News & Press

Public call for police to improve standard of customer service

Published: 24 October 2010

Public call for police to improve standard of customer service At a time when the coalition Government plans to make police more accountable to the communities they serve, research issued by Consumer Focus, shows how far the police need to go to improve their reputation for being open and approachable with local people.

The consumer watchdog’s ‘The Police Service’ report reveals that just 62 per cent of people who come into contact with officers in England and Wales’ 43 police forces are happy with the way they are dealt with. Nearly a third (30 per cent) are unhappy with the quality of service or the response they receive. Difficulties in trying to contact the police, the unhelpful attitude of some officers and thinking their concerns are trivialised, were among the key reasons why people say they are dissatisfied with their contact with their local police. New research from Consumer Focus into consumer satisfaction with public services, reveals the police rank low, at 17th out of 23 sectors.1

‘The Police Service’ gives a snapshot of the consumer experience of the police force by questioning people who had contact with the police in the past two years to report a crime, anti-social, or suspicious activity or simply to seek information from the police, for example.2

Among those unhappy with the service they received, only just over a quarter (28 per cent) actually lodged a complaint. Some consumers feel that complaining would be a waste of time as it would not be taken seriously, others didn’t know how to complain or who to contact. Around two-thirds of those who complain are unhappy with the way the police deal with their complaint, rating the police bad at keeping them informed or making it clear how to give feedback.3 Respondents accepted that that the police have a unique role, but believe that they have a responsibility to get things right first time and to correct mistakes, so they don’t have to complain in the first place.

The lesson from every private market and public service is that getting customer service right first time saves money and builds trust The consumer champion believes that a focus on better customer service could make the police more efficient and better able to respond to local people. Better outcomes from the very first contact should cut through bureaucracy and save resources that might otherwise be spent on complaint handling further along the line. The good practice that exists in some forces needs to become the norm.

Alison Hopkins, public services expert at Consumer Focus said:

‘The police have a tough job – but too many people appear disappointed by their dealings with them, especially among those who have actually made a complaint. It is vital that police offers are approachable, accessible and accountable.

‘The report reveals some good news – because standards vary around the country, there are plenty of example of good practice that others can follow. This doesn’t mean more public spending. In fact, focusing on better service and putting the public at the centre of what the police do should lead to greater efficiency. The starting point should be a clear explanation of what the public can expect from their local police service.

‘Raising levels of customer service will save time and money and build greater trust in local communities. It is a two way street – the police depend heavily on the active support of the public to fight crime.’

According to ‘The Police Service’ report consumers would like:

  • To be able to contact police quickly and easily. Continuity and consistency of service which doesn’t depend on the availability of the officer they contacted initially.
  • Police to be approachable, open to complaints and feedback and people shouldn’t be made to feel they are wasting police time. Consumers want to be listened to and treated respectfully.
  • Concerns to be taken seriously.
  • The police to communicate effectively e.g. keeping appointments, returning calls or keeping consumers informed about what is happening when an issue is reported.

In the foreword to the report, ex-Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire, Julie Spence, said: ‘This report adds to the increasing evidence base regarding what drives public confidence and acts as a wake up call. Constabularies do themselves and their communities a disservice if they don’t make public satisfaction a cornerstone of their organisational development and service delivery.’

In the report, Consumer Focus is calling for:

  • The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) to establish a minimum level of service that the public can expect across England and Wales.
  • Individual forces to make sure their workforces (both officers and civilians) are trained to deliver a high quality of customer service, as well as recognise and reward customer service excellence at an individual level.
  • The new Police and Crime Commissioners, when in place, to monitor the implementation of effective customer service strategies in local forces, involving and engaging service users. The Chief Constable should be accountable for delivering high quality customer service.

These recommendations are made against the backdrop of the coalition Government’s plans for policing reform, outlined in the Policing in the 21st Century report.


Notes to Editors:

A full copy of the ‘The Police Service’ is available here:

  1. Later this year, Consumer Focus is due to publish its ‘Public Sector Satisfaction Index’ which compares the consumer’s experience of 23 public services.
  2. The research was conducted by Accent in England and Wales in two stages between January and March 2010. The first part of the research was 12 focus groups involving consumers dissatisfied with their contact with the police, but excluding those with unfinished or ongoing complaints and contact that resulted in a conviction, as well as people who were dissatisfied with the criminal justice system rather than the police. The second part comprised a telephone survey undertaken with 1,000 people in England and Wales aged 18 and over. The research investigated customer service and complaint handling in general, as well as questioning consumers who had experienced contact with the police service over the last two years. Contact included reporting a crime, anti-social or suspicious activity, being a victim of crime or seeking information from the police.
  3. Of the 1,000 people who took part in the telephone survey, just over half (51 per cent) had contact with the police in the last two years. Nearly a third of these (30 per cent) or 154 consumers were dissatisfied, but only a minority (28 per cent or 43 consumers) went on to make a complaint. When consumers did complain, 63 per cent were unhappy with the way the police dealt with their complaint.

Consumer Focus is the independent champion for consumers in the UK. Consumer Focus gives a strong voice for consumers on the issues that matter to them and works to secure a fair deal on their behalf. We operate across the whole of the economy, persuading businesses, public services and policy makers to put consumers at the heart of what they do.

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