Police / Police complaints

How do I make a complaint against the police?

Disclaimer: this article is for general information. It’s not intended to be used as legal advice. For information on how to get legal advice, please see our page here.

You can complain about the police

Do you think you’ve been treated wrongly by the police or by someone who works for them?

Have they:

  • been rude or aggressive to you?
  • arrested you unlawfully?
  • treated you badly in custody?
  • acted inappropriately to you?
  • acted inappropriately to someone else in front of you?
  • done anything else that you think is unlawful?

If so, the law says you can make a complaint. You can also make a complaint for someone else if you are their parent or guardian and they are aged 16 or under. You can even make a complaint for anyone you think has been treated wrongly, as long as you have their written consent.

Ways to make your complaint

There are two ways you can make a complaint.

1. Complain directly to the police force.

To do this you can:

  • write a letter to the police force and post it or deliver it yourself to the police station
  • go on the website of the police force you want to complain about and use their complaint form. Find a list of police force websites here.

2. Complain through the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC)

You can do this in England and Wales, you can complain. This will make sure your complaint gets to the right people. To do this you can:

  • use the “Complain to the force directly” drop-down tool on the IOPC website to select the relevant local police force. This will take you directly to their complaints form.
  • use the IOPC’s online complaint form.

If you prefer, you can also download a copy of your completed IOPC complaint form in PDF or Word format and either:

  • post it to: IOPC, PO BOX 473, Sale M33 0BW
  • email it to: feedback@policeconduct.gov.uk.

Getting help with your complaint

If you would like help with your complaint, you have several options.

  1. Ask your MP to make the complaint on your behalf. This is free to do. But remember that MPs are very busy and it may take some time. Find more information on how to contact your MP.
  2. Contact a solicitor. They can deal with the IOPC or the relevant police force. You will likely have to pay the solicitor for this service.
  3. Ask for advice at your local Citizens Advice or Law Centre.

Tips: How to write down your complaint

There is no specific format for your complaint. As long as it is clearly a complaint, the police should take it seriously. However, it helps to write it down and include as much detail as possible. This includes

  • The date when the thing you want to complain about happened.
  • People’s names if you know them.
  • You can include the police officers’ shoulder numbers if you have them
  • Any other relevant information. For example, a medical report or any witness details.

You should make your complaint within 12 months from whatever happened. If you are complaining more than 12 months later, you should explain why.

What happens after you make a complaint?

You can expect a quick reply to tell you how your complaint will be handled. If you don’t receive a quick reply, you should contact them for an update.

If you complain directly to the police force, they have to refer some matters to the IOPC. These include:

  • allegations of serious corruption
  • allegations that police officers or staff have committed misconduct – for example, allegations that the police have committed a criminal offence, seriously injured or assaulted someone someone
  • contact with the police that may have caused or contributed to a death or injury.

Recorded complaints

Recorded complaints are complaints that require the police to follow formal rules when they deal with it.

The police don’t have to record all  complaints, and often try to deal with complaints informally (like over the phone). However, you can always ask for your complaint to be recorded. including in your initial written complaint. This will mean the police force has to record it.

The police must always handle recorded complaints in a reasonable and proportionate way. This means they should look carefully at all the facts about what you say happened in your particular case.

Depending on how serious your complaint is, the police may deal with it in different ways. If they think they can sort out your complaint directly, they will contact you with their suggestions.

Police investigations following a complaint

If your complaint is recorded and they decide more information is needed, they may launch an investigation. You will be given details about this and how they will reach a decision. The police force must update you at least once every 28 days.

When the investigation is complete, you will be told:

  • the outcome of the investigation
  • if they will take action will be taken and what this will be
  • about your right to apply for a review

You can ask for a review of the outcome

When the police write to tell you of the outcome of your complaint, they will also tell you about your right of review and who the appropriate review body is.

This ‘right of review’ means you can appeal if you are not happy with the outcome.

You must apply for your review within 28 days from the day after the date on the letter explaining the outcome of your complaint. This deadline can sometimes be extended if the review body thinks it is fair to do so.

The IOPC website has more information on what you can and can’t apply for a review about. This includes an online form and guidance on how to apply for a review.

What happens after I apply for a review?

If the review body accepts your review application, it will only look at how the police handled your complaint or the outcome of the complaint, and whether this was reasonable and proportionate. It will not investigate the original complaint.

The review body will send you a letter to acknowledge your review and let you know how long it is likely to take to consider your appeal.

Once they’ve carried out the review they will tell you their decision. This will include information on how they reached that decision.

These organisations may be able to help

Citizens Advice

Citizens Advice provide free, confidential and independent advice from over 3,000 locations. It helps people resolve their debt, benefits, housing, legal, discrimination, employment, immigration, consumer and other problems.

Use website or phone to find nearest service. Advice is available face-to-face and by telephone.

Law Centres Network

Law Centres are charities which offer legal advice, casework and representation to individuals and groups within their local communities. Law Centres Network itself does not give advice, but can help you find your nearest Law Centre.

  • Telephone (general enquiries no advice): 020 3637 1330
  • Email: info@lawcentres.org.uk
  • Address: Law Centres Network, 1 Lady Hale Gate, Gray’s Inn, London WC1X 8BS

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