CHALLENGING Dorset Council staff and some councillors has become "a hobby" for a handful of people during the pandemic – according to a council officer.

Incidents have more than doubled over 18 months which has led to measures to protect officers being put in place.

“It feels like it’s become a hobby for some people to get one over on the local authority and it’s not always the best use of our time,” said senior assurance officer Tony Bygrave.

He said the amount of time taken to deal with a relatively small number of individuals, around 30, was “quite extraordinary” although there were likely to be more cases which had not come to the attention of the team which deals with complaints.

He conceded that occasionally when people become persistent they may have a 'genuine complaint' which the council had failed to grasp, although were often dealing with the process 'in an inappropriate way'.

“We are seeing quite a lot of energy and effort in crusading against Dorset Council which may have gone through the complaints procedures, or perhaps just to vent frustration.

“I think some people’s view is that Dorset Council is a building in Dorchester which is not actually populated by human beings,” he said.

He told an online audit and governance committee meeting on Friday that during the past year the council had seen more incidents of unreasonable behaviour as a few people decided to put the authority under scrutiny, possibly because some had more time.

Councillors were told that while complaints about the council had increased, findings of maladministration had been going down.

Mr Bygrave told the meeting some current cases were bordering on harassment and the council was clear that it would protect staff and councillors from aggressive behaviour.

Cllr Mike Parkes said he knew of a councillor who received three or four emails a day from a constituent about a particular issue.

“We also get people who will not let go … at what point do we stop engaging?” he said.

Dorchester councillor Richard Biggs said he had only once stopped corresponding with someone – after more than a hundred emails, many of them lengthy and detailed, spread out over a long time.

“In the end I had to say there is nothing more I can do… but he would try and tease me back in. It is harassment in a way.”

He said he would welcome further guidance for councillors and was told that emails could be re-directed to deter persistent individuals.