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Centralised Complaints Procedure

contact: Andy Saffery, Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning), Student and Registry Services

Policy/Procedure

***From 1 April 2014 any student wishing to make a complaint about her/his experience at or of UCL may do so through the new UCL Student Complaints Procedure in Section 5 of the Academic Manual.***

INTRODUCTION

1. Anyone who wishes to make a complaint about his/her experience at or of UCL should try first to resolve the matter informally, in consultation with either the person who has caused the complaint, or with that person's line manager, or with another appropriate person within the area of UCL where the complaint has arisen. UCL students may alternatively wish to consult the following in the first instance: personal or departmental tutor, or Faculty Tutor, or Dean of Students (Academic) or Dean of Students (Welfare) or the UCL Union Rights and Advice Centre. If it proves not to be possible to resolve the matter initially by informal means or through, for example, a complaints or grievance procedure operating within the area of UCL concerned (see also paragraph 2 below) , the complainant may then invoke UCL's Centralised Complaints Procedure, although informal resolution shall remain an option at all stages of this procedure. The Centralised Complaints Procedure is available to students or prospective students, to employers of UCL students or graduates, and to members of the general public. The procedure is not available to UCL staff: details of relevant procedures for UCL staff are available on the Human Resources Division’s pages.

2. Details of student grievance procedures. In addition, the UCL Union, in accordance with the Education Act 1994, operates a separate procedure for dealing with cases of grievance against the Union, its staff and officers; details are available from the General Manager of the UCL Union (d.squires@ucl.ac.uk). Where a complaint which it has not been possible to resolve informally is eligible for consideration under one of these procedures or through other departmental complaints procedures, the Centralised Complaints Procedure will not be invoked at this stage. The Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning), in the event that he/she receives Complaints Forms relating to complaints which should be dealt with under other procedures, shall refer these to the officer concerned for consideration under the appropriate procedure.

3. Third parties may complain on behalf of persons wishing to invoke this procedure only with explicit signed authorisation from such persons confirming that they are permitted to do so.

4. UCL Council, the governing body of UCL, will receive an annual report on the operation of the Centralised Complaints Procedure during the preceding 12 months, including a breakdown of the number of complaints received, the areas of UCL concerned and, when the Complaints Panel has met, a summary of its meetings and their outcomes.

STAGE (1) - COMPLAINT INVESTIGATION

5. If the complaint cannot be resolved informally or pursued through a different procedure as advised in paragraphs 1 and 2 above, a UCL Complaints Form should be completed and returned, under confidential cover, to the Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning).

6. In order for a complaint to be considered under this procedure, the completed Complaints Form must be received by the Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning) no later than one calendar month after the date on which the event causing the complaint occurred. If the form is received any later, the Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning) shall investigate the matter only if convincing evidence can be produced that the complainant has, within one calendar month of the date of the event causing the complaint, discussed informally the possibility of making a formal complaint, with a person or persons able to corroborate this claim. In any case, the complainant should indicate what steps have been taken, whether informally or formally, to resolve the matter as indicated in paragraph 1.

7. The complainant is invited to indicate, if he/she wishes, the form of remedy which may be sought. While UCL will take such wishes into consideration in the resolution of the issue, this information is, nevertheless, given without prejudice to the final remedy determined (see also paragraphs 8, 9, 10, 21 and 22).

8. When the Complaints Form is received, the Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning) shall normally send the Form within 5 working days[1] to the head of the unit of UCL (‘the head’ hereafter) where the complaint has arisen, who shall look into and attempt to resolve the complaint or nominate a member of staff of the unit concerned (the ‘investigating officer’ hereafter) to do so[2]. The head or investigating officer shall consult with any individuals who may have been involved or who may be able to provide information relevant to the matter under consideration. Having done so, the head or the investigating officer on behalf of the head shall submit a written response to the Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning), normally within 15 working days of receiving the Complaints Form, indicating whether and, if so, how the complaint has been dealt with. The Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning) shall notify the complainant within 5 working days of the response received, normally by sending a copy of the head/investigating officer's report. The person or persons against whom the complaint was made shall be similarly notified.

9. As part of their report to the Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning), the head/investigating officer may recommend solutions or suggestions for redress. A tariff for redress, financial or otherwise, shall not be operated. However, if the head concerned feels able to offer appropriate redress, either financial or non-financial, to a complainant, he/she may recommend such redress in the report submitted to the Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning). Any recommendations for redress, financial or non-financial, shall be referred to the Vice-Provost (Operations) for approval.

10. The Vice-Provost (Operations) is also authorised to direct the imposition of any non-financial redress, subject to consultation with the senior officer of the area concerned, being in his/her opinion either urgent or non-contentious for cases where the complaint spans a number of units of UCL and/or the investigating officer is not a member of, or has no jurisdiction for, areas in which the complaint has occurred. Any compensating action proposed in the light of the initial complaint, shall not normally be implemented until it is clear whether or not the complainant accepts that the complaint has been dealt with satisfactorily and, if not, signifies an intention to request the matter be referred to a Complaints Panel.

STAGE (2) - COMPLAINTS PANEL

11. If at this stage it is felt that the complaint has not been answered satisfactorily, the complainant may within the next 15 working days, by submitting a written statement explaining the grounds for believing that the complaint has not been dealt with satisfactorily, request the Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning) to refer the matter to a UCL Complaints Panel (see paragraph 12 below). The Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning) shall determine, normally in conjunction with the Vice-Provost (Operations), whether such referral would be appropriate, and shall notify the complainant, in writing, of her/his decision. If it is decided not to refer the matter to a Complaints Panel the Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning) shall inform the complainant of the decision, giving reasons, as soon as possible and, where the original complaint was made by a student, shall issue a Completion of Procedures letter[3]. If the Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning) determines that a satisfactory case for referral has been made, he/she shall refer the matter to a Complaints Panel. The matter shall also be referred to a Complaints Panel in any case where the head to whom the complaint was referred advises that he/she is unable to resolve the complaint satisfactorily.

12. The Complaints Panel is convened when necessary by the Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning). The Complaints Panel shall normally comprise three members, and shall normally include, as well as a Chair, at least one UCL staff member and, where the complainant is a student, at least one student member. The Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning) is Secretary to the Complaints Panel, although meetings of the Complaints Panel may from time to time be serviced by another designated member of staff of Student and Registry Services, as directed by the Registrar.

13. The Chair of the Complaints Panel is a member of the panel of persons independent of UCL, appointed by the UCL Council, from among whom external members of such panels as the Complaints Panel (‘the Panel’ hereafter) may be drawn. The Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning) will approach a member of this panel of independent persons with an invitation to chair the Panel. The Chair shall appoint, on the advice of the Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning), the other two members of the Panel on a case-by-case basis, with regard for an appropriate balance of ethnicity and gender, as far as is practicable. Panel members and the Secretary to the Panel should not have either a personal or other significant (eg departmental) interest in the case to be considered. If the Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning) considers himself/herself to have a personal or other significant interest in any case, he/she shall ask another member of staff to administer consideration of that case.

14. Where a case is considered at more than one meeting of the Panel, the same Panel members who first considered the case shall normally consider that case at a second or subsequent meeting.

15. Prior to any meeting of the Panel each party to the dispute shall be issued in good time with a copy of:

(a) the original completed Complaints Form; (b) the written response by the head/investigating officer concerned, including any statement by others, such as staff or students, who may have been involved; (c) where appropriate, a statement by the complainant explaining why he/she thinks the complaint has not been resolved satisfactorily; (d) where appropriate, a response to item (c) by the head/investigating officer concerned. (The words ‘where appropriate’ here reflect the fact that items (c) and (d) shall not be required in cases where the head concerned has acknowledged in responding to the Complaints Form that he/she is not able to resolve the matter satisfactorily.)

16. Where the complaint covers a number of issues and where more than one person is named in the complaint the Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning) will determine whether it is appropriate to disclose to the individuals concerned the details of only that part of the complaint which refers to them personally.

17. In considering the complaint the Panel shall:

(a) accord equal procedural treatment to all parties to the dispute; (b) seek further clarification of the written evidence from whomever it feels appropriate; (c) normally interview the parties to the dispute, and any other person whom it considers appropriate.

In such cases all parties shall be entitled to be present throughout that part of the proceedings at which oral evidence is presented. Only in exceptional circumstances, and with the agreement of all parties, may individuals be heard separately. All individuals shall be informed in good time of the date of the Panel meeting, and of any arrangements made for their attendance.

18. At any such hearing either party may be accompanied by a ‘friend’, whose role should be to provide moral support and to see that the hearing is conducted in a fair and appropriate manner, in accordance with the Procedure. The friend may normally address the Panel only when invited to do so by the Chair of the Panel.

19. The sole purpose of a hearing shall be to investigate the grounds of the complaint and shall not in any way constitute or be seen to constitute a disciplinary hearing against any member of staff concerned.

20. Hearings shall normally be attended only by the parties to the dispute and those individuals accompanying them (see paragraphs 17 and 18 above). Other persons may be invited to attend at the request of the complainant provided that any member or members of UCL staff specifically complained about agree. In the event of any such member of staff not agreeing to the complainant's request, a decision whether such persons may attend the hearing shall be made by the Chair of the Panel, whose decision shall be final. The limit on the number of persons in attendance at any hearing shall be determined by the Chair of the Panel. In cases where other persons attend a hearing, they may observe proceedings but have no rights of participation/involvement. Recording of the proceedings by such persons shall not be permitted.

21. The Panel will complete a written statement of its findings and decision within five working days of the date of the meeting of the Panel, indicating how the complaint has been resolved. The Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning) will notify the parties concerned as soon as possible of the outcome, normally by sending a copy of the Panel's findings and decision. The Panel is authorised by the Vice-Provost (Operations) to impose a solution on the officers of the area of UCL in which the complaint occurred. Any compensating action proposed in the light of the initial complaint shall not normally be implemented until it is clear: (i) whether an appeal is to be made against the Panel’s findings (see paragraph 23) and, if an appeal proceeds, until the outcome of the appeal is known; or (ii) whether or not a student accepts the findings of the Appeals Panel and, if not, signifies an intention to refer the matter to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA)[4].

22. In cases where the Panel recommends financial redress to the complainant, the matter will be referred to the Vice-Provost (Operations), via the Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning), for approval. Where the Vice-Provost (Operations) feels unable to give approval, he/she will refer the recommendation to the Provost for decision.

23. If it is felt that the complaint has not been resolved satisfactorily by the Complaints Panel, the Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning) may be requested to refer the matter to an Appeals Panel independent of UCL (see paragraphs 24-41). The case will be referred to the Appeals Panel, provided that an appropriate written statement has been submitted explaining the grounds for believing that the complaint has not been dealt with satisfactorily by the Complaints Panel. This right of appeal will be open to the complainant, to the person(s) complained against, and to the officers of the area of UCL in which the complaint occurred, should they object to the Panel's conclusions. The matter will also be referred to the Appeals Panel in any case where the Complaints Panel advises that it has been unable to resolve the complaint satisfactorily.

STAGE (3) - APPEAL

24. Notice of intention to appeal against the decision of the Complaints Panel by any party involved in the complaint shall be made in writing to, and received by, the Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning) within 15 working days of the date of the notification of the outcome of the Panel's meeting. Such notice shall include all documentation pertaining to the grounds on which the appeal is being made. No further communications of any sort will be accepted for consideration under an appeal after this time.

25. An appeal should normally be made only on one or more of the following grounds:

(a) that consideration of the original complaint was not conducted according to the above Procedure;

(b) that new evidence has become available which was not, and/or which could not reasonably have been made, available to the Complaints Panel;

(c) that the compensating action agreed by the Complaints Panel was either excessive or inadequate in relation to the complaint.

26. As soon as is practicable after receipt of such notification the Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning) shall present the documentation relevant to the appeal to the Chair of the Appeals Panel who shall decide on the evidence available whether or not the appeal should be proceeded with and shall notify the Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning) to that effect normally within 10 working days of receipt of the documentation.

27. If it is decided not to proceed with the appeal, the Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning) shall inform the appellant of the decision of the Chair of the Appeals Panel normally within one clear working day of receiving that decision and, where the original complaint was made by a student, shall issue a Completion of Procedures letter[5].

28. Where it is decided that the appeal shall be proceeded with, the Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning) shall inform all parties of the decision of the Chair of the Appeals Panel and will make the necessary arrangements for the appeal to be heard as early as possible, and in any case within three calendar months of receipt of the notification of intention to appeal. All parties shall be informed of the date of the appeal and of any arrangements made for their attendance. At any meeting of the Appeals Panel at which the parties are in attendance either party may be accompanied by a ‘friend’, whose role should be to provide moral support and to see that the hearing is conducted in a fair and appropriate manner, in accordance with the Procedure.

29. The constitution of an Appeals Panel shall be as follows:

(a) a Chair of the Appeals Panel, who shall be appointed by Council from among the panel of independent persons, appointed by the UCL Council (see paragraph 13 above);

(b) two persons, who are not members of the UCL Council or UCL staff or UCL students and who shall be appointed by Council, as and when the Appeals Panel needs to be established;

(c) where the original complaint was made by a student, one of the persons in (b) above shall where possible be a registered graduate student of another UK higher education institution, to be appointed by Council on the advice of the Academic Registrar of UCL, as and when the Appeals Panel needs to be established.

30. None of the above shall have been a member of the Complaints Panel against whose decision the appeal is made, nor a member of any department involved, nor have assisted the appellant in any way with the presentation of her/his case either for the Complaints Panel or for the Appeals Panel.

31. The quorum for an Appeals Panel shall be three, including the Chair.

32. The Secretary of an Appeals Panel shall be appointed by the Director of Academic Services from the staff of the Academic Services Department. The person appointed as Secretary to the Appeals Panel shall not have acted as Secretary to the Complaints Panel that has considered the complaint in question.

33. The Appeals Panel shall be supplied with a report of the proceedings of the Complaints Panel (see paragraphs 34-35), which shall be prepared by the Secretary of the Complaints Panel in consultation with all parties, and with such other evidence as is considered appropriate by the Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning).

34. The report shall contain a statement of the matters investigated, a summary of the evidence, the reasons for both the decisions reached and the order made in respect of any compensating action, and shall state the grounds of appeal.

35. The report shall also include, where applicable, new evidence which was not, and could not reasonably have been, made available to the Complaints Panel (see paragraph 25(b)).

36. An Appeals Panel shall meet in private and shall review all the evidence before it; shall seek further clarification of the written evidence from whomever it feels appropriate; and shall have power to reverse or modify the decision appealed in any way that it thinks fit.

37. The decision of an Appeals Panel shall be reached by a majority vote of the members of the Panel, and shall be announced as the decision of the Panel.

38. The votes of individual Panel members shall always be treated as confidential and there shall be no disclosure either of such votes or of information showing whether the decision was reached by a unanimous or a majority vote.

39. The Panel may adjourn for a period not exceeding 5 working days for the purpose of deciding upon the appropriate action to be taken upon the appeal.

40. Within 10 working days of the conclusion of the hearing the Appeals Panel shall notify the Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning) in writing of the outcome of the appeal. The Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning) shall in turn notify all parties of the decision of the Appeals Panel and, where the original complaint was made by a student, shall issue a Completion of Procedures letter[6].

41. A decision of the Appeals Panel shall be final as far as internal UCL procedures are concerned. However, if the decision of the Appeals Panel fails to satisfy the appellant then, in the case of a current UCL student appellant only, that student may, normally not later than three calendar months after the date of the notification of the Appeals Panel's decision, refer the matter to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA), provided that the matter is within the jurisdiction of the OIA.

OVERVIEW OF PROCEDURE

42. The Vice-Provost (Operations) shall be kept fully informed of the progress of representations made under the above procedure and shall advise on questions which may arise about the operation of this procedure.

October 2012

[1] Every effort will be made to adhere to the timescales noted in this procedure. However, there are occasions, for example when UCL is closed, when the required response may take longer than indicated.

[2] If the head of unit feels that her/his unit is unable to investigate the matter impartially, he/she should inform the Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning) immediately. In such cases, the Deputy Registrar (Operations and Planning) will approach a different head of unit to carry out the investigation.

[3] The issuing of a Completion of Procedures letter signifies that the internal UCL procedures have been completed at this point but that it remains open to a student to refer the matter to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA), provided that the matter is within the jurisdiction of the OIA – see footnote 5 to paragraph 21.

[4] The OIA has been established to provide an independent scheme for the resolution of student complaints. All Higher Education Institutions are required to comply with the Scheme, which came into effect from 1 January 2005. Areas of complaints covered by the OIA will include:

• a programme of study or research for which the complainant was registered (but note that complaints relating to such matters would be dealt with under the Student Grievance Procedures – see paragraph 2) • a service provided by UCL • a final decision by a UCL disciplinary or appeal body.

The OIA will not, however, advise about a complaint if:

• it relates to a matter of academic judgement (which will normally be about a student's academic performance) • the matter is or becomes the subject of court or tribunal proceedings • it concerns a student employment matter.

Further details on the operation of the OIA are available from the OIA website or from the Registrar's Office, UCL Student and Registry Services (telephone 020 7679 2048; internal extension 32048, e-mail – a.saffery@ucl.ac.uk) or from the UCL Union Rights and Advice Office (telephone 020 7679 4130, internal extension 34130, e-mail – uclu-rights.advice@ucl.ac.uk).

[5] See footnote 4.

[6] See footnote 4.