If you think you have been treated wrongly by the police, or by somebody who works for them, the law says that you can make a complaint.
What can I make a complaint about?
You can submit a complaint if you have experienced or witnessed inappropriate behaviour from a police officer, staff member, contractor or volunteer, or if you have been negatively affected by their conduct even if it did not take place in relation to you. Complaints can also be made about policing standards or policy, i.e how the police force is run.
Who can make a complaint?
You can make a complaint on somebody else’s behalf, but you will need their written consent unless they are under 16 and you are their parent or guardian.
When can I make a complaint?
There is no time limit for making a complaint. If you are complaining about something that happened over 12 months ago, however, you should explain why you didn’t submit a complaint sooner.
How do I make a complaint?
There are two ways a complaint can be made in writing, outlined below.
- You can complain to the police force directly. Go to the website of the relevant police force and use their online complaint form. A list of police force websites can be found here. Alternatively, you can write a letter of complaint and deliver it yourself to the police station
- In England and Wales, you can also complain via the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC). They will make sure your complaint is received by the right people. You can use the IOPC online complaints form . Word or PDF versions of this form can also be downloaded on the IOPC website.
What will happen once I make my complaint?
Certain complaints must be referred to the IOPC, such as allegations of serious corruption or assault, or police contact which may have caused or contributed to a death or injury. The police must refer serious incidents – such as a death or serious injury in police custody – to the IOPC, whether a complaint has been made or not. A guide to IOPC independent investigations can be found here.
If the complaint does not need to be referred to the IOPC, it will be handled by the relevant police force. You can expect a prompt reply to your complaint. If you do not receive a quick reply, follow up on your complaint.
Certain complaints must be formally recorded, and dealt with according to certain rules. If the police force tells you they have ‘recorded’ your complaint, this means it will be dealt with through formal rules. If it is dealt with informally, this may be over the phone without recording it – if you ask for your complaint to be recorded, however, the police must do so.
The police are expected to deal with complaints in a ‘reasonable and proportionate’ manner. This involves assessing the facts of your complaint. They may be able to provide information, explanation or apology. For some complaints, however, the police force may undertake an investigation. An investigator will look into your complaint, and write a report analysing the evidence.
The police force will write to inform you of the outcome of your complaint.
Can I ask for a review of the outcome?
When the police inform you of the complaint outcome, they will also inform you of your ‘right of review.’ This means you can apply for a review of the outcome. Applications must be made within 28 days from the day after the date on the letter explaining the outcome of your complaint, although the review body may extend this time limit. Further information on the review process can be found here.
For further information on making a complaint, see the IOPC Frequently Asked
For more detailed and technical information on how police forces should handle complaints, see the statutory guidance here.
Sources: IOPC Website:
Liberty, ‘How Do I Make a Complaint Against the Police?’