Complaints Against the Police

Most people come to us for help with claims against the police. In appropriate circumstances they also make police complaints.

Find out more about the police complaints process here.

Alternatively, contact us on 08000 124 246 or complete the contact form on this page.

What are Police Complaints?

Complaints are investigated by the police’s local Professional Standards Department and the Independent Office for Police Conduct (“IOPC”). The IOPC replaced the Independent Police Complaints Commission (“IPCC”) on 8 January 2018. The Independent Office for Police Conduct oversees the police complaints system in England and Wales.

The IOPC defines complaints against the police as:

an expression of dissatisfaction with the way someone has been treated or with the service they have received.

Police complaints are internal disciplinary matters in which no civil claim for compensation can be made.

Instead, if successful, the police complaint can result in advice being given to the police officer(s) concerned, additional training, formal warnings, or even dismissal.

The police complaints procedure is governed by statutory guidance issued by the IOPC. This guidance supports the legislation in the Policing and Crime Act 2017 and other Home Office regulations. The IOPC revises its guidance periodically. (Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, explains why this matters in this blog post: “Will the Independent Office for Police Conduct Work?“)

Who Makes Complaints Against the Police?

Section 12 of the Police Reform Act states that a complaint may be made by any of the following:

-a member of the public who claims that the conduct took place in relation to him or her

-a member of the public who claims to have been adversely affected by the conduct, even though it did not take place in relation to him or her

-a member of the public who claims to have witnessed the conduct

-a person acting on behalf of someone who falls within any of the three categories above.

Written consent is required if representing another person.

Who Can I Complain About?

You can complain about police officers and members of staff working for a police force, and other government bodies with police-like powers. The list of organisations includes:

-all police forces in England & Wales

-the National Crime Agency

-Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs

-the parts of the Home Office that carry out border and immigration functions

-police and crime commissioners

-the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime

-the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority

-British Transport Police

-Ministry of Defence Police.

What Can I Complain About?

You can make a complaint against the police if you have:

-experienced inappropriate behaviour from a police officer or member of police staff. For instance, if you felt they were rude or aggressive in their treatment of you.

-witnessed in person an incident where a police officer or member of police staff acted inappropriately

-been adversely affected by the conduct of a police officer or member of police staff, even if it did not take place in relation to you

-you can also complain about how a police force is run. This is known as “direction and control”. So, for example, you can complain about policing standards, or policing policy.

In February 2015 the IPCC’s Complaint Statistics for England and Wales Report confirmed that police complaints were made for a variety of reasons.

As our Solicitor Director Kevin Donoghue wrote in his “Five Ways to Cut Police Complaints” blog post:

People mostly complained about police neglect or failure of duty (30% of allegations). After the vague “other categories” (29%), complaints about incivility, impoliteness, and intolerance were next (15%), followed by assault (10%), oppressive conduct or harassment (6%), lack of fairness and impartiality (5%), and lastly, unlawful/ unnecessary arrest or detention (also 5%).

How Do I Start a Police Complaint?

Complaints can be made:

-via the Independent Office for Police Conduct website. Click the “Make a Complaint” section


-your MP (find them here)

-a solicitor who deals with police complaints

-to the police force itself (using their own website complaints form, or the IOPC’s online form (link above). You can contact them online or download the form and post/ hand deliver it to the local force.

What Information Should I Include in My Police Complaint?

The Independent Office for Police Conduct’s website form (found by clicking on the “make a complaint” section) asks for:

-your full contact and personal details, name, address, phone, email etc.

-who you are complaining about (including name, rank, ID police station etc. of any officers involved)

-what happened (following the who, when, why, what, where approach)

-witness details.

Obviously, the more information you can provide the better.

The IOPC complaint form also asks for details of your gender, religion, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. These questions are all optional, and, the IOPC says, “will not make any difference to the way you are treated.”

How Long Do I Have to Complain About the Police?

There is no time limit on making a complaint. But note that if you do not complain within 12 months the police can decline to deal with your complaint unless you give them a good reason.

How Police Complaints are Handled

There are three ways the authorities deal with police complaints:

1.    local resolution

2.    local investigation

3.    a direct referral to the IOPC.

1.    Local Resolution

Local resolution, is considered by the IOPC to be the “appropriate” approach for most complaints. It can result in an apology and change of police force policy or procedures, but NOT misconduct or criminal proceedings. The outcome should be confirmed by the police in writing.

As there is usually a right of appeal only to a Chief Officer, not the IOPC, and there is no right of appeal in “direction and control” cases, local resolution is usually not appropriate for matters which also involve civil actions against the police (see below).

2.    Local Investigation

Local Investigation is used where local resolution is not considered appropriate. It has a stricter procedure and terms of reference are set in advance. The complainant should be updated every 28 days.

Unlike local resolution, it can result in sanctions for the police officers involved, e.g. misconduct hearings and final written warnings. As before, the outcome should be confirmed in writing, often with the investigation report, which can prove useful for any subsequent civil compensation claim.

Note that unlike most local resolutions, in certain criteria there is a right of appeal to the IOPC (within 28 days).

3.    Direct Referral to the Independent Office for Police Conduct

Instead of investigating themselves, the police are required by law to refer certain matters directly to the IOPC. They include “complaints and recordable conduct matters that include allegations of conduct which constitutes”:

-serious assault

-serious sexual offence

-serious corruption including abuse of position for a sexual purpose or for
the purpose of pursuing an improper emotional relationship

-criminal offence or behaviour which is liable to lead to misconduct
proceedings and which, in either case, is aggravated by discriminatory

-behaviour on the grounds of a person’s race, sex, religion or other status
identified in paragraph 8.18 of this guidance

-a relevant offence

-complaints or conduct matters which are alleged to have arisen from the
same incident as anything falling within these criteria.

An appropriate authority must also refer complaints that arise from the same
incident about which there is a complaint alleging that the conduct complained about resulted in death or serious injury.

You can read the guidance here.

If you are dissatisfied with the outcome of your police complaint you may have a right of appeal. Click here to read more about the appeals procedure.

Information on police complaints from Donoghue Solicitors.

How Much Does it Cost to Instruct Police Complaints Solicitors?

Compensation is not payable in police complaints, so you are not entitled to recover legal costs if you instruct a solicitor in your police complaint.

This means that if you instruct a solicitor to pursue your complaint you may have to pay personally.

Because you will be left out-of-pocket we do not take stand-alone police complaint matters or assist with stand-alone appeals.

For more information about the police complaints procedure go to the IOPC’s website and/or see the website of your local police force.

Can I Get Compensation If I Prove My Police Complaint?

In themselves, complaints against the police do not result in civil claims for compensation, even if they upheld.

But upheld complaints can help compensation claims against the police where a civil infringement (known in law as a “tortious wrong”) is confirmed in the written report.

It is important to note that, even if your complaint has been upheld, the police may still defend your compensation claim.

This is because the civil law applies to compensation claims against the police. This includes proving an actionable loss to the required standard of proof.

Consequently, complaints upheld for minor infringements of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, do not, in themselves, mean that you are entitled to compensation. These include things like:

-being refused a drink of water or blanket while in police custody

-asking for, but not getting, a copy of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act to read

-a delay in being given your statutory phone call

-being visited in the cell too much/ not enough

-a finding that the police officer(s) were rude or used bad language.

What Should I Do if My Police Complaint has been Upheld by the IOPC or the Police Force Involved?

Despite the warnings above, every case is different. If your complaint has been upheld by the IOPC or by the police force involved find out if you are also entitled to compensation by completing the online form on this page or call us on 08000 124 246.

We may be able to help with you with your actions against the police.

What is the difference between a police complaint and actions against the police?

Actions against the police are different to police complaints. They are civil claims for compensation following police misconduct.

Examples of these tortious wrongs include:

false imprisonment

-assault/ battery



Unlike complaints, actions against the police are pursued through the courts and, if successful, can result in most legal costs being paid by those responsible to the injured party.

Donoghue Solicitors are experts at dealing with actions against the police and can help on a “no win no fee” basis where appropriate. We have successfully recovered compensation for our clients against most police forces in England and Wales. Read some genuine client reviews, case reports, or click here to read why you should instruct us.

Our head office is in Liverpool, but we represent clients throughout England and Wales and have meeting facilities in Bootle (Merseyside) and London. Read more about us here.

Click on the law in civil actions against the police link for more details about the law involved in suing the police.

Then go to the remedies in claims against the police page for examples of the types of things for which we can help you claim compensation.

If you think you may have a claim against the police, please complete the online contact form on this page or call us today on 08000 124 246.

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