Consultation on Good Practice Framework for Complaints & Appeals

The OIA has published a consultation into a new draft good practice framework on complaints and academic appeals in HE in England and Wales. It is intended that the framework will be available to guide complaints and appeals handling from September 2014 and universities will be expected to have amended their policies and procedures to reflect the framework by September 2015.
We will be responding to the consultation and will publish our full response. Generally the framework looks positive and has the potential to improve the handling of complaints and appeals greatly, to the benefit of students and institutions alike. However there are a few areas where the current drafting is particularly noteworthy:
  • Complaints brought by third parties
The draft anticipates that students should be able to allow third parties to prosecute complaints or appeals on their behalf provided they sign the appropriate consents to authorise the third party to act on their behalf. The draft framework anticipates that the third party will be a students’ union representative but does not expressly limit it to such leaving open the possibility that the third party might be a parent or other relative or a commercial complaints/appeal advocate.  We explored the legal issues around parent-advocates in this blog. Our experience is that it is not necessarily helpful to have student complaints and appeals “delegated” in this way.
  • Anonymous complaints
There are suggestions in the draft that anonymity should be given in certain circumstances in complaints. This can be a difficult area, both because of the questions of fairness it raises in terms of the subject of the complaint, but also its practicability: very often staff and others may be able to work out the identity of the complainant. Might it not be better to ensure that students are supported in making a complaint and then not subjected to any detriment as a result of doing so?
  • Timescales
The proposed timescales for handling complaints and appeals are ambitious, some would say eye-wateringly so. As the framework intends to shape expectations for how things will proceed across the sector there are risks in setting the bar so high.
  • Legal representation
The framework is surprisingly relaxed about legal representation indicating that although not normally necessary, it may be appropriate where the consequences for the student are far-reaching or serious. Experience suggests that many students may see their complaints and appeals as serious and we may see an increase in lawyer participation in and consequential legalisation of internal processes.
The consultation closes on 5 July 2014.

Smita Jamdar
Partner and Head of Education
For and on behalf of SGH Martineau LLP
DD: 0800 763 1332
M:  07909 925946
F: 0800 763 1732
International DD: +44 870 763 1332

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