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Ending abuse in public life council self-assessment toolkit

Debate Not Hate: ending abuse in public life for councillors toolkit
This toolkit is a resource designed to aid local councils in tackling and mitigating the impact and risks of abuse and intimidation that councillors may encounter as part of their role, supporting them to be safe.


About Debate Not Hate  

The Debate Not Hate campaign aims to raise public awareness of the vital role councillors play in local democracy, promote healthy debate, and improve responses to the challenges they encounter. Serving in public office is both a privilege and a responsibility, yet it comes with its share of challenges which can include abuse and harassment from the public.  

While not all councillors experience abuse or intimidation, there is a growing concern surrounding the negative impact such behaviour can have on individuals, their families, and the integrity of local democracy. Evidence indicates a rise in abuse directed at politicians across the board. While it's important to protect freedom of speech, the cumulative effect of derogatory and abusive comments can be personally and democratically harmful. Councillors may find themselves vulnerable to verbal, psychological, and even physical abuse due to their elected role. 

Council officers, alongside political parties and other local agencies, play a crucial role in creating a culture of respect and support that enables councillors to carry out their duties effectively and safely. 

Throughout the Debate Not Hate: Ending abuse in public life report the need for a nuanced approach is recognised, understanding that each council is different, and individual councillor's experiences may vary. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, the principles outlined in the Ending abuse in public life report and this toolkit aim to assist councils in considering the level of support their members require and how best to provide it. 

About this toolkit 


This toolkit is a resource designed to aid local councils in tackling and mitigating the impact and risks of abuse and intimidation that councillors may encounter as part of their role, supporting them to be safe. The primary objective of this toolkit is to guide councils in assessing their role and efforts to prevent and respond to abuse and intimidation against councillors. 

A note on terminology 

We consider abuse to Councillors “public intimidation” and define this as “words and/or behaviour intended or likely to block or deter participation in public debate, which could lead to an individual wanting to withdraw from public life”. Whilst not all unpleasant behaviour is abusive, there are clear behaviours that would constitute abuse. This includes actions of abuse, harassment and intimidation such as: verbal abuse; physical attacks; being stalked followed or loitered around; threats of harm; distribution of misinformation; character assassination; inappropriate emails, letters, phone calls and communications on social media; sexual harassment or sexual assault; and other threatening behaviours, including malicious communications such as poison pen letters, indecent or grossly offensive emails or graphic pictures that aim to cause distress or anxiety. 

This toolkit acknowledges the distinct roles and responsibilities held by councillors, councils and police in addressing instances of abuse and intimidation. It is crucial to acknowledge and understand the diverse spheres of influence within which each entity operates and that there are limitations in their ability to address certain issues alone. By understanding their unique sphere of influence and collaborating with other stakeholders, councils can work towards meaningful solutions for many of these challenges. As such, this toolkit is designed to be realistic and flexible in its implementation. 

The toolkit was developed by a specialist abuse and harm reduction consultancy organisation who worked closely with the LGA,  a sounding group of council officers and consulted with several national police colleagues. 


The toolkit is structured around the five principles outlined in the Debate Not Hate: Ending abuse in public life for councillors report, offering a practical approach to implementing these principles. 

1.Creating supportive and informed spaces: This component focuses on establishing a supportive and inclusive environment within the council, ensuring that councillors have access to essential information, advice, and support options. It aims to cultivate environments that empower councillors with the necessary tools and resources to effectively navigate challenges and promote their well-being. 

2. Creating a risk-led approach: This section highlights the importance of empowering individuals, including officers and councillors, by adopting a comprehensive approach to understanding and mitigating risks. It advocates for proactive identification of risks through dynamic and periodic risk assessments, considering both the broader political landscape and the specific needs of individual councillors. 

3. Creating an infrastructure: This segment outlines the helpful structures within the council itself, encompassing policies, processes, and designated responsible individuals. It emphasises the importance of clearly defining procedures for raising concerns and assigning support to councillors. 

4. Creating connections: This section considers how councils collaborate with the police as a partner in protecting councillors. This includes proactive efforts to develop strong alliances with local police to enhance coordination in addressing significant abuse affecting councillors. 

5. Creating a culture of safety and respect: This section aims to encourage a community culture that prioritises safety, respect, and constructive interaction, fostering an environment where all members feel valued and heard. 

The 5 principles outlined in the Debate Not Hate report sit within a Whole Person, Whole Setting, Whole Community, Whole System framework.  Principle 1 (‘Creating a risk-led approach’) and principle 2 (‘Creating supportive & informed spaces’) are part of a Whole Person approach. Principle 3 (‘Creating infrastructure’) is part of a Whole Setting approach. Principle 4 (‘Creating connections’) is part of a Whole Community approach. Principle 5 (‘Creating a culture of safety) is part of a Whole System approach

The principles outlined in this toolkit are interconnected, with each component reinforcing the others. For instance, effectively managing and responding to risks, as highlighted in the risk-led approach, relies on having robust policies and processes in place, such as those outlined in the infrastructure section. Furthermore, collaboration with external agencies like the police, as emphasised in creating connections, is essential for implementing these measures effectively. By recognising these interdependencies and ensuring cohesive implementation, councils can aim to prevent and mitigate against the impact of abuse and intimidation, fostering a safer and more respectful environment for councillors. 

How to use the framework/toolkit 

This toolkit is designed to provide councils with a flexible framework for tackling abuse, harassment, and intimidation affecting councillors. It is not intended to prescribe a one-size-fits-all approach but rather to offer good practice guidance and support which can be tailored to the unique circumstances and needs of each council. Below are some key points to consider when using this toolkit: 

  • Flexibility: Recognise that the toolkit is adaptable to suit the specific context and requirements of your council. Each council may have different structures, resources, and challenges, and therefore the approach to implementing the principles may vary. 
  • Collaboration: This can be completed by one nominated individual, but it may be useful to do as a group exercise. To do so, you may wish to consider which relevant stakeholders within the council it may be beneficial to involve in the process. This could include council officers from various departments including, monitoring officers, political officers, legal services, democratic services, community safety officers, human resource colleagues or health and safety officers. If you have councillors who are elected or appointed to other public authorities, for example, in two-tiered or parished areas, you may wish to consider including colleagues from those organisations too. Aside from council officers you may want to include political parties, councillors themselves and/or external partners such as the police in the process of conducting the self-assessment.  
  • Evidence gathering: Before you use the tool, it would be useful to decide how you will gather evidence to assess your council's current position in relation to each statement. This does not have to be a lengthy exercise and may be done through a small number of discussions or existing knowledge. It is structured to enable more comprehensive evidence gathering for councils who may wish to do so. This could involve activities such as reviewing existing policies, conducting surveys or interviews with councillors and staff, or analysing data on reported incidents of abuse.  
  • Monitoring and review: Determine how often you will review and assess your progress using the toolkit. It has been designed to be suitable as a one-off exercise, however it can be used more frequently to track and monitor progress. This could be done annually, biannually, or as part of a broader review cycle. It could also be used or referred to in response to any specific incidents that arise locally. Before you use it, you should consider if and how you will record and report outcomes and track progress over time. 

By considering these points and adopting a flexible and inclusive approach, councils can effectively utilise the toolkit in a way that works for them, to create a safer and more supportive environment for councillors. 

Creating supportive and informed spaces 

Creating safe and supportive spaces focuses on providing support and resources to individual councillors, aiming to empower them to effectively navigate challenges. This involves offering information, advice, and support options designed to meet the diverse needs of councillors, fostering environments where they feel supported and equipped to handle instances of abuse and intimidation. 

Download creating supportive and informed spaces assessment document.


The guidance sections in this toolkit are not intended to be prescriptive or exhaustive. Instead, they offer examples of how the principles and statements could be applied. It is recommended that the guidance be assessed based on your local needs, with only the relevant parts applied. 

The council's role in protecting councillors' wellbeing is not set out in statute and therefore the thresholds and levels of support can be variable. As a result, councillors may be unclear as to who they should contact in the council when they may have concerns, including those relating to their wellbeing. It is therefore useful for councils to establish regular and meaningful engagement opportunities where councillors can openly discuss their concerns and access relevant support services as needed. This could include: 

  • Drop-in sessions or open-door policies where councillors can speak to staff about their concerns in a supportive environment.  
  • Establishing a wellbeing or councillor safety champion(s) who can collect information about the needs of members and issues they are experiencing and pass this information on to staff. 
  • Regular communication, such as a newsletter, to outline processes and continuously clarify the local pathways for support, both within the council and with other relevant external services, such as mental health services, counselling, peer support networks, and resilience training. 

Case study: Middlesbrough Council 

Middlesbrough Council noted the challenging environments and high-pressure decision-making requirements of the councillor role and decided to provide councillors with tools to support their wellbeing, including a tailored forum for councillors to raise concerns and access to 1-2-1 support and the council's staff wellbeing offer. 

Middlesbrough Council identified the risk of lone working and personal safety within their councillor community and explored ways to provide more support, focusing on wellbeing and post-incident aftercare.  

The council has a robust health and wellbeing package offered to council colleagues, which was extended to councillors. In addition, the council expanded and amended the offer to consider the councillors' unique place within the overall council services.  

To develop a culture of self-care among councillors, councils could encourage councillors to prioritise self-care by promoting healthy coping strategies and stress management techniques. This could include providing resources and guidance on setting boundaries and managing personal wellbeing amidst the demands of their roles. It is important that councils are clear on the support offer available to councillors, whether this is support provided directly from the council (e.g. through the employee assistance programme) or being signposted to local or national services. Councils could consider creating a directory of available services relating to wellbeing for councillors to access. The below case study highlights how one council is working across departments to develop their response to councillor wellbeing.

Case study: Hounslow Council 

Hounslow Council is taking steps to address harassment affecting its elected members. Following the passing of a motion by the council, it is now working on setting up a cross-organisational working group with expert representatives from democratic services, legal, health and safety, and other relevant departments. 

The purpose of the group will be to use the various expertise to identify emerging issues and gaps in support and develop solutions that will help to prevent and deal with these issues when they arise. The group will also work towards creating a hub space on the intranet where members can access all the necessary information in one place, including access to counselling through the employee assistance scheme.  

The council is also considering providing training on emotional intelligence and softer skills to help members pre-empt, navigate and deescalate tensions when challenging issues create passionate responses in the community. Furthermore, the council is encouraging and facilitating respectful and civil conversations about sensitive issues, such as misogyny, between its elected members. 

The group will also consider what the council can do to prevent abuse against councillors and when the council should step in actively to protect members. For example, it is sometimes appropriate for the council’s legal department to take over communications when correspondence is abusive and vexatious and to write an official letter informing the resident that the correspondence is no longer appropriate. This is an important step to explore all avenues before taking any further action. 

In line with self-care and a good work-life balance, some councils will provide councillors with a separate phone for council work, allowing them to keep their personal and council numbers separate. This can help councillors to disconnect and set time boundaries when they will respond to council business. Similarly, councillors can use a dual sim to have two phone numbers routed to one phone. This allows the convenience of carrying only one phone but also allows the councillor to disable one number when they do not want to receive calls and to filter incoming calls depending on which number is being used. 

Creating a risk led approach 

Creating a risk-led approach involves establishing a mechanism for both the council and individual councillors to assess and mitigate risks associated with abuse and intimidation. This approach encompasses empowering councillors to take the lead in assessing their own risks while providing support and resources for them to do so effectively. Additionally, the council plays a role in conducting broad risk assessments considering factors such as the political and local landscape. The goal is to proactively enable councillors to identify and mitigate risks independently where appropriate while also ensuring there are clear procedures for escalation if risks increase. 

Download the reviewing our approach assessment document.


The guidance sections in this toolkit are not intended to be prescriptive or exhaustive. Instead, they offer examples of how the principles and statements could be applied. It is recommended that the guidance be assessed based on your local needs, with only the relevant parts applied. 

Councillors are generally aware of the risks associated with their role due to their experience campaigning and engaging with residents. However, without specific training and support, they may not possess the necessary skills to confidently identify risky situations, diffuse potentially volatile situations and de-escalate tensions, and ensure a positive outcome. 

Councils should ensure that councillors are supported to identify the risks associated with their roles and providing them with necessary tools to mitigate those risks. To create supportive and informed spaces, councils could consider organising training sessions. This could include, for example, training on emotional intelligence and conflict de-escalation to help councillors navigate challenging situations with confidence and composure, as we saw in the previous Hounslow council case study. 

Councillors are usually provided with a lot of information and possibly training when they first become a councillor. However, it's important to repeat key training often to ensure councillors are well-equipped throughout their term. Common options for training around mitigating risks of abuse and intimidation include: 

  • personal safety and risk assessment 
  • social media training and digital citizenship 
  • general communications and healthy debate 
  • emotional intelligence 
  • conflict de-escalation 
  • code of conduct. 

LGA and case study resources 

The LGA provides training and e-learning on some of these topics that are free for councillors in England. Councillors can access all learning options through the Civility in public life hub and the LGA Induction Hub.

As well as training it is useful for councils to provide guidance and good practice examples to support councillors to make informed decisions. The LGA has a councillor guide to handling abuse and intimidation and a councillor guide to Social media which may be a helpful starting point. 

However, some councils have developed their own guidance tailored to local circumstances including: 

Within the guidance councils offer to councillors, there are some useful examples nationally of these including direction on how councillors might be able to conduct risk assessments based on geographical locations or specific venues they used.  

Case study: Leeds City Council 

Councillors represent their local communities and spend much time engaging with their residents through ward surgeries and other community and council events. Many people can attend these events and may want to discuss emotionally charged or controversial topics with their local representatives. Sometimes these can lead to challenging conversations and occasionally aggressive encounters; it is important that councillors feel equipped to manage this, including taking preventative steps to limit the risk of serious consequences. 

Leeds City Council Health and Safety Team supported councillors  to assess the suitability of  venues they used for ward surgeries to ensure that they were safe and find appropriate alternatives if necessary. This process involves a premises risk assessment using the skills and competencies of officers the council already has at their disposal. 

The Risk Assessment Team visits each location and considers: 

  • the entrances and exits 
  • premises security features and staffing 
  • preferred seating arrangements and set up 
  • comfort settings, including heating/cooling and lighting levels 
  • equipment available to councillors (chairs, tables and so on) 
  • parking and walkways 
  • phone signal. 

The risk assessment provides valuable information on safely conducting public meetings in that specific environment, even including a suggested seating plan and guidance on what equipment to use. In addition, the reports are available to councillors, allowing them to make an informed decision about where and how they hold their surgeries. 

Abuse and intimidation can often be technologically enabled, including through social media, and this can be a significant issue for councillors. Social media is outside of the council’s specific sphere of influence, however, it could be useful to consider how councils can support councillors who choose to engage with social media. 

Case Study: Durham County Council 

The council has developed a comprehensive social media toolkit that guides councillors on social media use, including how to manage comments, protect accounts, and reduce the risk of harassment or abuse online. The council recently updated the toolkit in accordance with the National Association of Local Councils' civility and respect guide on social media,  ensuring that it is comprehensive and accessible to all councillors.   

The toolkit is presented as part of the council’s training on social media which consists of a theoretical and practical session. The first part of the training is conducted by the legal team and sets out how to communicate and use social media positively and in line with the councillor code of conduct. The following practical sessions are conducted by the communications team and cover how to set up and use social media accounts and keep them technically safe. 

The council's communication team engages with social media providers when they are aware of offensive posts and requests their removal when necessary. This approach helps the council to strike the balance between promoting a safe and respectful online environment for councillors and residents alike. 

Find out more about Durham’s social media toolkit for councillors. 

As well as being used to facilitate harmful behaviour, technology can also be a force for good in mitigating risk. Some councils are now providing a range of technological solutions to councillors to mitigate against safety risks associated with their councillor role and to help handle some lower-level abuse. Some examples of useful technological solutions include: 

  • Councillors have been provided with personal safety alarms, panic alarms or apps on their phone through which they can silently call for assistance.  
  • Providing councillors with separate phones for council-related business. 
  • Supporting councillors to offers virtual ward surgeries to engage with residents, providing a controlled environment to handle potential threats or abuse while fulfilling democratic functions. 

Case study: Cardiff Council 

Cardiff Council developed two lone working solutions for councillors depending on the risk profile of the councillor and supplemented the offer with a bespoke suite of training. 

The first solution is a smartphone app that registers the councillor's location, estimated meeting time and provides a notification either to the councillor's selected contact or to the police in an emergency. When activated, the app also records the conversation allowing the emergency services to assess what level of response is needed. In addition, the recording can provide valuable evidence if further action is required. 

The second solution is a discreet physical lone working device, which is easier to access in an emergency than the smartphone app. The device is installed behind an ID card on a lanyard. The device acts similarly to the app and sends a location to a security monitoring station when activated. Officers at the monitoring station can listen in and mobilise a response if appropriate. Councillors receive training on how to use the lone working devices to ensure they can use them effectively. 

All councillors were also offered a suite of training to raise awareness of personal safety measures and suggest preventative actions to avoid confrontational situations, including tactics for de-escalation. 

Find out more about Cardiff’s lone working solutions. 

As well as supporting councillors to identify and mitigate risk, the council can play a role in assessing the risk landscape to ensure up-to-date information is available to councillors to ensure they can assess how local or national events, including threats, might impact them.

Case study: Durham Council 

Durham Council has a strong commitment to protecting councillors from abuse, harassment, and intimidation and takes threats against councillors very seriously. This includes the council’s Monitoring Officer meeting regularly with the Deputy chief constable. This provides an opportunity to flag concerns and share intelligence. In the meetings they discuss any issues related to councillor’s experiences of harassment or threats of violence, and the police provide advice and guidance. The police are very responsive to issues that need to be reported in between meetings. 

Councillors are encouraged to report all incidents of abuse, harassment and intimidation to Members Services, even if it is considered to be minor or low-level. All such incidents are logged internally and, where appropriate, with the police. This helps track incidents and identify patterns of behaviour which may pass the threshold for police action. 

Member services in consultation with health and safety team assess the level of threat using a predetermined process. 

Where the risk is low, the incidents will be logged and appropriate advice given to the councillor (e.g. how to amend social media settings/re-direct or block emails). In more serious cases, which do not meet the threshold for police action, the council will consider whether to take action e.g. writing to the individual and/or seeking an injunction. In serious of cases of abuse harassment and intimidation, the police will take appropriate action. 

Where it is considered that an individual’s behaviour threatens the immediate safety of councillors or staff, a decision may be taken to place that individual on the Potentially Violent Persons Register. Such behaviour includes conscious, deliberate or malicious acts of violent, aggressive or abusive behaviour towards council employees or councillors. It is possible for those who interact with the public to check whether someone they are due to meet is on the register and what mitigations are in place. 

The council may have access to additional information and intelligence that can support them in giving good advice to councillors. For example, councils usually maintain a violent persons register. Although it would not be right to provide direct access to this register, it may be wise for councillors to ask for a visit/don’t visit determination on an address or individual, so they can assess the risks associated with meeting with a particular resident. The police can also provide similar assessments without giving up personal and confidential information. 

Case study: Telford and Wrekin 

Telford and Wrekin Council were faced with a challenging situation in 2019 when they commissioned an inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation. Councillors were at risk of abuse and aggression from residents and national groups interested in the inquiry. The council took this risk seriously, working with local police to provide proportionate safety measures depending on the level of risk. 

The council has been working to establish a baseline of support for councillors over the last few years. Initially, this took the form of personal safety training and the provision of a lone worker alarm system in line with the offer for staff at the council. The StaySafe app is available to all councillors and includes panic alarm functionality, mechanisms to programme in meetings and check-in points to help councillors raise the alarm if they are in difficulty. The council also support councillors with risk assessments and tips for holding ward surgeries safely. 

The council stepped up the support available in response to the inquiry and other incidents and took a risk-based approach to councillor safety. In the first instance, security was provided for high-risk council meetings and other events, and the security of council buildings was enhanced. 

The council did an exercise with the police to risk assess each councillor and designate them as high, medium or low risk. Depending on the level of risk, the councillors were offered a police assessment of their home security and CCTV, video doorbells or personal safety advice and signage to deter anyone from attempting to gain entry into the home. 

Overall, it would be useful for councils to understand the local context in terms of risk and how both local and national events might impact councillors locally. Gloucestershire County Council, for example, found that the rurality of their council area meant a specific response to councillor safety.  

Case study: Gloucestershire County Council 

In response to recent high-profile violence and aggression incidents towards publicly elected officials, Gloucestershire County Council reviewed and redesigned the personal safety approach, training and development offered for local councillors, focusing on excellent quality practical advice alongside local and regional considerations. 

The Local Government Association (LGA) and the Local Government Information Unit have published a range of safety guidance for councillors and councils. However, not all the advice was applicable in a rural setting. So, the council designed a training package tailored to the local environment. The training session was delivered directly to councillors, recorded, and shared with councillors who could not attend the event, allowing them access to the same information as their colleagues. The recording also provided a helpful reference resource for current and future councillors. 

The training video coordinated specialist advice with local knowledge and was introduced by the Cabinet Member for Safety to demonstrate the commitment to creating a safe environment. 

The council identified that owing to the very real threat of councillors working alone and being out of range of communication networks, an enhanced level of safety competence was required. The training video provided in-depth advice on how councillors can carry out preventative actions to ensure they are in the safest environment while carrying out their activities.

The training also provides practical examples of situations where incidents occurred, identifies actions that led to the exposure to danger, and reviews how the organisation and individuals have learnt from previous experience. These examples help increase councillors’ understanding of how risky situations can develop and preventative measures to reduce or mitigate these risks. 

The council publishes a regular newsletter called 'Members Matter' to communicate councillor safety and security updates. The newsletter covers training updates, changes to local arrangements, learning from recent incidents, and current issues that councillors may need to be aware of. This helps maintain and refresh councillor safety awareness, ensuring safety remains a priority. 

Communication and regular collaboration with councillors are important elements of a risk-led response. This might include having clear mechanisms to identify or provide information to councillors with any specific vulnerabilities or factors which could aggravate their experiences of abuse. For example, there is evidence that some groups with protected characteristics may receive higher volumes and more vitriolic abuse, particularly racist, homophobic and misogynistic abuse. In Eastleigh, this included considering the role of independent councillors and the specific risks they may face, given the lack of a party structure.  

Case study: Eastleigh Borough Council  

Councillor safety is an issue for all councillors. However, independent councillors may feel particularly vulnerable as they may not have access to the resources that a political party might usually provide. This case study demonstrates how a team of independent councillors replicated the support offered by more traditional party structures to create a safer environment for local independent councillors. 

The council’s independent councillors created an 'Indy Group' network, which encourages dialogue, support, and collaboration among members. This network meets regularly and, alongside other items, discusses issues relating to councillor safety. The forum provides the space and opportunity for councillors to share their knowledge of  local incidents, workshop solutions to safety issues, and work as a support network to consider health and wellbeing. 

It is important for councillors to be encouraged to report their experiences of abuse and intimidation to ensure that the council is aware of existing and ongoing issues and can put in place the relevant support. Many councils have taken the approach of regularly surveying councillors which can help officers to tailor the support offer to the members genuine needs and keep track of the changing issues in their local area. Another way councils could encourage ongoing collaboration is through establishing a small working group of councillors to identify gaps in support and share intelligence about common experiences. 

Case study: Leeds Council 

At Leeds City Council, the Deputy Leader has taken on the role of 'Councillor Safety Champion' to ensure that councillor safety remains at the top of the agenda. The Champion's role is to establish and maintain strong strategic links with relevant emergency services leading to the implementation of stronger safety processes. The Champion also provides a very effective point of escalation for councillors if an incident has occurred. Finally, the Champion is the figurehead for the regular bulletins and updates produced by council officers on councillor safety; this confers importance on the message and helps councillors prioritise the important. 

Creating an infrastructure

Establishing infrastructure within local authorities involves setting up the necessary structures, resources, policies, and procedures to effectively address instances of abuse and intimidation. This includes implementing robust reporting mechanisms, conducting investigations, providing support and training, and regularly reviewing and updating policies to reflect evolving standards and best practices. 

Download the creating an infrastructure assessment document. 


The guidance sections in this toolkit are not intended to be prescriptive or exhaustive. Instead, they offer examples of how the principles and statements could be applied. It is recommended that the guidance be assessed based on your local needs, with only the relevant parts applied. 

Councils may find it beneficial to establish clear and accessible reporting processes, providing councillors with well-known processes for reporting incidents. Having a clear mechanism for reporting incidents can provide council officers with a good overview of issues in their area, including increasing rates of incidents, particular perpetrators, and the types of incidents taking place. This can help them assess risk levels and decide how best to respond. 

Designating specific personnel or teams within the council to act as points of contact for councillors facing abuse and intimidation could prove invaluable. These liaison points should be able to keep a record of incidents, offer guidance and resources, and maintain confidentiality as necessary, fostering a trusting and supportive environment. Clearly setting out the kinds of support the council will provide, how and in what circumstances the support will be provided, and who councillors should go to day-to-day and in the event of an out-of-hours concern or emergency can help to ensure officers know what to do consistently when councillors ask for support and help councillors feel well-supported in their role. Some councils have developed internal staff working groups of the various departments that have relevant expertise, which can help provide a multi-disciplinary response. This could include officers such as: 

  • monitoring officer 
  • head of legal, if not the monitoring officer 
  • democratic services 
  • heads of political group offices 
  • health and safety 
  • community safety 
  • communications 
  • community engagement 
  • human resources. 

Fostering collaboration among different departments within the council through the formation of working groups or task forces can yield valuable insights and innovative solutions. By encouraging cross-functional teams to share expertise and identify emerging issues collaboratively, councils can develop holistic and effective approaches to addressing abuse and intimidation.

Case study: Hounslow 

As part of their approach to abuse of councillors, Hounslow has created a cross-organisation working group of various experts to identify emerging issues, gaps in support and possible solutions. Outputs from the group include a ‘one-stop-shop’ intranet page for safety and wellbeing advice for councillors to help them navigate these issues more easily and which sets out clear expectations of engagement with the public and the role of the police in dealing with serious abuse and intimidation. At the centre of the councils approach is a clear reporting mechanism which is set out the process and expectations that councillors can have of the council. 

Maximising the utilisation of existing council assets and systems, such as technologies, reporting systems, or partnership networks, can enhance support mechanisms for councillors. By leveraging these resources creatively, councils can bolster councillor safety and facilitate timely interventions, as appropriate, without the need for significant additional investment. 

For example, one council use their Anti-Social Behaviour reporting system to record abuse against councillors. Police colleagues have access to this system, which means that police can assess the reports, provide advice and note any patterns of abuse that might develop into harassment or other crimes. Leeds City Council use their existing assets, such as their 24-hour CCTV centre, to ensure councillors can call for assistance through lone worker devices when they are out in their communities visiting residents. 

Exploring opportunities to provide training sessions or resources to council officers and staff can enhance their capacity to recognise, address, and prevent instances of abuse and intimidation targeting councillors. This could include training on the role of councillors and some of the unique risks they may face connected to their role.  

In responding to abuse of councillors, councils could consider how existing policies and approaches can be repurposed to ensure a supportive and responsive environment. For example, are there officer policies which could be applied to councillors and guide the support available to them: 

  • Vexatious persons policies: How does the council usually deal with vexatious or abusive complainants? Could these principles be applied to resident engagement with councillors? 
  • Social media protocols/guidance: Does the council have a protocol setting out the councils approach to social media? How does the council train communications staff? Would any of this training be helpful for councillors working in the social media space? 
  • Lone-worker policies/training: How might the councils lone-worker policies apply to a councillors? Are there approaches which offices take which would also work for councillors? 
  • Receipt of threat policies: Does the council have a clear process for receipt of threats? How might this work in tandem with the clear reporting mechanisms for abuse? 

Overall, the infrastructure around councillor support and safety will be unique to each council area and structure, but in all cases should be clear and well understood across council officers and councillors.

Creating connections

Creating connections involves fostering a collaborative relationship with the local police to address issues related to abuse and intimidation affecting councillors. This entails proactively building a strong alliance to enhance coordination and support mechanisms specifically with the police. 

Download the creating new connections assessment document


The guidance sections in this toolkit are not intended to be prescriptive or exhaustive. Instead, they offer examples of how the principles and statements could be applied. It is recommended that the guidance be assessed based on your local needs, with only the relevant parts applied. 

Councils have limited powers, resources, and their own specific sphere of influence. Only with coordinated input from other statutory and non-statutory parties, such as the police, can they hope to address abuse and intimidation against councillors and other elected members. Creating connections with the police is, therefore, vital. Councils could consider what mechanisms would work for them to maintain regular communication channels and liaison arrangements with local police. In North Lincolnshire, they have developed a Single Point of Contact model between the council’s monitoring officer and a key senior officer within the police.

Case study: North Lincolnshire Council 

North Lincolnshire Council has established a robust and effective relationship with the police. Humberside Police have nominated a named senior officer to help the monitoring officer and their staff, and councillors, deal with incidents of abuse, harassment, and intimidation. 

By having a clear point of contact within the police force, councillors can feel more confident in reporting any incidents and can receive appropriate guidance and support. It's also helpful that the police have set clear limits on their role with councillors, as this can help to prevent misunderstandings and ensure that both parties are clear on what to expect. 

The police have been responsive and positive in their interactions with the council, and it hasn't been a major drain on the named officer's time. This suggests that the council and the police have developed a positive and collaborative relationship, which can be an important factor in supporting councillors who are victims of abuse, harassment, and intimidation.

The Debate Not Hate: The impact of abuse on local democracy report highlighted the uneven engagement and response from the police to abuse and harassment of councillors. Councils have noted that some police forces are sympathetic, while others are concerned that police set the level for intervention too high. There is limited advice tailored for elected members in local politics and a lack of understanding by police and councillors of the risks attached to this public role. Tackling this deficit in understanding might improve police response to abuse directed at councillors. 

Case study: Kirklees Council 

Kirklees Council took a practical approach to dealing with the abuse and intimidation of candidates and councillors, focusing on engaging more with the police on these issues. As well as providing a key point of contact (like North Lincolnshire), they now involve discussion of the role of the police in members' induction. This allows the council to proactively approach the issue of harassment and intimidation by setting out a clear understanding of the enforcement role of police and the role of the council in the early induction of new councillors. This can help to ensure that councillors are aware of the support and resources available to them and where to access support if they experience any form of abuse or harassment. 

Through the development of this toolkit, we heard an example of a council offering their local police force a briefing on the role of councillors to help them appreciate the unique risks councillors face. This offer is still under development but could be a useful consideration for all councils to ensure good connections with the relevant police force.  

As part of councils creating connections with the police, it is important to consider how these connections might link across the broader principles within this toolkit, including how they might contribute to risk assessment. Councils and police both hold valuable intelligence about their local areas, and sharing this information allows for risks to be identified ahead of time and mitigated against before they become an issue. Capacity and structures to allow this information sharing to take place are therefore vital. 

Creating a culture of safety and respect

Creating a culture of safety and respect involves the council actively influencing and participating in fostering respectful interactions and condemning abusive behaviour within its sphere of influence. This encompasses setting clear expectations, raising awareness, and promoting values of respect and civility among councillors, council staff, and the local community. 

Key consideration

This section discusses a zero-tolerance approach to abuse, which the LGA believes is vital to creating a culture of safety and respect. This is an aspirational goal and councils must decide for themselves what this approach looks like locally.  

It is important to acknowledge that not all behaviour deemed unacceptable may necessarily be criminal. Defining the boundaries of zero tolerance requires careful consideration, particularly within the context of democratic representation, where councillors should be subject to scrutiny.  

While certain behaviours may not cross the threshold of criminality, they may still create negative impacts that are harmful to individuals and local democracy. However, councils, working within their sphere of influence, can work toward creating an environment where respectful debate can thrive. 

One approach may be to establish a shared understanding of what conduct crosses the line into unacceptable behaviour amongst councillors, staff and other stakeholders and be clear on the consequences for crossing this line. This involves fostering a culture that prioritises safety and respect, where individuals are held accountable for their actions and where mechanisms are in place to address instances of abuse, harassment, and intimidation promptly and effectively. 

The guidance sections in this toolkit are not intended to be prescriptive or exhaustive. Instead, they offer examples of how the principles and statements could be applied. It is recommended that the guidance be assessed based on your local needs, with only the relevant parts applied. 

In fostering a zero-tolerance approach to abuse, councils are encouraged to develop a local strategy that clearly outlines expectations for interactions and promotes respectful debate among all community members. While there is no fixed definition of zero tolerance, councils can draw inspiration from approaches like that of Balby District Council, which has developed comprehensive guidance on what constitutes abuse to support such an approach. This guidance sets out what encompasses verbal and physical abuse, including offensive language, threats, and actions such as intimidation and stalking. By adopting a broad definition of abuse, councils can effectively address various forms of negative behaviour encountered by councillors in their public roles. 

Case study: Balby District Council 

The Local Government Association calls abuse to Councillors “public intimidation” and defines that as “words and/or behaviour intended or likely to block or deter participation in public debate, which could lead to an individual wanting to withdraw from public life”.  

Balby District Council have developed their own guidance around what constitutes abuse to support developing a zero-tolerance approach. In their ‘Personal Safety Guidance for Councillors’ they outline their Health and Safety Executive’s definition of work-related violence which is: ‘Any incident, in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work’. In the Balby guidance they use the term ‘abuse’ throughout which encompasses the LGA and HSE definitions of behaviour. They go on to explain;” Abuse can be verbal (words) or physical (actions) and includes offensive language, name calling, threats or actions such as intimidating gestures/stances, pushing, hitting, spitting, stalking, following, unwanted gifts or damage to possessions. This is not an exhaustive list”. 

Whilst this guidance does not propose any fixed definition of zero tolerance, it is a useful exercise for councils to consider what this looks like locally.  

Councils may also consider incorporating discrimination, including racial and gender-based discrimination, into their zero-tolerance approach. Research has shown that underrepresented groups in local and national politics often face higher volumes and more aggressive forms of abuse, which can undermine democratic representation. Therefore, policies aimed at addressing abuse and intimidation could include prevalence statistics and highlight strategies to mitigate the normalisation of such behaviour in public and political discourse. Councils could consider cross-departmental working on broader campaigns working around issues pertaining to abuse and harassment, including hate crime.  

To effectively develop a zero-tolerance approach, councils can take a range of actions, including ensuring that relevant policies reflect councillor engagement with the public and set expectations for respectful debate and engagement. This may involve updating existing policies about managing negative interactions between the public and council staff to include councillor engagement. Additionally, councils can use digital and physical marketing materials to promote principles of respectful debate among community members. 

LGA resource 

The council must have a Code of Conduct to help councillors model best conduct, balance their behaviour, understand the expectations of their role and indicate the kind of conduct that could lead to action being taken against them. The LGA has developed a Model Councillor Code of Conduct to support councils with this.

Additionally, councillors should be able to expect respectful behaviour from residents. Setting these expectations through clearer advertised rules of engagement, as set out in the LGA Digital citizenship resources, can help councillors be empowered to disengage from members of the public who do not display appropriate behaviour. Rules like this can form prior agreements to attend meetings to set the tone for any physical engagement.  

Whilst it is important that councils respect resident’s rights to challenge councillors as required, clear definitions of what constitutes unacceptable behaviour, setting expectations and thresholds of what is acceptable communication with the public and councillors from the outset may help councillors identify unacceptable behaviour and disengage from or refer abusive residents on to officers when appropriate. For example, as noted in section one, Hounslow Council have agreed that it is sometimes appropriate for the council’s legal department to take over communications when correspondence is abusive and vexatious and to write an official letter informing the resident that the correspondence is no longer appropriate. Councils could try other mechanisms, including template responses to residents in instances of unacceptable behaviour.   

To ensure councillors can respond to and potentially report incidents, councils may consider providing training and guidance on best conduct, balancing their behaviour, and understanding the expectations of their role. Overall, by adopting a proactive and comprehensive approach to addressing abuse and promoting respectful debate, councils can create safer and more supportive environments for councillors, thereby safeguarding the integrity of local democracy. 

Summary and forward plan