
- The force may change their policy (rules) or procedures (the way they do things).
- The officers involved could face disciplinary action (such as a written warning, a reduction in rank or dismissal).
- Read about how we carry out independent investigations.
What can I expect if I complain?
- The person dealing with the complaint will contact you to get the details. They should ask you what you want to happen.
- You can expect to be listened to and treated fairly.
- You will be kept updated about the progress of your complaint. You must receive an update every 28 days.
- When your complaint is finalised, you will be contacted about the outcome and any action that will be taken as a result.
- If you’re not happy with the result, you may be able to request a review or an appeal.
This guide was put together by our Youth Panel. If you think we should add more information or you have any suggestions to make it more helpful, please email us.
A guide to the police complaints system for young people
Frequently asked questions
If your complaint can be resolved quickly
If your complaint can be resolved fairly quickly and you are satisfied, then your complaint does not need to be looked into further and will not be recorded. For example, if you make a complaint and the force provides you with an explanation that you are satisfied with.
If your complaint is not recorded, the police force will still log information about your complaint into a database. This is so they can look at the complaints they receive to spot themes and trends.
Recording a complaint means that the person handling your complaint must follow certain processes and you will have the right to ask for a review if you are not happy with the outcome.
If your complaint cannot be resolved quickly
If your complaint cannot be resolved fairly quickly, then the police force must record your complaint and look into it further. This may or may not involve an investigation.
You can ask for your complaint to be recorded if you 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. An allegation is a claim that someone has done something wrong. For example, an allegation of assault or theft.
The police force will look into your complaint and assess it. They should handle it in a way that is reasonable and in proportion to the nature of your complaint. In some situations, this may involve an investigation but not always.
For some complaints, the police force may take steps to work out what happened. They will then provide you with an explanation or information about what happened. In some circumstances they may take no action with your complaint – for example, if you have made the complaint before and it has already been looked at.
For certain serious complaints, the force may carry out an investigation. If this is the case, the police force will write to you to tell you that your complaint will be investigated and how a decision will be reached.
Certain types of serious complaints must be referred to us. For example, when someone dies or is seriously injured during contact with the police or cases of serious corruption. Corruption includes behaviour such as accepting money in return for intentionally not doing your job properly.
The police force must also refer certain other allegations to us. For example, allegations that an officer seriously assaulted someone or committed a serious sexual offence. We then decide whether the complaint should be handled by us or by the police force.
If your complaint is recorded and handled by the police force, but you are unhappy with the outcome, you can apply for a review or an appeal of the outcome. Depending on the complaint, the review may be done by the police and crime commissioner for the police force involved in your complaint, or it may be done by us.
Police and crime commissioners are elected by the public to hold police chief constables to account and make sure they provide an effective police service in their area. Each force has a police and crime commissioner. Read more about reviews under the question below ‘What if I am not happy with the way my complaint was handled? Can I ask for a review (appeal)?’
We look at how things are working across the whole complaints system, which covers 43 police forces across England and Wales. We look at statistics across the system to spot trends and patterns, and work with forces to improve how they handle complaints and reviews.
If you make a complaint, you should expect to hear soon afterwards from the police force handling it. The force should make sure they have all the details about your complaint and ask how you would like to be contacted (for example, by phone, letter or email).
They should provide you with an update every 28 days in writing. If this hasn’t happened, you should contact the police force involved in your complaint for an update.
There is no limit on how long it takes to resolve a complaint – the length of time will depend on the individual complaint. A straightforward complaint could be resolved in a week, but a more complex complaint could take many months or over a year. When we investigate a complaint, we aim to complete the majority of investigations within 12 months.
Whether your complaint is looked into by the force or by us, once someone is assigned to it, they should update you on progress every 28 days.
Yes; if your complaint has been recorded you have the right to ask for a review, or appeal. The letter or email telling you the outcome of your complaint should explain how to ask for a review, and the time limit to do this.
You have 28 days, from the day after the date on the letter or email, to apply for a review, or appeal. The letter will also tell you who to send your application for a review to. This could be the police and crime commissioner for the police force involved in your complaint or us.